This Duo Wants to Put Classical Music Back in Your Living Room

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The concert hall is killing new classical music.

This is what Nicoletta Favari and Chris Salvito came across when they were playing in the 2015 Atlantic Music Festival in Maine. Their ensemble premiered around 40 pieces of new classical music.

It takes a long time to master a classical piece, say the two musicians, but it’s often only performed once and forgotten — something the pair thought long and hard about during their self-directed residency at The Banff Centre in January.

“This is very common,” says Salvito, who plays a variety of percussion instruments. Since most performance debuts are to a small, specific audience of composers and musicians, a new classical piece often doesn’t have the chance to be introduced to the rest of the world.

“There’s a stigma with classical music concerts where there’s kind of a demand of silence and cooperation from an audience that is probably uncomfortable for most people — I think it’s uncomfortable for me,” says Salvito.

So Salvito and Favari formed Passepartout Duo to give the music they perform a chance to be heard.

The Passepartout duo practices one of the pieces in their repertoire in a studio at the Banff Centre.

The duo found that the idea of the traditional classical concert is off-putting, even intimidating, to most people — particularly people without a background in the genre. Their goal is to find a way to entice an audience aside from the dedicated season-ticket holder.

“I think we just try our best to break that barrier, not to make things too formal or too on a different level,” Salvito says. “I mean, the stage is literally higher than the audience. It’s like you’re looking down at them or something; it’s kind of ridiculous.”

Classical musicians need to learn from the rest of the music world, the duo says. They need to make it easy to enjoy new compositions, and that means accommodating how the modern audience listens to music. With today’s technology, the potential venues for listening to classical pieces are ever-increasing.

“In the 19th century, music was such a living room experience. And then, of course, the concert hall habit replaced it, but I think now we are going back to that sort of setting for music,” Favari says. “I think that could be the future, actually.”

And while the duo will literally be playing a show in a friend’s living room during their upcoming tour, Passepartout Duo wants to give the “living room experience” a modern twist. During their three week-long residency at The Banff Centre, Salvito and Favari began to build an online presence by posting video recordings of their songs and releasing upcoming tour dates. Able to watch or listen to the duo perform anywhere, with the help of their smartphones and laptops, the audience can finally listen to contemporary classical music on their own terms.

Passepartout Duo feels, as performers, their job isn’t only to play the music, but to champion it.

“It’s really important to have something that’s engaging and easy to listen to and very accessible online. And we’re trying to do that so as many people can hear these pieces as possible,” says Salvito.

“I think that’s what the performer should be doing.”