Bates grad re-energizing classical music

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LEWISTON — Classical music can include new music, new arrangements and feature instruments never imagined by composers with powdered wigs and buckles on their shoes.

Without a jolt in classical music’s presentation, its audiences will soon be gone, conductor Andrew Cyr told attendees at a Great Falls Forum lecture Thursday at the Lewiston Public Library.

That’s why Cyr, a Fort Kent native and founder of New York’s Metropolis Ensemble, planned to weave an iPad app into a live, Thursday night concert at his alma mater, Bates College in Lewiston.

“You can control what the players are playing and change their tempo,” Cyr said. “It sounds gimmicky and it is a little bit, but it’s a way to engage audiences in new ways and to help connect them to musicians and to make people smile.”

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Smiles, particularly young ones, are desperately needed at classical music concerts, Cyr said.

Roughly 7 percent of younger people ever consider attending classical music concerts, he said.

“This represents, in a sense, a dying art form in many ways,” Cyr said. “I feel very deeply about classical music. Why is this happening?”

For Cyr, who graduated from Bates in 1996, finding new ways of expanding the classical music audience has become his work.

Cyr founded the Metropolis Ensemble in 2006. Since then, the ensemble has commissioned more than 90 pieces of music and three studio recordings.

In 2010, Cyr and the ensemble earned a Grammy nomination for their first studio album. Cyr has conducted performances at major New York City venues, including Radio City Music Hall. And the ensemble has appeared on National Public Radio and on TV’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” On the TV show, the ensemble performed with The Roots.

Cyr believes the success is happening because people like classical music but performances have become too serious and sedate.

“I thought, ‘Maybe if I took the concert to audiences or if the concerts were more informal, less like a religious service and more like a party,'” he said.

The ensemble gives regular concerts, but it also does living room shows, concerts in bars and night clubs and larger scale “epic” performances, such as a concert in the center of a previously abandoned New York synagogue.

Some of his popular works feature less conventional orchestral instruments, such as theremins and mandolins. And he’s even commissioned arrangements of famous works that have been labeled “remixes,” in which the melody is the same but the instrumentation, tempo and sound are reworked to sound more like modern popular music.

His success and his belief in classical music has made him believe that it is less of a dying music than a resurgent one, he said.

“There is a huge growth opportunity,” he said. “This is kind of like an emerging market.”

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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