The Alternative Classical Music Scene Feature: Late-Night Liederabend with Bryan Benner

This week our blogger Anne Wieben had a chat and interviewed baritone Bryan Benner - the first in a series of "alternative" classical scene posts!

All too often classical music is labeled “old fashioned” or “elite”. Grand concert halls with space for 2,000 audience members and often steep ticket prices propel this stereotype, but there is so much more going on in the classical music world than just those lavish performances. Motivated and talented musicians are taking the music out of the concert halls and into unconventional spaces.
My next few blog posts will be about what I would like to dub the “alternative” classical music scene.

This week I’d like to draw attention to a truly unique classical music event happening here in Vienna: Late-Night Liederabend with Bryan Benner. Founded by American-born, European-based baritone Bryan Benner, this event brings classical art song to a very unconventional space, namely a bar that was once a brothel!

Bryan and I met doing an opera two years ago. We played Dot and William Robinson in a concert version of Raymond Yiu’s “The Original Chinese Conjuror” at the Vienna Musikverein. Since then, Bryan has continually impressed me with his talent, dedication, ambition and diverse range. On top of classical opera and Lied singing, Bryan is a very talented singer-songwriter. He is the lead singer of “The Erlkings”, the world’s very first Schubert folk-rock band, as well as “The Wandervögel”, a group that performs new arrangements of German, Austrian and Yiddish folksongs from the 1800's to the present.
His newest project is Late-Night Liederabend.

I recently sat down with Bryan to learn more about this exciting new event in the Viennese alternative classical music scene:

What inspired you to start this event?

Mostly my love for this city, Vienna. I love it for it's history as much as for what it is today, especially in regards to its music scene. The problem was, I’d never been to an event or concert that managed to celebrate Vienna’s rich musical past and at the same time its vibrant musical present. It was always one or the other. The Late-Night Liederabend is meant to be a place where the line between classical and modern can start to fade away and musicians can just be musicians again.

What sort of audience are you looking to attract?

There might have been a time when I thought I wanted to attract a certain kind of audience but now I realize that the energies I’m most interested in tapping into (beauty, humor, love, fun) are all things so basic to human nature that they transcend age and culture. So basically, anyone who wants to listen and enjoy themselves is a welcome audience, and if you happen to be a musician as well, so much the better!

Most people do not associate "Lieder" or classical music in general with a bar - what made you choose such a venue?

I’d say that is a relatively recent development. There was definitely a long stretch of time when going to a bar usually meant hearing someone sing or play an instrument. Let’s not forget that Brahms got his start playing piano in brothels and bars when he was young. Of course, now we have lots of great recorded music but I have made an agreement with Irrlicht Bar (where we host the show) that once it starts, the only music to be heard is music we make ourselves. This is a very important point for me as it helps connect us to a time when people had to be much more proactive about entertaining each other and themselves.

What does a "typical" Late-Night Liederabend look like? What can the audience expect?

Well, we start and end every night with a drinking song by our patron saint, Franz Schubert. I’ve rewritten the words to be something of a theme song for the evening. Then we start with about an hour and a half long concert. Short sets, no more than 20 minutes each, with Lieder duos, modern songwriters, chamber music, solo piano, you name it. At the end of the concert we pass the hat around so the performers have something to show for their efforts. Then the madness begins! The floor is open to anyone who has something to offer. I usually have lots of scores there if people want to sight-read, though some people just like to get up and see what comes out. That’s when the Late-Night magic happens.

Why is an event like this important and relevant for the music scene? Musically speaking, Vienna can feel quite polarized at times. I’ve often felt like I was leading a double life being a classical singer and a contemporary songwriter. I wanted to create an evening where those two worlds and all of the wonderful people I’ve met in them could come together and get to know each other. I am thrilled by the idea that the Late-Night Liederabend might bring artists together who would otherwise not have met, potentially leading to something new and exciting. It’s about community and music and keeping the heart of this city singing.

Bryan will host a “Late-Night Liederabend” once a month at Irrlich Bar. I for one love the idea and am so excited to be one of Bryan’s next performers. Pianist Deirdre Brenner and I have worked up songs by William Bolcom for the next installment on March 27th. Stop by the the event’s page on Facebook to find out more about his monthly guests and to stay up to date. Also, be sure to take a look at the event’s official trailer to get a taste of what makes this event so unique.

What: Late-Night Liederabend with Bryan Benner This month, featuring Anne Wieben, Deirdre Brenner, Johannes Held, and more!

When: Friday, March 27th. Show starts at 9p.m.

Where: Irrlicht Bar Ullmannstrasse 51, 1150, Vienna

Website: www.facebook.com/latenightlieder.

Anne Wieben is a freelance operatic soprano, currently residing in Vienna, Austria. For more information, check out her HELLOSTAGE profile Anne Wieben or visit her website: www.annewieben.com!
Author: Anne Wieben / edited by Nina HELLO STAGE
Comments [1]
BrUce Benner - 2015-03-20 05:30
What a great article and a great idea!I can't wait to see what comes from Viennas latest cauldron of spontaneous combustion.
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