Bach to the Future

Written by Alicia Cormie Category: Valley News Issue: March 2012


Such is the high-toned stigma of classical music – that of a snooty pastime for entitled patrons. It doesn’t make you think of craft-brew-sipping hipsters at the Lost Leaf in Phoenix, and it certainly doesn’t make you consider people like 49-year-old Tempe resident Albert Guzman, a monocle-less regular dude whose stereo has spent the better part of its days blasting AC/DC and the old country classics of Loretta Lynn. A volunteer for the Tempe History Museum, Guzman recently got hooked on classical music and regularly comes to the Lost Leaf to coordinate and enjoy the pub’s weekly ensemble chamber performances.

“It opened my eyes,” Guzman says of his indoctrination. “When the concerts are going I become mesmerized.”

Score another convert for the Classical Revolution – a nationwide classical-music revival movement that originated in San Francisco in 2006 and took root in the Valley two years ago. The movement’s mission is simple: Strip classical music of its elitist veneer and promote small-ensemble chamber performances in alternative spaces. Thus, folks who wouldn’t otherwise know Tchaikovsky from a chai latte get a long-overdue taste of beautiful music. “Classical Revolution is creating a new history for classical music in the United States – it’s a sort of rebirth,” says ASU music history graduate student Jayme Kurland, one of four founding members of Classical Revolution Phoenix (CRPHX), the local chapter of the national organization.

For fellow founder Joey Kluesener, developing a sustainable, younger classical music audience in Phoenix was a daunting challenge. Aside from traditional classical music organizations like the Phoenix Symphony, the Valley was “literally a desert wasteland of classical music” when Kluesener – a bassoonist and music educator in Phoenix – moved here in 2005. The level  of public appreciation simply didn’t “par up” to his standards for a major American city.

Hoping to plant seeds that will sprout into a classical music ecosystem, Kluesener and his team have worked with 13 music groups to host events at casual and accessible venues like the Lost Leaf, the Tempe History Museum, Fixx Coffee Bar and Bookmans Entertainment Exchange. One event that CRPHX hopes will further transform the public’s opinion of classical music is the second-annual Phoestival on March 2 during the First Friday art walk in Downtown Phoenix. The event is a partnership between CRPHX, the award-winning Phoenix Chorale and the Fringe Festival. 

CRPHX organizer Jen Rogers expects the event to draw fans of First Fridays, theater, classical music and choral ensembles. Attendees will be able to drift among several stages at the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, enjoying performances at their leisure. “We’re bringing the music to them instead of expecting people to come to the music,” Rogers says.

That casual approach is what made Guzman, the rock ‘n’ roll and country aficionado, go “groupie” on classical music. “Meeting the performers and being one-on-one with them opened up a whole new world to me,” he says. “Now I find myself asking who else is coming and where they’re going to perform next.”

For more information and a calendar of events, visit

Curious to see how cool classical music can be? Check out these free events presented by Classical Revolution PHX.

Phoestival, March 2
A partnership with CRPHX, the Grammy award-winning Phoenix Chorale and the Fringe Festival, the second-annual Phoestival boasts multiple chamber ensembles, Phoenix Chorale’s public practice and edgy theatrical performances. The event takes place during First Friday at the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

Loud, March 24 
A throwback to the yesteryears when amplifiers weren’t around, Tempe History Museum will host an outdoor music festival (complete with food trucks) featuring percussion- and brass-centered ensembles.

Arizona Centennial Composition
Competition, May 5
In this American Idol of sorts for chamber music, local composers will be challenged to write original compositions related to the Arizona Centennial. After they are played in front of judges at the Tempe History Museum, a crowd favorite and panel favorite will be awarded.

Last Sunday Series at Lost Leaf
On the last Sunday of every month, the Lost Leaf Bar and Gallery in Downtown Phoenix hosts a Classical Revolution PHX performance group, from accordion players to saxophone quartets.