Concert Review: Fifth House Ensemble + Jason Vieaux: LiveConnections doing what it does best

If you told me weeks ago that I was going to enjoy two hours of live chamber music and classical guitar, I would have politely disagreed and perhaps rolled my eyes when you weren’t looking. But as a die-hard music lover of all genres, I would have assured you that I have an open mind and a penchant for challenge.

Although this concert took place at Philadelphia’s artistically venerable World Cafe Live in University City (30th and Walnut), the real host was LiveConnections, a non-profit in residence at the Cafe. LiveConnections bills itself as inspiring learning and building community through collaborative music-making. That fact was apparent from the moment I entered the concert space—small and intimate with looping photos of children and adults of all ages listening to music from the stage but mostly participating. It is clear to me that LiveConnections thrusts music into the community where it’s needed most through education and action.

The evening kicked off with six diverse young members of Play On, Philly! providing an unexpected and attention-grabbing treat of percussive beats—simple wooden instruments tapped and played with fierce precision. From my vantage point, it was difficult to tell if they were actually reading music or each other’s rhythmic synapses. Perhaps one had his eyes closed? As the piece progressed and moved, I was reminded of a flock of birds flying as one. Truly wonderful!

Grammy winner Jason Vieaux then took the stage, playing Dan Visconti’s The Devil’s Strum. Visconti was present in the audience but that didn’t shake Vieaux. Rather, it may have emboldened him. I have never seen anyone play a guitar with such range and skill. He used the entire length of the guitar from bridge to neck, hands all over. At several points he tuned a few strings while playing! The piece, with hints of staccato country and blues, was dissonant and wonky and I had trouble following it, but then just as the chaos began, it ended in a coherent collection of comfortable chords.

Vieaux was joined on-stage by Chicago’s Fifth House Ensemble—a collection of individuals each carrying a single instrument, whether cello, flute, oboe, violin or my personal favorite, French horn. The program brought the audience along a journey of time through sound. We were transported to a place where music, although very beautiful with the help of instruments, is more literal. Music is everything we hear, from crashing glass to summer insects. The ensemble provided an interpretation.

Each member of the ensemble played with Vieaux from a different era of time and music, and the connection and sounds were astounding: the french horn’s low and brassy perfect pitch, the tall and flowing flautist’s graceful movement, the cellist’s and violinist’s long stick pulls. Singularly or together at different points, the results were ethereal and inspired.

A highlight was the use of a pair of crystal drinking glasses with wet fingers swirling the rims, which produced a sound that came from nowhere but provided an eerie tonal foundation for one of the many pieces.

This concert was a success because of its collaboration. And kudos to LiveConnections for bringing Vieaux and Fifth House to the same venue. These headliners played beautifully together throughout the evening, as if they were raised together in a back room of the Curtis Institute. For the young students present, this concert provided a view, and soundtrack, into what’s possible for them in the future.

Concert date: December 13, 2017; 7:30 p.m.
World Cafe Live
3025 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

[This review originally appeared on]

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