What do you play when you’re the follow-up act to the SF Symphony’s performance of Brahms Symphony No. 4?
If you’re Bay Area cellist Alex Kelly, performing in front of a post-concert, classical-music-loving crowd Friday night, you launch into a little ditty called, “Play That Funky Cello White Boy.” It’s a jaunty jazz solo that sounds a lot like, well, White Cherry’s ’70s pop hit “Play that Funky Music.”
Kelly was performing at the inaugural event in the Davies After Hours series, a monthly post-performance gathering on the top lobby floor of the symphony hall. In the lounge-like atmosphere with warm pink lighting, a cash bar, and calla lily displays, the guests –a mix of concertgoers and symphony musicians still dressed in their tuxedo tails — mingled and chattered in the informal setting, cocktails and champagne in hand.
If this seems like a markedly different tone from the evening’s previous symphony performance, when you could’ve heard a pin drop between acts, that’s exactly what SF Symphony’s Louisa Spier, says the event organizers were going for. “People can mingle and talk,” she said. “You can hang out with your friends and chat about the concert, as well as enjoy this musical group.”
In recent years, a dominant trend among cultural institutions is hosting after-hour events. The Guggenheim in New York has its Art After Dark series, a late night event where you can sip cocktails and listen to live DJs while exploring the artwork. The Art Institute in Chicago has After Dark, a variation of the same. And here in SF, every Thuursday the Academy of Sciences hosts NightLife, a 21 and over venue.
For the SF Symphony, one objective behind the Davies After Hours series is attracting a younger audience to the symphony (the event series is open only to concert-goers). “I think younger people like to go out and go to multiple places in a night,” Spier said. “They can go to a concert and go to a club afterward, so we thought we could do that all-in-one right here.”
The musical acts chosen to play at the series are decidedly more contemporary, but their performances correspond loosely to the evening’s earlier performances. Kelly, for instance, was chosen to complement Michael Grebanier, the featured cellist in the evening’s performance of Ernest Bloch’s 1916 “Schelomo.” Next month, the series will host NTL, a power rock band formed by some of the symphony musicians.
As the night wore on, the Mark Growden Sextet joined Kelly onstage to continue their jazzy renditions. One of the sextet members pulled out a hollow bicycle handlebar (saved from the ’80s, he noted), which he then proceeded to blow into, producing an eerie flute-like sound.
For a moment, the crowd was mesmerized. It was certainly not Brahms, but it was definitely one of the newest things they’d heard that evening.