All together now: Takoma Ensemble’s commitment to community and the classics
By Morgan Fecto
Vicki Gau had a lot on her plate before Takoma Ensemble’s “Movable Home” concert on April 9. On the Thursday before the show, she went to Strathmore for meetings, back to Takoma Park to answer emails, then to Silver Spring to secure the April 9 venue, and home again to do some parenting and social media before heading back out. She squeezed in time before rehearsal to explain her robust relationship with music between bites of a sandwich at Kaldi’s Coffee.
“It’s just part of what makes life worth living,” she said of creating classical music. “I want to build Takoma Ensemble into an organization, and to do that requires people who are passionate. It also requires time, and I’ve got two jobs.”
Although Gau is an associate conductor at the National Philharmonic and artistic director of Capital City Symphony, being artistic director of Takoma Ensemble has been her passion project since she founded it with violinist Susanna Kemp in 2013. “With National Philharmonic, it’s, ‘Here’s a concert of Bach,’ which is lovely, but I wanted to be a part of the creative process and show that this music is exciting, not a museum piece,” Gau said. “Everything we do exists on a continuum from past to present.”
In her work with the Takoma Ensemble, Gau collaborates with her contemporaries and pays homage to the greats. In “Movable Home,” the ensemble paired pieces by Respighi with titular piece “Movable Home” by Joel Friedman, and “Constellations,” a piece written for the ensemble by up-and-coming composer Alistair Coleman.
“Classical music has gotten this really bad rap,” she said. “‘It’s not fun, it’s stuffy, it’s elitist.’ Those are the barriers we’re trying to get past.”
In the past, Gau and the ensemble have collaborated with kindermusik expert Becky Linafelt on “PB and Jam Sessions,” concerts that fuse kindermusik concepts and classical music vignettes. “We work really hard to present the ensemble as lighthearted and fun,” she said. “It’s how we’re facing the challenge of getting people to come to our door.”
Gau also wants to recruit more board members, explore alternative venues, and broaden the ensemble’s audience. “There are these big folk and jazz fan bases here, so we’re excited to learn where we fit in,” she said. “Our community is this great niche. From the start we loved the idea of being able to make music right at home.”
While Gau aims to convert more Takoma Park residents to classical music-lovers, she’s had the City’s faith from the get-go. Back in 2013 she and Kemp met with Sara Daines in the Housing and Community Development department to ask for suggestions for growing the new ensemble. They ended up booking concerts in the City’s then-fledgling We Are Takoma series.
“She calmly looked at the calendar and said, ‘I think that’s an idea we can get behind,’” Gau said of Daines. “I told Susanna, ‘We’ve got concerts, so I guess we better get started.’”
To learn more about the ensemble and get updates about upcoming concerts, visit takomaensemble.blogspot.com.
This article appeared in the May 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.