“Chamber ensembles? Isn’t that more of a New York thing?”
“Commercially viable local music? Isn’t that more of a 20 years ago thing?”
It's undeniable: In a city that’s becoming better known for dubious startups, meteoric rents that rival or surpass Manhattan’s, and an arts scene better characterized by exodus than innovation, experimental chamber ensemble One Found Sound is, by all accounts, an anomaly.
Made up of alumni from the San Francisco Conservatory, the group has a unique elevator pitch for a classical chamber group: for one, they have no conductor. And while they perform a standard European repertoire, including Brahms, Mozart, and Debussy, they do so in unconventional spaces — like galleries and warehouses — often face-to-face with the crowd. They prefer to commission local young composers with less renown than their world-famous counterparts.
For One Found Sound’s third anniversary event -- taking place at Heron Arts on April 29, and enigmatically titled “Gala 3.0 LUX” -- the party boasts a menu from Filipino fusion chef Tim Luym and an afterparty DJed by Anthony Ferraro of the local indie-electro acts Astronauts, etc. and Toro y Moi. There’s even an open bar.
Compositions will include selections from 16th century English composer Thomas Tallis, 20th century American composer John Adams, and 21st century film composer Clint Mansell (famous for his work on Darren Aronofsky’s films like Requiem for a Dream). The postmodern stage set includes a light show courtesy of Symmetry Labs’ "Sugar Cubes," a complex lighting installation that introduces more than a small touch of "Coachella rave tent" amongst violins and brass.
When the ensemble’s members met as bright-eyed students of the SF Conservatory, they weren’t necessarily intending to smash the norms of classical.
"Honestly, it just kind of happened,” says co-founder and clarinetist Sarah Bonomo. “We just started with a sight-reading party and that led to another one, which led to a show, and now suddenly we’re on our fourth season.”
She and co-founder/bassoonist Georgeanne Banker insist that this format came about organically. The lack of a conductor makes them a dyed-in-the-wool democracy, voting collectively on pieces to perform and even periodically switching lead instruments. Without the hierarchical structure of “first” instruments in each section, everyone finds themselves represented — even the traditionally unloved percussionists.
The members of One Found Sound are casual about their unique place in the classical world -- they say they are more focused on naturally dissolving the pretense of that world than on trying to create something groundbreaking.
“We make an effort to cultivate a level of comfort for our audience,” says Banker. “If they want to take a picture they can. If they want to clap, they can. If they want to yell, they can.” Yesterday’s anachronism inevitably becomes the new normal; perhaps, they say, it’s simply time for this music to reach a new audience. Much like the San Francisco Symphony's Soundbox series, the ensemble thrives on new listeners “getting it,” drawn to the context — the light shows, the non-descript spaces, the hip accouterments — and then won over by the sounds.
Speaking of the new normal, the members of One Found Sound do not so much as sigh at the challenges posed by the current state of San Francisco: overpriced, saturated by a mono-industry (and, increasingly, a monoculture), with fewer and fewer spaces and opportunities for artists. According to Banker, the challenge of introducing classical to modern audiences is less about economics and more about aesthetics.
“When you think of Beethoven, that was people dancing and drinking and laughing," she says. "It’s not this thing you have to think in a certain way to enjoy. You want people to just let go and enjoy this music the way you do.”
One Found Sound's third anniversary gala kicks off at 6:30pm on Saturday, April 29, at Heron Arts in San Francisco. Tickets ($45 and up) and more information here.