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Revel in Revel, a chamber band for the rest of us

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Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_revel band_june 2012_2
REVEL chamber band Phtoo by Nathan Russell
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_revel band_june 2012_3
Photo by Keith Hajovsky
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_revel band_june 2012_1
Photo by Keith Hajovsky
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_revel band_june 2012_2
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_revel band_june 2012_3
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_revel band_june 2012_1

The Summer Solstice just passed, and summer has arrived in earnest here in Central Texas. Last Saturday night, Austin's classical band REVEL celebrated the season with a house concert, Revel in the Solstice, in East Austin.

If you don't know about REVEL, they are a classical band devoted to presenting chamber music concerts that move, delight and inspire. You can toss your images of dusty, tired classical music aside as the musicians behind REVEL usher in a new vision for classical music. "We’re not sure who invented the rule that you have to sit up straight in prim rows in formal clothing and complete silence to hear Classical music," states the REVEL website. "But it doesn’t apply here."

 The music was fresh and exciting, and the crowd was enthusiastic and involved — all of which made for a wonderful solstice evening of music. 

This means that the focus is on sharing and celebrating great music, not protocol. It means that you can come as you are, clap when you feel like it, and let yourself get caught up in the music like no one is watching. In an effort to cultivate both an understanding of classical music and an appreciation for its place in modern society as a relevant, living art from, REVEL’s mission is to bring an exceptional classical music experience to the community that is devoid of all pretension, and yet exhibits the highest artistic caliber. 

For their special Revel in the Solstice house concert, harpist Elaine Barber (who plays for the Austin Symphony) opened her studio in East Austin — and also jumped in with pianist Carla McElhaney, cellist Joel Becktell and violinist Cármelo de los Santos to play music for the nearly 100 fans who bought tickets. A spot on the John Aielli show a few days before created a huge demand for tickets, making Saturday's concert a major success.

McElhaney got the music started by jumping out and shouting over the mixing and mingling guests: "Are you ready to revel?" She immediately sat down at the piano, with Becktell and de los Santos next to her, and the trio launched into a jazzy, rousing rendition of Autumn in Buenos Aires from Astor Piazzolla's Trio. Why that piece? "Mostly because it's hot," said Becktell.

The group specifically chose music with a summer feel, to celebrate the solstice and evoke the fun of great summer nights. After a couple more songs from strings and piano, Barber was introduced and sat down to the harp for a solo. "I'm a southern girl through and through," Barber told the audience, "born and raised in Mississippi from generations of Mississippians. I love it when music from my homeland travels around the world," she said by way of introduction to her piece, Sweet Blues by Bernard Andres. 

"When you're a piano and strings trio and you add in a harp, it's really hard to find chamber music to fit that," Becktell said. "Mostly you have to create your own, and that's what we did." The four musicians played several pieces together.

The band moved between classical pieces such as Debussy to jazzy tunes and even Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven. Typical of the stories and context introductions that the musicians wove between the music, Becktell introduced Stairway to Heaven with an anecdote from when he worked at Sound Warehouse as a teenager. Seems he worked in the classical department, and one day got a phone call from a guy who wanted to know if the department carried the Led Zeppelin album. When Becktell informed the caller that he had reached the classical section, the caller responded, "Well, that's classic isn't it?"

The music was fresh and exciting, and the crowd was enthusiastic and involved — all of which made for a wonderful solstice evening of music. Art was also on display and available for purchase, from GenerousArt.org, an organization that sells original pieces of art and splits the proceeds between the artist and nonprofits. The evening's art sales benefitted REVEL. Food was provided by Tecolote Farm.

REVEL is available for similar house concerts meant to return the genre of chamber music to its roots. These intimate, catered events called “revels” are held in private homes where guests can come as they are and enjoy breathtaking live music. REVEL also has a forthcoming CD soon to be released. You can find more information about pre-purchase, and buy the current REVEL CD, at revelmusic.org

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