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RVA Live! Unites Indie Artists with the Richmond Symphony

On Saturday evening The Broadberry and The Richmond Symphony host RVA Live!, a special concert featuring Tim Barry, Clair Morgan, Bio Ritmo, Natalie Prass and Matthew E. White backed by the symphony for a one-time only performance at The Carpenter Theater.

To learn more about how the event came together and what’s in store for the show, we spoke with organizers and performers from both sides of the collaboration.

Lucas Fritz and Reggie Pace brew the No BS! Brass Band collab beer at Three Notch’d Brewing; Photo by Craig Zirpolo

Lucas Fritz
Co-Owner, The Broadberry

When did the idea first come to you to bring together the symphony and members of the local music scene?
I’ve been constantly trying to find ways to expand both The Broadberry’s brand and our ability to do shows in other venues. I wanted to sit down with the symphony to discuss their fees for booking a show where the symphony plays with a touring artist. When we got together, they had already been cooking up this idea, so it made so much sense to partner and make it happen.

As a musician, venue owner and a someone who attends a lot of shows, what is the most special part of this collaboration?
The best part is seeing so many things come full circle. I helped work on Matthew E. White and Natalie Prass’ albums at Spacebomb. I sang in the choir for Matt’s debut album, and I was Trey Pollard’s arranging intern during Natalie’s first album. Being able to help facilitate this HUGE performance for both of them along with three other great RVA artists is very special to me.

When you were choosing the acts, what were you looking for in a performer? In particular how did Clair Morgan come to mind? Or Tim Barry?
We were looking for a few things. One of the most important things was how it would adapt to a symphony orchestra setting. We had a list of 20-30 local and regional artists that were in consideration, but a number of them had to be left off due to the difficulty of adapting them to the orchestra. We were also looking for a variety of musical stylings. The five artists that were ultimately chosen to perform have a pretty vast background and broad musical stylings.

I wish I could say I thought to bring Tim Barry on but that was all RSO Executive Director David Fisk. He is neighbors with Tim, and as we were brainstorming, he mentioned that Tim may be interested. They spoke “over the hedge” one evening and the rest was history.

Clair was on the top of my mind because he and the band had just begun their First Friday residency at The Camel. I love that band; their interesting use of instrumentation, harmonies, and rhythms really appeal to me. I figured that his music would be very nicely adapted to a symphony.

What do you hope attendees take away from the experience?
I truly hope that people find artistic bliss in the music on Saturday night. It is yet another chance for Richmond to prove to other major markets that WE are truly a destination for music and a champion of the arts.

Photo by Melissa Brugh

Erin Frye
Marketing & Public Relations Manager, Richmond Symphony

You’ve performed as a part of the bar/club scene in Richmond for years, and recently you joined the Richmond Symphony team as well. What is it like straddling those two worlds, and what experience from both sides of that do you hope to bring to RVA Live! and other similar events?
One of the main reasons I took this job is because it really did marry my personal life with my professional life. I have a background in marketing leadership for nonprofits, and I am a musician, fan and promoter as well. It’s been such a blessing because my first project is promoting my friends performing with the symphony. If I could dream up the concert I most want to see it would be taking folks like Matthew E. White and Bio Ritmo and placing them in front of the symphony. How could you not want to hear that!?

Did any other collaborations between an orchestra and a pop performer inspired your interest in working on an event like RVA Live?
I remember being a teenager and seeing Metallica on the Grammys accompanied by a symphony and then they did that S&M album with the San Francisco Symphony. I remember thinking, “This has got to happen more often with other groups.” I didn’t even like Metallica, but then I saw that and thought it was so cool.

So for round two of the event you’re bringing in Municipal Waste, right?
(Laughs) Of course! We do have some tricks up our sleeve. We are working on some surprise events that build on the RVA Live! model. A few years ago we did this with No BS! Brass, and it seems like its becoming something that people get really excited about. We’re lucky to be in a city where different kinds of music are all welcomed. Its very much a community that is open, inviting and excited to receive new bands and kinds of music. So we’re lucky to live in a place where an event like RVA Live! is truly reflective of the scene as a whole.

One of the most interesting and vital aspects of the Richmond Symphony is the way they break out of classical environments and come to audiences in nontraditional spaces like the Rush House series at Hardywood and pop-up events around the city. Why is it so important to bring the symphony to people, and what makes RVA Live! different by bringing folks to the symphony?
We want The Carpenter Theater and the symphony to feel more approachable and accessible to everyone in the music scene. It can be intimidating to think of the history and the beauty of the space; its certainly a pillar of the community. It can be a hurdle to go to a show there for the first time for someone who is used to going to a place like the Camel that is so open and “come one come all, as you are.” Some people think about coming to the theater and wonder, “Do I wear a suit? What do I do with my hands?” We want to break that mold and make sure people understand that we’re offering more than the black tie experience.

Ellen Cockerham Riccio
Principle Second Violin in Richmond Symphony since 2009
Executive Director, Classical Revolution RVA

How did you first meet Bio Ritmo and join them in the studio? What is it like to get to play some of those songs together on stage years later?
Bio Ritmo
is a salsa band that doesn’t play by the rules. About 5 years ago, my (now) husband, Giustino Riccio, was inspired by the music of Abdel Halim Hafez to write an Egyptian-style song called “Codeina.” That style of music features large string sections playing in unison, so he really wanted to include string players on the album. At that point I hadn’t met Giustino or even seen Bio Ritmo perform, but one of our mutual friends asked me to play on the recording. I remember that it was a weekday morning at Minimum Wage, and Giustino walked in with a 6-pack of Stella Artois and offered some to the string players. We all declined, so on the recording, the band has this incredible groove going but the string players sound kind of caffeinated! I also remember that he was staring at me a lot…

It’s going to be fun to play “Codeina” with the full orchestra, because it will be even closer to what Giustino originally had in mind. On the recording, there were only four string players. I’ve joined my husband onstage in his world of bars and clubs, but this is the first time he’s joining me in my world of the symphony. I love that Giustino had this idea for a song that eventually brought us together.

Are there any other performers you’re especially excited to accompany at RVA Live?
I have also played on recordings for Matthew E. White and Natalie Prass, so I’m looking forward to actually playing with them live.

What is important about the connection between the symphony/classical music and the broader local music scene? In a perfect world, what should the Symphony’s role be in the local music scene, and vice versa?
I think most people would describe their musical taste as somewhat eclectic, listing multiple genres and styles. In order for classical music to be on that list, especially for younger generations, it needs to be as accessible as the bands they go out and listen to. Ideally, the symphony would do what only they can do best–perform great symphonic works, and on a much more regular basis–but also facilitate smaller chamber music performances in the community in venues where people are already going to hear live music. I also think that seeing beloved local musicians host/curate/promote symphony concerts could help to connect Richmond music fans to classical music.

Clair Morgan performs at The Broadberry; Photo by Craig Zirpolo

Clair Morgan
Vocalist/Guitarist/Songwriter, Clair Morgan

How was the opportunity to play RVA Live first presented to you? What were your initial thoughts?
I got a call from Lucas Fritz, and I always enjoy chatting about music with him. He mentioned they were working on a cool project involving a handful of RVA artists performing with the Richmond Symphony, and we were one of the artists they had in mind. It was one of the most exciting moments I’ve ever had as a musician. This is the sort of thing you dream about happening; I was absolutely thrilled. Matthew E. White, Natalie Prass, Tim Barry and Bio Ritmo are all such amazing artists, and the Richmond Symphony is full of wonderfully talented players that know more about music than I’ll ever know. I was shocked that we were going to have the opportunity to share an evening with them, and to be mentioned in the same breath with these artists who are loved so dearly in our community blew my mind a little. I got off the call and went right to our band text feed with something like “HOLY SHIT WE ARE PLAYING WITH THE RICHMOND SYMPHONY!”

Many of the other performers use strings on their records already (Matthew E. White, Natalie Prass) while others leave a lot of space for accompaniment (Tim Barry). You guys fall in the middle, where you already have a lush approach to songwriting and performing but not in the sense of using strings in particular. Does this make it easier or harder to write out parts for the Symphony? And what form do those parts take?
Trey Pollard is handling the score for our songs with the symphony. We met with him to throw around ideas and have a loose brainstorm on how to approach the songs. We decided to have us play the songs more or less how we always do, and Trey would find moments to add, support and embellish things here and there with the symphony. It’s going to be fun to hear the symphony sort of wrap around what we already do. We won’t fully know what Trey has come up with until we have rehearsal on Friday which is exciting. Our band already sort of operates with a certain level of “organized chaos,” so I kind of like not fully knowing what Trey has come up with until it’s go time.

What has it been like writing parts for the symphony and preparing for the show with the band? How does it compare to other big shows you’ve played in the past?
We have two rehearsals with the symphony, one on Friday and the other Saturday before the show Saturday night. It was really fun to sit with Trey and dream a little about what we wanted for our songs. You sort of feel limitless thinking of all of the possibilities. We thought about quiet moments in the songs and how they could be accentuated, or how to add fun percussive support or syncopation to what we already have going on. It was almost overwhelming, but we knew we were in good hands with Trey.

What do you think is important about bridging between the symphony/classical performance and the local music scene as we know it? In a perfect world, what role would the symphony play in the local scene and vice versa?
I grew up watching my father play piano and trumpet in bunch of jazz bands, so I have always had a real appreciation for classically trained musicians. But my musical path was quite different from his. I know very little theory; I sort of fumble around on guitar until something sounds alright to my ears. I primarily focus on writing songs of my own, while he focuses on the standards. Though he hasn’t spent too much time working on original compositions, he can sit down with a random piece of music and play like he’s been doing it for years. I think both approaches have their value, and it’s great to bring these worlds together to see what we can learn from each other!

The Broadberry and The Richmond Symphony present RVA Live!
on Saturday, September 23rd at The Carpenter Theater.
You can purchase tickets here or at the door. The show starts at 8:00 pm.

Cover photo by Dan Currier courtesy of the Richmond Symphony