It’s 7:30 on a Wednesday night and UC Davis graduate student Natalie Popovich is having some friends over for a party. But this is no ordinary college shindig. Popovich has something special planned for her audience.
Forty-some folks have convened in Popovich’s living room to witness the evening’s entertainment. They take their places on the floor in anticipation of Bay Area-based classical pianist Joseph Irrera and cellist Chris Thibdeau of Atlanta, Georgia. This is the eighth time that Popovich has hosted a classical concert in her home.
“I think it’s the best thing ever,” Popovich exclaims. “It’s super fun! I just think it’s amazing! I do nothing. You just open your home and cool people come over. It’s very different from what I do on an average evening in Davis, and I think most people would probably say that.”
The audience enjoys classical music sitting on the living room floor in Popovich's home. April 4, 2017. Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio
Popovich began hosting these living room concerts a couple of years ago after she discovered Groupmuse. Groupmuse is an internet service that connects musicians with people like Popovich. The host then invites people to her home for a concert/party.
Popovich says one of her favorite things about attending and hosting Groupmuse events is that she learns a lot. She explains that the classical music house concert isn’t exactly a new idea. She said, “One of the first Groupmuses I went to, I found out that chamber music was made for really intimate venues in the first place and we’ve strayed away from that a lot.”
Cellist Christopher Thibdeau and pianist Joseph Irrera perform at a concert in Natalie Popovich's Davis home April 4, 2017. Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio
These days, many associate classical performances with ornate concert halls and pristine acoustics. “I think it’s maybe easier to kind of lose yourself in the music here because it is so intimate.” Davis resident Larry Guenther explains. “Maybe there are just fewer distractions. I’m easily distracted by bright, shiny objects. The San Francisco Opera House has this crazy, awesome architecture and sometimes my attention can wander.”
Laura Paul, a Ph.D. student at Davis, agrees that the simplicity of watching classical musicians perform in Popovich’s living room may be more engaging than being in the concert hall.
The house concert starts with a party atmosphere while the musicians prepare elsewhere in the home. April 4, 2017. Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio
“It’s really fun having everyone sitting down and be viscerally involved with the music in a way that I feel like I haven’t experienced in more traditional concert venues,” she continues. “People really are going to be seated inches away from the cellist’s bow!”
Popovich says musicians, many of whom are world class, usually find her through Groupmuse and not the other way around. Pianist Joseph Irrera is a Steinway Artist who has performed all over the world including at Carnegie Hall in New York, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Irrera says a musician is always interacting with their audience from the stage but that “it’s not as intimate as these house concerts, which is nice. It’s a great thing to get to know your audience on a very personal level.”
The event has a suggested donation, but no required cover. April 4, 2017. Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio
And personal it is, with several dozen people sitting elbow to elbow on the living room floor, many of them being just arm's length from the musicians. Afterward, a party ensues, and the audience and musicians intermingle, creating new friendships and connections. Some might even go global.
“One girl that played here last year moved to London,” Popovich says. “I’m actually going to London in a couple of months, so I just emailed her, and I was like, ‘what do you think about doing a Groupmuse while I’m there because I just really want to see you play again.” She says she and her friend are in the process of finding a venue for a performance in London.
Popovich cites the shared musical experience as making it all possible saying, “if you had to globalize anything it should be access to great music.”