You wouldn’t be surprised to see a hip hop artist, rock band, jazz trio, or DJ performing at a nightclub on any given night, but you might be taken aback to hear live baroque music at the same venue. This is exactly what took place on February 24 at DNA Lounge in San Francisco. The organization behind this striking mix of genre and space is Mercury Soul, and its founders—SFCM faculty member Mason Bates among them—have reimagined the concert experience for a new generation of music lovers. While Mercury Soul shows always feature a blending of DJ sets and classical music sets, this event, billed as “Baroque & Beats,” moved from electronica to baroque and back again as seamlessly as any dance club setlist could.
Mercury Soul’s event at DNA Lounge was curated by Mason Bates and featured him in his capacities as DJ Masonic, Bates’ DJ stage name. Along with DJs Justin Reed and Romanowski, the night also highlighted the impeccable musicianship of three Bay Area ensembles: the SFCM Baroque Ensemble, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and Elevate Ensemble, conducted by Chad Goodman. Each classical set highlighted the works of Bach, Vivaldi, Uccellini, and others, with pieces performed on two stages on the main floor. Between each shift from live ensemble to DJ, the musicians blended together with interludes that smoothly handed off the next set.
While the audience included SFCM students who had come to see their peers perform, clubgoers unaffiliated with the performing ensembles were also very much present. And in each set, the whole crowd gave thundering ovations to the musicians.
“Hearing the Baroque Ensemble performing for this new audience was amazing,” said Corey Jamason, chair of SFCM’s historical performance department. “The Vivaldi concerti they performed suddenly felt like new music and the audience response was incredible. I loved that people were dancing during the Vivaldi and during Sarah Bleile's amazing Bach solo. The whole feel of the event felt so new—Mason Bates and his team are doing something really important with this project and I'm so delighted the Baroque Ensemble was a part of it.”
“People love Bach,” reflected Sarah Bleile ’17. “They just don’t know that they love Bach. So it’s important to bring Bach and Vivaldi to people who don’t know that they love it.”
The presence of classical music in non-traditional spaces has been increasing in recent years. Mercury Soul, founded in 2008, is one of several initiatives aimed at bringing classical music to a wider audience by using alternative performance spaces. The San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox series is another regular concert affair that takes place in a casual, club-like atmosphere, presenting eclectic programs of contemporary and traditional repertoire. In New York, clubs like Le Poisson Rouge and Joe’s Pub often host classical artists, promoting the dynamic attributes of the genre to all manner of audiences.