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Do the shuffle!

"Shuffle" at the Tel- Aviv Museum, Israel 2011

The latest idea in blending musical genres that were previously isolated from each other has resulted in …well, concerts delivered in a shuffle, I -pod style.

Here, the programming is determined by the audiences from a music-menu, catering almost entirely to that audience’s wishes.

The so called “shuffle- concerts” are performed by a group of classical trained soloists and chamber musicians, led by their innovative artistic director and pianist Eliran Avni. Each concert offers several musical genre choices in varied combinations, from classical to jazz, pop and folklore.

By not negating the existence of any genre, but rather through freshly coordinating its representation by the audience’ selection, these innovative musicians have yet found another dimension to successfully eliminate the judgmental weight of categorization.

By an impressively simplistic means, the “shuffle concert” process translates into a sophisticated experience. The audience is empowered through their own direct impact, shaping the results of an open- ended, exciting musical incident.

The idea was born by a conceptual realization from an everyday occurrence.  Avni was on the treadmill, listening to his MP3 player as it shuffled its contents and The Pretenders became Prokoviev’s 5th Symphony.

Linor Katz (Cello) Eliran Avni (Piano)

“I was shocked and began to realize that it would be interesting to revolve a live concert around the concept of randomly different styles,” says Avni in a recent interview with me. He had also described this experience in an interview with Juilliard faculty member, Anita Mercier:”I was so shocked I had to stop the treadmill….The original shuffle concept is very much a chance concept; it’s about not knowing what piece will come next and enjoying the shock effect of switching between numbers and, in some cases, between radically different styles.”

There was also another experience which catalyzed the decisive decision to go through with this novel approach. Together with his friend Moe, Avni had sat through a classical concert performance of a string quartet which he did not enjoy in the least; not the playing nor the choice of repertoire. Leaving at intermission, he felt frustrated with the stifling atmosphere and shared his thoughts with Moe:”How can I, as a trained classical musician, expect others to sit through my performances, if I am not willing to do so myself… I understood something had to change.” And Moe supported his impulse. So did other friends, like clarinetist Moran Katz, who dared him to go through with his idea of the shuffle.

The concept has developed a bit since its first inception when Avni first started out with his original group of “shufflers”, who were mostly friends and musicians he had performed with before. Some of them also shared his Israeli background. This group included the sisters, clarinetist Moran Katz  and cellist Linor Katz , the Juilliard violinist Lauren Basney with whom Avni had performed at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall and oboist Roni Gal-Ed, whom he had performed with in Germany. Soprano Amy Justman was especially auditioned for the group.

Shuffle Ensemble

Relatively early on, they discovered that the difficulty of the program’s variety option was that in order not to compromise on quality, the group had to enlarge its members.

Learning 40 plus pieces and rehearsing on the same day of the performance was a challenge and pretty soon they decided to open the group to include more, equally talented musicians, to devide between the rather busy time scedules.

Avni explains, “We brought soprano Mary Mackenzie to share the soprano’s seat. Because (oboist) Roni is now on maternity leave, Jessica Pearlman shares the oboist’s seat with Hassan Anderson. And Angelia Cho and David McCarroll are sharing the violinist seat. This sort of format is very much in the “Shuffle” spirit of things – this way the audience doesn’t only get a different program each time, but also different talents and interpretations. I personally also find it really interesting to perform the same pieces with different musicians.”

The first “shuffle-concert “was performed on February 15th, 2010, at Lincoln Center’s Rose Studio with a variety of venues following suit, culminating with a recent Israel-tour, at the invitation of the Felicia Blumenthal Chamber Music Festival. Further tours are planned for the West-coast: Oregon, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego in November of 2011 and to London in 2012.

Shuffle at Kosciuszko Foundation

It remains to see, and I believe it will be truly fascinating how – in the long run- the audience’s choice of repertoire will influence the selection of pieces that will be included in the “menu”, which fluctuates already with the changing inputs from the musicians.

It will also be interesting to see how far the curating aspect of a concert experience will be missed. The “catering” aspects of a “self service” menu will certainly also be challenging, one which offers spontaneity and the zest of free flow, in lieu of a more reflective gusto.

Well aware of these limitations, Avni has led the group to pick the beginning numbers of each half of the program. Says Avni:“We needed to start with pieces we felt really passionate about…and have some control of the concert’s balance and structure by making sure that these pieces involve all the members of the ensemble. Some limitations also apply through the arrangements for the instruments included in the ensemble.”

Avni recognizes gratefully the support of producers Liat Shetret, Oded Naaman and Richard Lissemore, without whom his project would have remained just a fun idea. He cherishes the high caliber of his classically trained co-musicians, who support his vision of the “shuffle.” All of them see each concert as a random chance to leave the traditional selective process behind for the virtues of a true democratic spirit, broadened by a “cosmic” concert experience.

Go to the Shuffle-Website where you can also find more information about the amazing individual artists, and concerts that let you choose while they play.



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