La Vita Vivace: Funkified Classical

Vivace represents a turn in the arts––the supposed inaccessible realms of high culture are now approaching youth and subcultures unabashedly in efforts to maintain support for the arts for generations to come. Around Salt Lake, there has been a noticeable presence of youth-focused advertising (including our own SLUG Magazine) for the Utah Symphony and Opera under the brand “Vivace”. But wait a minute… how did this happen? As local bands are dissipating and the small house shows seem a thing of the past, more and more interest seems to be vested in the traditional arts. You probably wouldn’t catch your average punk rocker or street artist at a wine-serving gallery stroll 15 years ago, but now this seems to be commonplace. Tapping into the cultural phenomenon of the new American Edwardianism, Utah Symphony and Opera is actively packaging and creating performances specifically for the once cynical, whose ironic enthusiasm has matured into genuine appreciation. Crystal Young- Otterstrom co-founded Vivace with her friend Melissa Rasmussen, who now runs a similar event at Ballet West known as Studio D. “We created it because, frankly, the symphony/opera audience is getting older. There’s no reason why 20, 30, 40 somethings shouldn’t be interested in classical music. They need an extra incentive than just great music. Vivace is that incentive.”

Crystal is referring to Vivace’s pairing of each performance with a subsequent after-party with the performers and crew catered by local restaurants. Appealing to the near-universal hipster thirst for after party spots, Vivace has a pretty good track record, with some of the more notable parties taking place in such grand locales as the top of the Wells Fargo building, The Grand America Hotel and even a cross-themed party with Jared Gold’s Black Chandelier a few years back.

Although you may find rubbing shoulders with your grandmother kinda weird, fancy parties really are a pleasurable alternative to the dive bar culture that infuses the independent art world. Additionally, for those of us that enjoy stepping way outside our comfort zone, it is initially hilarious to take part in the “old money” culture and environment. Soon you start to realize that the “finer” things in life don’t need to be reserved for stuffy old Monopolymen. According to Young-Otterstrom, “With the discounted ticket, guests get the after-party with free food at the best restaurants in town. We sit together, so no one’s going to glare at you for clapping in between movements. It’s a fantastic party, and a way to try something different from what you normally do on a Saturday night, all while getting a bit of culture at the same time.” My question was, why would the symphony and opera shift its focus towards the young, cynical, ungrateful hipsters? The symphony’s succinct response was, “If we don’t, who will be our audience in 20 years?”

The idea is working. Vivace is the largest group of its kind west of the Mississippi. That means it’s bigger and gets an average higher attendance than similar groups at symphonies and operas in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle or Portland. Young-Otterstrom clarifies, “I think Vivace is more successful than those groups for a number of reasons. Our after-parties are always in tandem with a performance. Most of these groups don’t have parties in conjunction with performances, it’s just a whenever discount and then they have a few parties per concert that don’t fall on concert nights––big mistake.” She continued, “Other groups have hefty membership fees. I believe that while there can be levels of membership, there’s always got to be a bottom, free level that includes the parties––there shouldn’t be any barriers. The Vivace Behind the Music primer is also unique. We invite the cast, guest artists, conductors, and orchestra to the parties, and lastly, we don’t kick you out once you hit 40. Since 40 is the new 30, why not? My philosophy is that if the standard advertising wasn’t enough for you at 20, 30, or 40 then it won’t be enough at 50.” I can vouch for Young-Otterstrom in the respect that the parties are not only a good time, but are well attended by the guest artists as well as the symphony musicians and probably the president of whatever company you work for.

Marketing tactics aside, the ability of these works of art to sustain generations proves their timelessness and their universality to all age groups. All the clever packaging in the world wouldn’t matter if the music or performances were shoddy. Luckily, the performers are world class, and the guest artists are internationally renowned (although I bet nine out of ten of us probably couldn’t pick them out of a lineup). Who are we to claim a boastful ignorance of classical works in the face of neo-cultural centricity? Young-Otterstrom goes further, “The Beatles, in my view, will speak to us for eternity. So do Beethoven, Puccini and Shostakovich. These composers were the rebels of their day and I think that speaks to younger audiences today. The composers who weren’t so great aren’t played today, the one’s that were timeless are.” Of course I agree with her to a degree––thank God we won’t have to experience a 311 or Maroon 5 opera any time in the future. A Beatles musical already exists, even though the Beatles were gone long before most of us were born.

Because it is unlikely any of SLUG’s readers are going to dive in and buy season passes, I wanted to find out which Vivace performances in particular are the most exciting and groundbreaking works. Young- Otterstrom breaks it down: “Looking ahead the two [performances] I’m most looking forward to are Blizstein’s Regina on January 17 and the Symphony performance on March 28 featuring Ives’ Symphony No. 4 with violinist Vivianne Hagner playing Korngold’s Violin Concerto. Both performances are featuring pieces that aren’t performed to death.” Young-Ostermann explained, “Regina is a dark opera (it’s adapted from The Little Foxes) and its composer, Marc Blizstein, was a contemporary of Bernstein. Like Bernstein, Blizstein was very much influenced by all musical forms and you’ll hear some jazz, some ragtime and some blues, in addition to your standard opera/classical stuff.” The after-party for Regina will be held at Tucci’s. The March 28 event will also serve as Vivace’s fourth birthday celebration. The after-party will be held onsite and catered.

Tickets to all Vivace events are $30, $15 for students. Visit for more info. You can also add Vivace on Facebook, or join their mailing list, if you’re feeling oldfashioned.