Two Thursdays ago I’m eagerly headed to Russian House for what I assume to be a night of rad amateur Russian classical music. All I know is that the event is staged by the Sound Bridge Project, a local confederation of classical musicians and ensembles dedicated to bringing classical music into unconventional venues around Austin. I chugged a beer before leaving and my body is ready for anything.
I spend probably half an hour trying to find parking along the streets of downtown before consenting to a public parking structure a few blocks East. There is a slight nip in the air as I hurry westward on 5th Street. This Thursday night, the sidewalk denizens are sparse but the street seems friendly enough.
I come upon Russian House and turn inside the propped-open front door. Immediately I’m greeted by a rack of traditional Russian regalia and a life-sized stuffed bear which might seem imposing were it not for his smashing hat. His name is Misha, the “John” of Russian ursidae.
I bee-line to the bar. I take the bartender’s advice and order a wildberry-honey infused vodka, which she assures me “even men get sometimes.” It tastes like an homemade jolly rancher with a dry kick. Blech. I make it last.
The atmosphere is dark. At the moment, there are only a few patrons, huddled towards the bar, making the boxy, high-roofed chamber seem spacious and impersonal. The walls are hung with Russian folk instruments, retro ads for Russian spirits, and Soviet propaganda prints. There are flattering caricatures of individuals who I imagine are political figures. I’m 65% sure one mustachioed mug is Stalin.
In the corner, a skeletal flute duet does its best to fill the barroom. They seem indifferent to the bullying traffic sounds outside. The music is Classical-era and light in spirit: clearly not Russian as I had anticipated. A third flute joins the music turns more modern: Pavane for a Dead Princess…also not Russian. Looking back on the event description, I see that it didn’t specifically say Russian music, but I nevertheless feel like an opportunity is being missed here. I chat with a few people associated with Sound Bridge and learn that the flutists represent the Austin Flute Project, an attractive classical music organization with similar aspirations to Sound Bridge.
It starts to dawn on me that most of the people here are musicians and know each other well. Everyone I talk to is friendly and excited to talk music.
A local quartet takes the stage. The first violinist has long, sharp-cut sideburns and gold-frame glasses with narrow lenses. He wears an embroidered vest over a white short-sleeve buttondown, with creased brown slacks extending down to blue and white bowling shoes. Opposite him, the cellist is in tan work boots, jeans and a baggy shirt, a single gray braid running down his back. When asked what’s on the program, he says with a smile, “we’re gonna be all over the place.”
They introduce themselves as the Fountainhead Ensemble, and their program IS all over the place. Throughout the evening, they perform selections from Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti, the Beatles, and Jerry Bock’s Fiddler on the Roof, among others. All in all, it’s a casual and sight-read-y sort of shindig. But for classical music sympathizers like me, in a town where classical music seems so often to fly beneath the radar, it’s meaningful just to come across a few fellow enthusiasts doing what they can to spread the love. Bachtoberfest, anyone?