'Formal music-making in casual clothes'
Hungry for a cultural night out, but not sure what you want? Then sink your teeth into Kaleidoscope
There was a time for me, not long ago, when attending a classical music event in Dublin presented the likelihood of being the youngest person there by several decades. Dublin’s Kaleidoscope, which recently celebrated its third birthday, has challenged and changed that perception.
Kaleidoscope was established by musicians Clíodhna Ryan and Kate Ellis. It’s a monthly musical club that criss-crosses genres, while keeping a classical backbone.
Ryan returned to Dublin in 2009 after 17 years in London. “There were fantastic audiences in Ireland for classical music and for new, contemporary music,” says Ryan, “but they were very disparate, they didn’t come together at all. The National Concert Hall felt appropriate for some orchestral work, but not for intimacy. You can lose the shared emotional connection between listener and performer in a large space.”
Finding a suitable space for Kaleidoscope was crucial. “We needed somewhere that didn’t have any connotations with regular music events. A neutral environment,” says co-founder, cellist Kate Ellis. The pair set out to programme a night for an audience who “are hungry, but not sure what they want”.
From the start, Ryan and Ellis decided to be expansive. At each Kaleidoscope night, many styles of music are represented, from baroque and medieval to classical and more contemporary, experimental work. “There is a definite audience for chamber orchestra, just as there is for jazz experimentalism, but these days the performers themselves cross over a lot. It seems to happen here more so than in other cities, possibly due to size”, says Ellis.
For a year, Ryan and Ellis got by on goodwill with no funding, and their enthusiasm rubbed off on the respective players they approached. Convincing musicians to play was easy, and everyone played for free. Despite the altruism, it was always their intention that the standard of work on offer would be high. “We were very clear that this wasn’t going to be an open-mic night. It was very important to us that the quality was there,” says Ellis.
Convincing people, especially a younger demographic, that a night of classical music could be different from anything they’d experienced before is not easy. Did their initial audiences have preconceptions of what the night might entail? “Some did,” admits Ellis, “especially people involved in classical music . . . until they came along and saw how it worked”. Ryan nods. “What keeps them coming back is the respect we both have for music and the high-quality performances. It’s very formal music-making in casual clothes.”
A proportion of the attendees are musicians or composers and the organisers are surprised that more music students, dedicated to their craft, don’t come along. If anything, the night demonstrates crossover possibilities and how musical lines can be blurred. Over the summer, the prestigious h2 Saxophone quartet played an intricate piece that involved breathing into their instruments without playing notes. At the September event, the evening ended with Ellis and Seán Carpio playing a door made of various instruments. Ellis believes that John Kelly’s JK Ensemble show on Lyric FM – with a playlist that blends classical and electronic music – has helped raise Kaleidoscope’s profile. “John demonstrates that you can play Bach, and then play Yurodny. People who like experimental or electro music come to Kaleidoscope and hear 15th- and 16th-century music live for the first time. They see how revolutionary and extraordinary it is, and it makes them see the connections between music through the eras, from renaissance to jazz.”
The programme for next week's* event has a poetic angle, with a reading from Paul Perry, accompanied on Maya Homburger on baroque violin and Barry Guy on double bass. Siobhán Armstrong on harp will be joined by séan-nós singer Róisín Elsafty to perform 17th-century Irish laments. After Benjamin Dwyer showcases two of his Twelve Études on guitar, the evening will close with improvisations by percussionist Lucas Niggli with Barry Guy.
“It has definitely broken down a lot of boundaries,” says Ryan. “For us, it’s about sharing music with a receptive, passionate audience. It’s a very sociable night, and there is no insider vibe. The audience get to hear every kind of music. They’ll love some of it, they’ll dislike some of it, but they’ll leave with an opinion on it.”
Kaleidoscope usually runs on the first Wednesday of every month at The Odessa Club, Dublin. kaleidoscopenight.com
*This article was edited on November 26th, 2012