The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: UW’s NEW MUSE performs classical music and new music in alterative venues and mixes different musical genres– and will perform Saturday night at Plan B

April 28, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

With all the troubles classical music is facing these days, many see taking the music to the people in alternative venues and through new music is better than waiting for the people to come to the same old venues to hear the same old music.

Locally, a UW student group has been doing exactly that. It will do some again this Saturday night when from 8 to 10 p.m. it performs at the gay dance bar Plan B at 924 Williamson Street. Admission is $5. Dancing will continue after 10.

So today I feature a guest blog essay by one of the founders and performers of New Music.

I hope you find it as encouraging, optimistic and informative as I did.

By Jonathan Kuuskoski

One of the most common questions I get about NEW MUSE – which stands for New Music Everywhere – is: “So how do you decide where to perform?”

This is a major challenge for our group (below, Jerry Hui on the left, Jonathan Kuuskoski in the middle and Paola Savvidou on the right) because the selection of each performance site informs all of our collective decisions related to putting an event together.

Each of our performances have evolved out of that question, geared towards different audiences: the frequenters of the Farmer’s Market (9/11 Memorial Flash Mob on YouTube), art-lovers (New Muse + Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA), in conjunction with the exhibit “Shinique Smith: Menagerie”), and young children (an interactive performance of “The Story of Babar the Little Elephant” by Francis Poulenc at the Madison Children’s Museum). 

For us, a project’s inception paves new paths towards its realization. This is why each of our concert-events have included different personnel rosters, combinations of musical styles, and have targeted different demographics. And this is what makes NEW MUSE a truly unique ensemble.

Looking at the basic concept of our upcoming concert at Plan B (below) this Saturday night – a vaudeville show that combines live classical music within a dance club – one may not (at first) see high concept in action.


But Le Poisson Rouge in New York and NONCLASSICAL in London have made booming businesses out of the same generative idea. The originality of our idea lies in how we deal with space, the audience, and the fusions of artistic forms and styles.

For more information about Plan B, visit:

Perhaps the most exciting component for us is to have such an amazing team of collaborators joining forces.

The Weather Duo (bel0w top) will start the evening off with some electronic improvisation to set the mood. We’ll then continue with alternating sets of contemporary chamber music, particularly cabaret-style songs by Kurt Weill and UW-trained composer Scott Gendel (below bottom), and works for clarinet, flute, piano, and saxophone.

The student-run dance ensemble Ephemeral Art, winners of the 2010 New Arts Venture Challenge, will be infiltrating the dance floor guerrilla-style at some point, and Madtown Ballroom will also make an appearance, fusing together dance mixes until closing time.

Davina DeVille, one of Madison’s most talented drag queens, will be our MC. Lucky patrons might even have the chance to see her perform a number or two.

Finally, DJ Illy Holiday – AKA Gabriel De Los Reyes from the UW-Madison First Wave program – will be spinning between sets and also responding to the energy of the dancers and musicians, weaving yet another layer of performance art into the evening. For more information, visit:

Madison Fresh Market is supplying fuel, including delicious imported truffles, to keep everyone’s legs moving.

We’re hoping for a big crowd. Just ask anyone looking to hit a dance club on Friday or Saturday night, and Plan B is one of the first places that will be brought up. It’s the ideal location to make live music participatory, because the people who go there want to get up and move!

But there is another reason that we chose to partner with them. Our events aim to tackle the challenge of making contemporary music accessible and fun while still pushing boundaries, which implies the need to find environments that repel genre-prejudice.

We are constantly tasked with overcoming pre-conceived notions of musical appropriateness; addressing, in this case, the current debate about whether Chopin and rapper  Eminem mix very well. We are asking the question, “What if everyone stopped worrying about that for an evening, and, instead of forcing people to judge music from their chairs, invited them to get on the floor and vote with their feet?”

This event is about transforming the audience into agents of the art being created in that moment, and allowing them to inform the evening’s musical trajectory. There is no better place to bend genres than in a venue where no one is proselytizing about the relative merits of any particular style.

Paola, Jerry, and I hope that everyone who attends will leave with an energetic optimism about what classical music may hold for the next decade, and perhaps even spark a new set of ideas of how and where we can bring music to new audiences.

Posted in Classical music

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