Classical Music, Cafe-Style
Tiny Caffe Vivaldi offers crowdsourced classical concerts
West Village This month and next, little Caffe Vivaldi in the West Village will join the ranks of institutions like Carnegie Hall as a place to hear great classical music.
Why? Because a husband and wife team likes to throw intimate birthday parties and celebrations for composers such as Franz Schubert, Johann Sebastian Bach, and most recently, Frédéric Chopin.
This past Saturday afternoon, pianist Emir Gamsizoglu performed a slew of pieces by the Polish-French composer, who was born on February 22 or March 1, 1810-the correct date eludes critics and fans.
"He was clever to get more gifts," joked Gamsizoglu, who played sprightly waltzes and darker mazurkas, fleeting preludes and elegant études before an audience of about 15 in the cozy space.
Between pieces, the musician talked about the composer's oeuvre and shared stories of his era. Jazz musicians dig Chopin for his "improvisation-like" style, Gamsizoglu said; after the composer died in France in 1849, his sister removed his heart and brought it back to Poland, where he was born.
Gamsizoglu wasn't the only performer of the afternoon. Joe Wilamowski, an amateur pianist who lives on the Upper East Side, played Chopin's Barcarolle, a longer piece he introduced as "a gondola song."
"It's like you're rowing through water, at least for me," he said, before executing the work with vigor and sensitivity.
The program conveyed a vivid, fun sense of a composer's life and work, something that Gamsizoglu and his wife, actress and playwright Ege Maltepe, seek to achieve with their project, Classical 4 All.
By staging events in casual, inexpensive venues, they hope to appeal to listeners who may feel put off by the tradition of tuxedo-clad musicians performing in large concert halls.
"[To] the ordinary audience," Gamsizoglu said, "classical musicians, we look ice cold, unreachable, far away."
"Actually, classical musicians are really fun to be around," he said, wearing an informal sport coat over a Knicks t-shirt and dark jeans. "They're humorous, they're pretty sharp."
Ticket prices at places like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center can represent another barrier for some fans of classical music. Maltepe, who watched her husband and Wilamowski perform from the bar, guessed that patrons might pay between fifty and two hundred dollars-"his fingers are this big," she said, gesturing to describe the view of a pianist from afar-at a major venue.
On Saturday, a silver champagne bucket served as a jar for the suggested $20 donation. A waitress passed it around after the last piece, a Polonaise, while some listeners ate slices of strawberry birthday cake.
Wilamowski said he enjoyed performing in the café.
"I like the way it's kind of a community feel," he said. "People were respectful and quiet."
For Maltepe and her husband, the relaxed, accessible setting of a café offers an echo of European classical music scenes during the Romantic era.
So far, the turnout at Caffe Vivaldi has encouraged them.
"We can see that this thing has an audience, and that's a good sign," Maltepe said. "We are not the only ones who love classical music."
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