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Quartetto Gelato

Quartetto Gelato has been visiting the Rogue Valley for a concert at the Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall and a week-long residency. I had the pleasure of spending some time with them last Sunday morning.

The topic naturally turned to classical music and their part in keeping it alive and fresh.

Peter De Sotto (operatic tenor, violin, mandolin) described himself as a "stroller," a strolling violin player like his father was. That's what put him through school. Like the other members of Quartetto Gelato, he feels strongly about how important it is for classical music to evolve.

"Classical music is never going to be the same if it's going to survive," he said. He pointed out that the most popular albums today are cross-over albums. They are outselling other genres, he said, including rock, pointing out that Josh Grobin's CD was the highest-selling album last year. It sold 3 million copies for the young baritone who sings both classical and pop and will be performing at the Presidential Inauguration and Ball on Jan. 20.

"He's a step in the right direction where classical music is going. Like Yo Yo Ma collaborating with jazz." This of course drives music stores crazy when they're trying to figure out where to put the CDs. How do you slot musicians if they won't behave and stay in their own neighborhood?

Carina Reeves (cello) who grew up in Vancouver, Canada, noted that there always have been classical music and popular music in the West. In an example of cross-over styles, 20th century composers were incorporating folk music in their work.

Her parents wanted her to take music lessons and enrolled her at the local Suzuki classes where they offered violin, piano and cello. The violin and piano classes were filled. Her parents had heard Jacqueline du Pré playing cello, so cello it was. A freelance musician she performs with classical, contemporary and jazz ensembles.

"Classical music is experiencing globalization," Reeves said. "We're in this amazing position to be exposed to so many genres, to be exposed to art from around the world. We are in this incredibly exciting age. Without clear boundaries, it's more possible to be creative."

Still, there are fewer symphonic orchestras than there have ever been and fewer quartets making a living full-time solely on performing as a quartet. Most usually have a residency and are surviving because of academia, De Sotto said. He calls classical music a communicative sport, vying for people's attention like any other musical genre. "If you don't get your message across, you're failing."

For that reason, Kornel Wolak (clarinet) said that "We need to educate." Wolak contended that the future of classical music is tied to the education of the people. "Music is an art, but it is also run by laws of economy," he said. "To sell a product you create a need. Introduce classical music so people will be hungry for it."

Asked how he found his way to classical music, Wolak said classical music found him. Both of his parents were musicians His mother played the viola and his father played the trumpet. "I was on stage in a baby carriage and when I was able to sit down, I played the piano." While attending music school in his native Poland he had to chose a second instrument and that was the clarinet.

Alexander Sevastian (accordion) always played folk music growing up in Belarus, but was trained to play arrangements of classical music. He began his professional career in Moscow in 1996, performing with the Russian Radio Orchestra, which he toured with as a soloist throughout Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Italy, and Japan. In Russia, training for the accordion is the same as that of a classical player. The symphony has a quartet of four accordions and the Russian Army Chorus has three.

"Classical music will remain as it is," he said. "Classical music will be delivered in different venues for people who never go to the classical music halls to get a chance to get exposed to it."

De Sotto agreed that classical music will always remain. There will just be less of it. "There will always be people who need it. There will always be survivors who create their own cross-overs, doing whatever they can do — improvise, playing with rock, rap, etc. and not just as supportive roles."

All the Quartetto Gelato members have either played in rock, punk or jazz bands or at least enjoy listening to other kinds of music beside classical. Wolak said he appreciates anything that is well thought through, even elevator music. But he admitted, "classical music is demanding — not entertainment. Pop music is more open, inviting, lighter."

Historically, classical music always had been reserved for the nobility. Now it's a little bit more spread out to new audiences, De Sotto said. "Especially baby boomers tired of loud crashing music. They need beauty, something soft in their life."

An elitist culture nearly killed classical music with notions like no clapping between movements, but Quartetto Gelato is determined to break all the boundaries. "Quartetto Gelato doesn't want the hushed, rarefied, gingerly approach to appreciating music," Reeves said. "We want you to have as good a time as we are."

And the audience at the SOU performance did just that, hollering, cheering and clapping. To them, classical music is very much alive — and kicking.