Classical musicians everywhere face the persistent question of how to reach new audiences, to get more people enthused about an art form they might not know much about. Some pianists have gone the extra mile to address the issue — they give free performances on a mobile stage dubbed the Concert Truck.
The vehicle reached Baltimore this week from its home base in Columbia, S.C. The road trip moves on next to the Midwest.
"It feels like classical music is a bit of a niche," says prize-winning pianist and Concert Truck co-director Susan Zhang, a graduate student at the Peabody Institute. "We wanted a way to give people who are not part of this niche more access, to let them know it's not reserved for a certain kind of person."
Zhang's fellow co-director of the Concert Truck is Nick Luby, who likewise has several piano prizes to his credit. He's currently completing work on a graduate certificate in performance at the University of South Carolina. He got the impetus for the project after looking around him at various outdoor spots.
"People were connecting to music through head phones," Luby says, "not live music. I thought how great it would be to have a piano around. That's where the idea of a mobile concert hall came from."
The result of that inspiration is a 16-foot box truck, equipped with speakers, lights, and a donated Roland digital grand piano. The Concert Truck was launched last year when Luby, Zhang and colleagues drove to a variety of open spaces in Columbia, S.C., to perform.
This summer, the group outfitted and repainted a newly acquired vehicle that is being broken in on a trip that included stops at music camps in the Washington area Monday and Tuesday, and continues Wednesday with performances for the Children's Home in Catonsville and Baltimore Outreach Services.
The Baltimore visit wraps up with two public concerts. Thursday night's performance will be outside the dining spot R. House in Remington — "It's one of my favorite places to eat," says Zhang, who is doing graduate studies at Peabody with the excellent pianist and teacher Boris Slutsky.
On Friday, the Concert Truck will be located at the Ynot Lot in Station North.
Audiences can expect a colorful variety of virtuosic piano pieces by Chopin, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff and contemporary Russian composer Nikolai Kapustin, known for his vivid jazz-influenced style. In addition to solo works, duets are often added to the programs.
"We do a lot of accessible music that's not too long," Zhang says. "People who don't know classical music can hear something fun."
After Baltimore, the Concert Truck will make the trip to Minnesota, where the pianists plan to give pop-up performances around the state to celebrate Minnesota Public Radio's 50th anniversary.
Taking classical music on the road and performing for diverse audiences and passersby has energized the Concert Truck pianists.
"It's been amazing," Luby says, "an immensely gratifying experience."
If you go
The Concert Truck performs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at R. House, 301 W. 29th St. and 7:30 p.m. Friday at Ynot Lot, North Avenue and Charles Street. Free. Go to theconcerttruck.org for more information.