House Concerts

May 4, 2009 at 03:57 PM ·

Corwin's blog today about a private concert he just played has got thinking about house concerts.  I have only attended one, and I must admit I felt very special - and strangely out of period.  I kept thinking of the scene where Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin meet for the first time.  I understand, though, that house concerts are more common in Europe than in the States.

What are your experiences with gatherings like this?  Have you attended a good one?  Do you perform in them?  What is best about them?  Worst?  Any good stories?

Replies (25)

May 4, 2009 at 04:05 PM ·

I play about 6 - 10  "salon concerts" every year - in people's living rooms, or the sitting rooms of retirement homes. A mix of piano trio, duets, and solos - depending on the groups and the venue.

They are kind of fun, a generous audience, some people you know, free snacks,meals,  etc. Wine afterward, for those who drink it. Pretty low key all around.

If you are going to play one, enjoy it. If you are going to attend one, don't expect fully polished top-level performances - although sometimes you may be surprised.


May 4, 2009 at 04:13 PM ·

 I have been fortunate to attend a number of house concerts sponsored by a very generous couple here in Houston. They have such a reputation for congenial audiences and gracious entertaining that symphony players who are "dressing" their performances play at their house the week before the performance. They serve delicious food and assemble a very good audience. I understand exactly the feeling of being transported to another era.

May 4, 2009 at 04:55 PM ·

When I was younger I played a few private concerts at people's homes.... is that the same thing you are refering to?  At the time I enjoyed doing it and felt very priviliged to be in someone's beautiful home, and invited personally to perform for their peers.  Nice food, cocktails, and a generous spirit of lovely music.

Now I have a different perception of those concerts.  I've become quite militant about the role of music in society and I strive to perform in concerts that are open to the public.  Many musicians pave their way to a new instrument or funding through cozying up with rich donors and part of that may entail playing private concerts for them and their friends.  I do not judge there to be anything wrong with that and fully support any musician that wishes to rub elbows in order to get ahead.  But personally I do not want to participate.

Retirement communities, schools, recreational centers, these are a different story and I think all music students should be required to do community performances.

May 4, 2009 at 06:44 PM ·

For Europe, I also heard so.  Is it because they have more musicians in a same family? Here (america) it is frequent that the kids (one or more) play some instruments and I have heard (but can not say if it that true or not.) that in Europe, it often happens that the mom, the dad, the grandfather and grand mother and even uncles/aunts all play something or sing.  Is this a stereotype or true? Do we have less family music here or no?  However, maybe it could be part of the answer? When my teacher (European) told me to do family concerts at my home, invite family and neigbours and offer a snack, I laugh kindly because we do not know at all our neighbours (sad thing but the people are not homogene in my street.  All are very different), our relatives live way to far etc.   Anyway, I don't have time now ;(for this but it seems cool! 

Good luck house peformers!


May 4, 2009 at 07:51 PM ·

I do not mean "home concerts" like those Anne-Marie is discussing, where people play for their families and neighbors, but the phenomenon of professional or semi-professional performers giving a concert for pay to a small audience in a private venue.  I believe it is more common among folk musicians, singer-songwriters, and other "niche performers".  Some concerts seem to be like those that Marina doesn't like very much, where folks who can pay for a musician or a small ensemble hire them to play for their guests.  Some I have heard of are admission-based performances for people with interests in non-mainstream music who pay to hear an artist who simply could not fill a hall because the audience is not there - a friend has described to me house concerts of medieval music in which he participated in Sweden.

The house concert I attended did not, unfortunately, feature strings.  It was given by a semi-professional pianist and included traditional Cuban music and his own compositions.  Like many house concerts, I believe, it featured an opportunity to buy the player's brand new CD and it was postponed from its first announced date to make that possible.  About twenty people attended.  It was a nice, private affair and I enjoyed it.  The performance was auctioned and purchased for the benefit of dance programs in the Philadelphia schools.  The friend who won the auction gave the party.

May 4, 2009 at 09:46 PM ·

Oh, I see what you mean! I thought it was concerts that amateurs and hired pros gave for familes and neighbours.  Now I understand why you were are talking about "salons"!  ;)



May 4, 2009 at 10:10 PM ·


there is quite an interesitng phenomenon in Japan.  Around where I live  a number of welathy retirees have either built small cocnert halls (to very high standards) connected to their houses or in one case keep the ground floor as a cocnert hall.  I have played at the latter on a numbe rof ocassions . It seats about 100 people.  the acoustics are lovely they have a greta paino and it is open to anyone.   My experience is they are not that much more expensive tthan regular concert halls and promote a more intimate atmosphere in which one can joke around,  talk seriously about stuff and whatever.  Very positive.



May 5, 2009 at 01:33 PM ·

Yes, quite common in the folk music world. As much house party as house concert in a lot of cases since the attendees are generally acquainted with each other, and some will also are friends or fellow-performers of the musician hired. It can be tough to get enough attendees to make a solo concert in a rented space pay, so this is a good alternative. I just read on his facebook that David Greely, fiddler in the well-known Cajun band, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, went to Carl Jones & Beverly Smith's OT vocal-harmony house concert. :) 

May 6, 2009 at 02:39 PM ·

Every morning I sponser house concerts :)

great coffee, Bach, Mozart and the occasional rarity; a captured mouse

May 6, 2009 at 03:27 PM ·

Most professional musicians feel a certain amount of frustration because we cannot always play what we want, how we want and with whom we want. Organize a house concert. You're in charge. Or find a friend who wants to host one.

I have had many experiences with house concerts. Most of them have been very rewarding.

When I have an important recital or audition coming up I usually invite a bunch of friends to my house for a trial run plus refreshments. Always a valuable experience, and usually an enjoyable one.

Sometimes we'll just have an evening of music -- solo or chamber music -- performance, not sight reading. Great for socializing, great for networking. Friends always love it.

Sometimes the Pittsburgh Symphony would offer a house concert by it's musicians (recital or chamber music) as a reward for a donation of $1,000.

I have on rare occasions gotten paid for a house concert, but generally it has been for friendship or for art's sake.


May 6, 2009 at 04:31 PM ·

"Sometimes we'll just have an evening of music -- solo or chamber music -- performance, not sight reading. Great for socializing, great for networking. Friends always love it.

Sometimes the Pittsburgh Symphony would offer a house concert by it's musicians (recital or chamber music) as a reward for a donation of $1,000. "

These are 2 wildly different things.  Getting together and running through things for friends, sight reading chamber music parties, networking amongst musicians... these are all in great spirit.

On the other hand rewarding donors with private concerts only reinforces the idea that classical music is a tool for elitism in some circles.  Why don't the donors donate $1000 for the musicians to go into a school and perform?  Why don't they donate that money for outreach performances?  Why must it be used as a platform for those donors to rub elbows with eachother and heighten their own sense of value?

May 6, 2009 at 09:41 PM ·

Exactly on point-Marina !!   You are a visionary and a seer-----nice work  !!!!!!!!!

May 7, 2009 at 01:29 PM ·

Marina why so militant? No one is forcing musicians to play at house concerts. If one person finds enjoyment in a house concert and no one is compelled to do it then the house concert is fully justified. I have never been to a "donation" concert but I have been to house concerts that professional musicians have done for love and those that they have done for money. They have been fabulous experiences and the musicians were always the stars of the show--of course, for the concert, and for the socializing afterwards. I never sensed that anyone felt put upon. 

May 7, 2009 at 02:31 PM ·

Marianne, since you are in the Philadelphia area you might want to check out some of Andrea Clearfield's Salon Concerts. Andrea, who is a very active composer and pianist, has been hosting these concerts from her home in Center City for 22 years. You can read details on her website. The concerts are monthly during the academic year and take place on Sunday nights. She invites an eclectic mix of performers, both established and emerging-- classical musicians, world musicians, jazz artists, and even some improvisations with poets and dancers. The performers donate their time for free and the audience is charged a minimal entry fee, about $8, to cover expenses. There is a nice reception at intermission. Two pieces of advice: be there early because they close the doors to the public when the space fills up, and dress comfortably. Because the concerts are in her home, everyone removes their shoes before entering, so there are 200 pairs of shoes in the hallway at the end of the evening. There are a few chairs, but most of the audience sits on the floor, so it helps to bring one of those camping-style back supports if you have one.

May 7, 2009 at 03:19 PM ·

I think these are fine and valueable for new compoers. There are so few venues for artists and new composers, and many formal venues play the same old worn out stuff to sell tickets. These venues allow musicians and the audience to take a risk on newer pieces, emerging artists, and less famous pieces more often. New venues offer new opportunities and new perspectives.

Some players are better in smaller venues and really enjoy them more. In rural and semi-rural areas for example there are few choices so you need to invent your own opportunities to play. If you wait for the orchestra you could wait forever to hear a pieces you like. In large urban areas maybe there is a luxury of many choices but not in many areas where the population is not dense enough to fill a hall or sell enough tickets for newer composers. I think that populism in music is a road to ruin if alternative venues are not available to "work around" the establishment of public taste and opinion. Artists I know like to cut loose and push the corona sometimes and the standard offerings and outreach in schools don't always allow that to happen so easily as there is usually a performance of popular pieces. As far as donors go, a 1000 dontation is the same as a boxed seat in many ways.

This is a control issue really. People want to control their won experience and not rely on, or wait for, institutions to deliver what they want or conform to some grant requirement from on high. It is like a grass roots movement on some levels and I think like politics artists who want to find their audience can ultimately benefit and shape their own destiny. Wait for who? Why not now? Why next season? Why not a local guy or gal instead of some famous soloist who jets in for a show? No glossy brochure just a quick decision play it sooner than later. Very cool.

May 8, 2009 at 05:16 AM ·

How about 'Out of House' concerts?

Now that the wet season is going to be gone in Oregon, I will soon be able to practice outside again. On my lunch break, head down to a park and play.... In the evening, find a nice bit of woods and play....

My favorite place to practice is outdoors! On vacation, when I am out in the middle of nowhere, I love to just sit and play.... unfortunately, my family usually wants to do other kinds of vacation stuff like go swimming, hiking, fishing.... well, that's fun too!

May 8, 2009 at 12:54 PM ·

Hmm, that's funny.  There's nothing I hate more than playing outside.  No accoustics, weather problems, humidity issues, and there's always the fear of bird droppings or bugs.  My violin no likey.

May 8, 2009 at 03:31 PM ·

House concerts can be one of the best gigs for musicians because they are under no pressure (or very little pressure) to play well.  That's because it's not a formal recital like Alice Tully Hall or the LA AmphiTheater.  Sometimes the muscian will get to choose the repertoire, though under some informal guidelines.  Musicians can also join the party for some fun too.

How often do you get reimbursed to attend a house party, paid to entertain people at the house party, while enjoying all the fun and benefits of the party just like everyone else ?  In other words, how often do you earn money for attending a house party, with travel reimbursements ?

Just do not expect house concerts to help launch your career, unless you were 12-yr-old Jascha Heifetz performing at Fritz Kreisler's house party in Berlin.

May 8, 2009 at 03:40 PM ·

The difference is probably that I always choose the time and place (too hot? too damp? No play!), and I do not try to play for big audiences; myself, my grandkids, or my puppies. Plus, it probably helps that I am a fiddler rather than classical....

I live in a beautiful part of Oregon; the humidity is low, the wet most of the year creates lush foliage for the season when the sun shines, and the temperature is more often in the 70s and 80s, so the climate is not much different than indoors. However, when you get under a forest canopy, with huge trees, as your acoustic environment, it can be beautiful.

May 8, 2009 at 08:06 PM ·

OK - it's two people here.  Marianne started the thread, likes playing outside, and wants to know about other people's experiences of house/salon concerts.  Marina dislikes playing outside and thinks house/salon concerts perpetuate an elitist view of classical music.  There is no Mariana in this discussion so far.

May 8, 2009 at 09:11 PM ·

May 8, 2009 at 09:27 PM ·

Oh god, I thought it was always kind of romantics who played outside in the rose bushes...  Ask your wife to plant rose bushes and it will be more inspiring!  (just joking :)  It also depens if you live in countryside or in a mega big packed city!

Marieanne                I just miss an a for Marieanna or whatever the name you told!

May 9, 2009 at 04:22 AM ·

Marianne and Marina,

My apologies to you both. I accidentally threw in an extra vowel....

I do have some yard space; about 1/2 acre, and there are some rose bushes and apple trees there now. The problem is that I never seem to be able to relax as much at home; I'm always thinking of what I need to do, want to work in the garden, etc. so my best bet to play the violin is to go somewhere 'away'. Fortunately, there are quite a number of good places not to far from here.

When I am in Eastern Oregon, I do play in the yard, but the nice thing about it is..... there are no neighbors (except deer and squirrels and such!).

May 9, 2009 at 01:48 PM ·

On one of my wife's birthday I hired a soprano  and pianist to give a private recital at my home. I paid for that and it was a lovely night.  But he singer  made a condition: she chose the repertoire by herself....    I should do that more oftenly...

May 9, 2009 at 02:04 PM ·

M, A, R, N, these letters can be extremely confusing lol.  Sound it out, sound it out.

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