Rachmaninoff for the rest of us
Local ensemble gives new life to classical music
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Jun 07, 2012 | 796 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SUMMER SERIES – Con Vivo has performed all over Jersey City and is currently in the midst of its summer outdoor concert series.
SUMMER SERIES – Con Vivo has performed all over Jersey City and is currently in the midst of its summer outdoor concert series.
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By now, Jersey City residents are accustomed to hearing live alternative rock, or the occasional acoustic jam, wafting from Grove Plaza. And the Fourth Street Arts collective host periodic rock shows in Mary Benson Park.

But where is a classical music lover to go to get their fix of Beethoven or Bach?

Well, throughout the spring and summer months they needn’t trek into New York for “music in the park” concerts across the Hudson. Tchaikovsky fans can instead stay local and enjoy the sounds of Con Vivo Music, a collective of musicians founded by Jersey City resident Amelia Ames.

“Growing up, I played in the New York Youth symphony, and everything I would do with classical music was taking me out of Jersey City,” Ames said. “In Jersey City, the impression I got was that classical music was seen as so far from the mainstream. But that’s only if you don’t know about it.”
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CLASSICISTS – Jersey City residents aren’t intimidated by the group’s classical focus and instead embrace the musical form.
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Ames started Con Vivo in 2007 as a chamber music ensemble. That is, a classical music group without a conductor, or as Ames puts it, “no different than a band.” Usually they consist of a string quartet of musicians playing violin, viola, and cello, although depending on the specific performance, there can a guest bass violin, guitar, oboe and clarinet and the occasional mezzo-soprano.

Summer concert series underway

Since its founding Con Vivo has performed all over Jersey City and is currently in the midst of its summer outdoor concert series. Offering one concert a month in Mercado Park through September, Con Vivo will treat residents to four concerts that are as sure to feed the soul as any guitar solo. All the concerts are free and will be performed from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 12; Tuesday, July 10; Tuesday, Aug. 14; and Tuesday, Sept. 4.

“One of the best moments I ever had as a performer was when we were playing in the park the first time,” Ames said. “We did a piece by Brahms and this group of kids was riding their bikes, and then they stopped their bikes and they were just listening. I was so psyched that they got sucked in and were paying attention.”

Ames said that experience is actually not unusual for Con Vivo whenever they perform in town.

“Whenever we have played here, the audience is very responsive and very involved, and we have had feedback,” Ames said. “[New York City is] a little more jaded, as people are so used to seeing classical music and behave a certain way.”

Jersey City residents, she added, aren’t intimidated by the group’s classical focus and instead embrace the musical form, even if they are typically more acclimated to Maroon 5 and the Throne. And this isn’t by accident; Ames said Con Vivo strived to make the classical genre non-intimidating, even for novices. This approach derives from the disparate influences in Ames’ life, whether it was watching Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma perform with the Muppets on Sesame Street, or watching a video footage of legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein performing for children in the 1960s. Ames sees Con Vivo’s approach to classical music as being “inclusive” and accessible.

This approach even extends to the group’s name: The Spanish words “con vivo” mean “with life.”

Ames bristles when asked whether she sees Con Vivo as a vehicle of classical outreach.

“That word, whenever I hear it said by classical musicians on reaching an audience not used to hearing classical music, sounds so condescending,” she said. “Even if it was meant with the best intentions.”

For more on Con Vivo, visit www.convivomusic.org.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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