Orchestra of St. Luke’s Hosts its First Groupmuse Massivemuse

The Dimenna Center, home of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s (OSL), opened its largest orchestra space, Cary Hall, for a partnered event with the project Groupmuse. The concert, titled “The Orchestra of St. Luke’s Throws Down,” was especially unique because it was a casual occasion — a step out of character for OSL. And because it served beer.

“This is the first time we’ve done this so hopefully this is a regular partnership,” Julia Gang, the media production manager for Orchestra of St. Luke’s, said at the close of the event. “In addition to this first-time partnership, this is the first chill setting: there’ve been events like this at The Dimenna Center but it’s usually not OSL sponsored — and beer, we’ve never served beer at an OSL event here. It added a different vibe. Since this is with Groupmuse, especially because of Groupmuse, demographically it’s a lot more chill and young.”

The day of the performance, March 31, had been a wet, grey one, complete with chilly winds. So, the production staff was initially not optimistic about the turn out. But as soon as 6 p.m. rolled around, a full hour before the music was scheduled to begin, people were strolling in.

Aaron Freund, the patron services associate for OSL, was excited if pleasantly surprised about this crowd size. Mentioning that they were “near full capacity” with “well over 200 people” in attendance. There was a $25 cost for each ticket.

James Roe, executive director of OSL, and Sam Bodkin, the founder of Groupmuse, introduced the performance and musicians of the night who would primarily be playing Bach sonatas along with two Telemann pieces.

Amidst the new partnership and firsts between OSL and Groupmuse was this long-established relationship among the musicians playing that night. Those performers were the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble which included violinists Krista Bennion Feeney and Naoka Tanaka, a violaist David Cerutti, cellist Myron Lutzke and Robert Wolinsky on the harpsichord.

As Wolinsky explained to the crowd following an intermission, they had all been performing together as a group since 1974. They formed that year at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields, an Episcopal church in Greenwich Village.

“The most important thing is that these players have been playing together for their whole lives, Director Roe said. “They love each other, they love playing with each other for an audience, it’s really special.”

Both Roe and Bodkin pointed out a theme of the night: the established blending with the new and the old supporting the upcoming.

“One of our trustees was an early believer in Groupmuse and was really supportive of Sam and his ideas and believed in what he was doing,” Roe said, dressed in a smart navy blue suit despite the casual dress code. “One of my first meetings when I started a year and a half ago was with Sam — he sat down, he told me what he was doing and I really wanted to meet all of you, our musicians wanted to meet all of you.”

With this event Roe was indeed able to meet many, not quite all, of the participants of Groupmuse project, which was an especially pivotal moment in the eyes of Bodkin who has admired OSL for years.

“It’s sort of a watershed moment in the life of the project Groupmuse because we are a scrappy startup and to be given this nod of approval from the preeminent arts institution not only in the city but in the world, means a lot,” Bodkin, who wore a wrinkled linen shirt and sported messy hair — very according to the evening’s dress code — said. “It speaks to a bright future of collaboration and new ideas and this art form re-inventing itself.”

Bodkin is attempting to play a major part of that artistic re-invention in classical music with his Gropmuse project which began in 2013 by highlighting a millennial mindset without taking anything away from the true goal of this music.

“The idea behind Groupmuse is not merely to demystify or make more accessible this great art,” Bodkin said. “It’s ultimately about creating plentiful and convenient and affordable opportunities for people to gather in the real world and share something beautiful and profound, to connect over that experience and to make the world smaller.”

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