Classical Minnesota Stories

Outpost concerts push boundaries with classical-driven 'variety show'

Outpost co-founder and violist Sam Bergman, right, performs with Roma Duncan, flute, and Phala Tracy, harp.Travis Anderson

January 22, 2019

Last year, Twin Cities soprano Carrie Henneman Shaw and Minnesota Orchestra violist Sam Bergman cofounded a new concert series. They called it Outpost, bringing to mind a remote place where travelers might find unexpected refreshment.

Outpost's first show in September featured an inspiring grab-bag of intimate performances. Minnesota Orchestra musicians played chamber music but nonmusician performers also were on tap, delivering stand-up comedy, poignant poetry and more.

The second Outpost concert is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 25, at Minneapolis' Hook and Ladder Theater, a former firehouse turned performance venue. It will feature new repertoire, personnel and storytellers, but will retain the same spirit of adventure that characterized the series's debut.

Carrie Henneman Shaw
Twin Cities soprano Carrie Henneman Shaw
Courtesy of the artist

The Twin Cities is famous for the quality and ubiquity of its live music events. What convinced Shaw and Bergman that it needed more?

While working on various projects together, Shaw says, "We both really wanted to be doing more things locally that were chamber music and that were focused on contemporary music."

Both the vocalist and violist are uniquely qualified to make those dreams reality. Shaw enjoys a flourishing career in early and contemporary music, and Bergman is principal viola at the annual Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in California.

Shaw says, "I work more with the high-concept electronic people, and he works more with the orchestral and traditional instrument people, so we thought we could do something really interesting. And so we just started talking about what we might be interested in; we both agreed that there was a real need for something that incorporated more types of voices."

They have a special interest in promoting people who aren't regularly represented on classical stages.

Shaw continues by saying, "If you look at most orchestral programming in the country, there is continually a lot of scrutiny among musicians about how little contemporary music they're willing to do, how little music by women, how little music by anyone who isn't basically an old, white guy. So we thought, well, what is a way that we can genuinely work out this problem? And also to bring music together with voices that are nonmusical and that have complementary messages to what we are trying to do."

Their January programming demonstrates these priorities. Musicians will play works by Missy Mazzoli, DanÍel Bjarnason and Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate, among others. Activist Javier Morillo, author Chris Santiago and singer/actor/performer Momoko Tanno also will lend their talents in some capacity. But aside from the composers' and performers' names, preshow details are scarce. Discovering exactly how their respective creative contributions will come together is part of the joy (and maybe the risk) of the Outpost experience.

Outpost concert series-01
The Hook and Ladder Theater will host the next Outpost concert.
Travis Anderson

"I don't know if this would be a negative or a positive to some people," Shaw says. "But the way this is playing out in my mind is that this is a live music version of being in The New Yorker. Some poems, and then an essay about some interesting contemporary issue, and then a comedian, and then some serious music, and then some not-as-serious music."

Showcasing music alongside other art forms proved to be a potent idea. Shaw says that after their first performance, in September, she came away "feeling … a sense like, why aren't other people doing this? I don't know anybody who does just one thing. Everybody that I know in New York, they do film things, and then they do a music thing, and all of my music friends are into podcasts, and my friends who write poetry are also singers."

It made sense to create events leaning into audiences' multifaceted interests.

She also points out that audience experiences weren't always what they are today. Her knowledge of the past colors her envisioned eclectic future for Outpost.

"Because I'm more of an early-music specialist in many ways, when I go to a concert, I reflect about what the situation would be like if I was experiencing this in its own time. I think about people playing card games and people being served drinks," she says. "I think we've gone more toward a religious experience in concerts, where everyone is sitting in their rows and they are quiet and they are paying attention and you don't break your focus for one second. I don't even do that when I'm watching a half-hour TV show! I have my poetry magazine on the side table, and I get up and I make my cup of tea."

It's early days, but the founders of Outpost boast a clear vision and an openness to evolution. But above all, "we're aiming for high quality," Shaw says. "We want it to be a variety show for people who are really curious about nerdy things."