Burlington is about to be treated to the final Beethoven Cycle concert by the Paris-based Parisii Quartet. Beethoven wrote 16 string quartets, and Burlington-based musicians' agency Melvin Kaplan has been presenting them over the past two years in six concerts featuring as many professional quartets. Parisii is performing quartets 2, 10 and 13.
This concert will be a completely different experience from the last five, most of which took place in Burlington's College Street Congregational Church. After an attempted arson damaged that sedate space last fall, Kaplan booking agent John Zion chose its opposite number for this concert: the chic-industrial, high-ceilinged ArtsRiot on Pine Street. Audience members can even get a specially prepared French dinner in the adjacent restaurant-bar beforehand.
A nontraditional space may be just the thing for presenting music that Parisii violinist Arnaud Vallin twice calls "crazy" during a phone call from his Montmartre home. Beethoven revolutionized the string-quartet form, introducing complex innovations over the length of his career.
Speaking of the composer's progression from the second quartet, completed in 1800, to the 13th, dated 1825, Vallin says, "It's completely crazy — I mean, his language has moved so much. The late quartet, you cannot sing it, except for a few parts."
Vallin — who forms Parisii with second violinist Doriane Gable (filling in for Jean-Michel Berette) and the group's founders, violist Dominique Lobet and cellist Jean-Philippe Martignoni — adds that the quartet is meeting with a musicologist to make sure its phrasing is exactly right. Over its 30-year career, Parisii has played a wide range of music, from Beethoven and other masters to contemporary French composers such as Edith Canat de Chizy.
For his part, ArtsRiot co-owner Felix Wai is looking forward to attending the venue's first classical music concert — in fact, its first acoustic performance. Since launching in July 2012, the space has hosted rap, hip-hop and other miked shows.
"I'm hoping people who've come to a rock concert here will think, Oh, I'll check this out," Wai says. He also hopes classical fans will come for the music even though the venue isn't "the Flynn, or some place like that.
"It's a little more of an experiment," Wai admits. "Normally [at classical concerts], you can't move, you can't get up and take a break." Next Wednesday's audience will be able to bring drinks from the bar to the seating area, which will accommodate 150.
Making classical music more accessible to younger audiences is not a new effort in Vermont. Scrag Mountain Music of Warren presents chamber concerts prefaced by chili dinners in a Northfield barn. Burlington Ensemble offers low-cost performances to audiences gleaned from charity supporters. Reaching for new audiences such as Wai, who listens to classical only on his iPhone, Vermont Public Radio has posted free downloads of recorded performances on its website — most recently cellist Ben Capps and pianist David Kaplan in a performance of "Beyond Beethoven" presented by BE.
Vallin, 34, has played at New York City's (le) poisson rouge, an alternative venue similar in vibe to ArtsRiot. He agrees the image of classical music as "stuck up" needs to change. But he also feels that Beethoven's music in particular requires "some very special attention" on the part of the audience.
"[With] the number of ideas he put in one quartet, he could write four quartets," marvels the Conservatoire de Paris-trained violinist. "You can't go out and have a cigarette, make a phone call and come back. You miss something."