Classical Trio Just as Comfortable in the Clubs

Arts / Article

Violinist Belinda Ho. If you stop by Greenwich Village’s Le Poisson Rouge some night while prowling the big city, you might just as soon catch pianist Menahem Pressler and clarinetist Richard Stolzman as you would the alt-rock band Deerhoof.

It’s part of a relatively recent trend that has seen classical musicians (Matt Haimovitz in particular) appearing in clubs, bars and other kinds of venues outside the concert hall. It isn’t happening at quite the same level here in South Florida, says Belinda Ho, whose Baby B Strings has already played regularly at Churchill’s Pub, and later this month will play successive concerts at the Margulies Art Warehouse (Oct. 22) and at the Miami Beach Arts Gala (Oct. 23).

“Right off the top of my head, I can think of maybe three other string players besides my group who actively or semi-actively play in clubs,” Ho wrote in an e-mail message to me this week. “Most of us still have classical lives to support ourselves, though. Sometimes I feel like the classical community down here is very small, and not as progressive or innovative as those you might find in San Francisco or NYC, so it’s easy to make yourself stand out.”

Ho, a violinist who hails from Kansas, founded Baby B Strings (the title comes from Ho’s nickname), which originally existed as a string quartet. It’s now a trio that features Ho and her best friend and fellow University of Miami graduate Lisa Espinosa, a cellist. Violist Veronica Dicker, another UM graduate, also has joined the two, and the three are looking for a second violinist to form a string quartet called Quartette 305.

For the two October performances, which mark the formal debut of this version of Baby B, the trio will play a trio by Schubert, two movements from a serenade by the Hungarian composer Ernst von Dohnanyi, and two pieces by the Seattle-born crossover violinist Mark O’Connor (Appalachia Waltz and Blackberry Mull).

“I’ve always grown up on pop/rock and country music. I listened to classical mostly for academic/professional purposes. I enjoy it, but at the end of the day, I always found rock stars and pop music to be more fun than classical,” Ho wrote. “And I like that it isn’t written by some old guys from hundreds of years ago that everyone else just rehashes.”

The Oct. 22 event, called Heart Happening, will be held at the Margulies Art Warehouse in the Wynwood Arts District. Proceeds benefit Lotus House, the Overtown shelter for homeless women and infants. At the instigation of Lotus House founder Constance Margulies, Ho founded a live music series at the shelter.

“They really emphasize arts and culture as part of their healing process,” she wrote, and the experience has been rewarding. “It was an energy that I hadn’t really experienced as a concert violinist in the classical world … I really felt a connection with the women, and they had a genuine appreciation for our music, without judgment,” she wrote.

That led her to seek out other alternative places to play, such as a Whole Foods supermarket, a hair salon and a hospital, “because it was a completely different reaction and experience. Just pure joy for everybody.”

Ho’s group also will take part in the Miami Beach Arts Gala, which will honor three area arts leaders: New World Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas; Judy Drucker, founder of the Concert Association of Florida; and Sanford Ziff, the Sunglass Hut king and philanthropist. The gala will be held at the Miami Beach Convention Center and is designed to raise money for local arts groups facing cutbacks in a tough economy.

For Baby B’s future, Ho said she’s hoping to “do some outreach, perform/commission some new up-and-coming composers, and just become known. We have a few ideas for conceptual/themed performances, and also things like playing with silent movies.”

And, no doubt, playing a few more nights in the clubs.