In the summer, crowds of excited and loyal fans pack into what can often be tight spaces to see their favorite sports teams.
Ulysses S. James sees no reason why this cannot happen with classical music.
His "stadium," however, is Alexandria's Lyceum museum and his "teams" certainly have fewer players. "It's almost a principle that I use that professionals who have helped the association in some way can participate," said James, music director and conductor of the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association (WMPA), of how he chooses who will play in the WMPA's Summer Chamber Series. This series, which will run every Sunday until Sept. 2, except Aug. 5, features about one to five players every week.
James feels that these small numbers usually give the summer concerts a personal feeling. "The musicians pick what they like to play so the performances tend to be very vigorous and close to the heart," he said.
The performances are not only personal to the musicians, but to many audience members as well. "I've been going since they've had the concerts," said Jeannie Schelleng, of the series, which is on its 17th year. "It's just a fun Sunday afternoon music event," she said. Schelleng is not the only "regular" at the summer concerts; according to James, a large portion of the audience returns every week and has done so for years. "It's a very friendly and supportive audience," said James.
ALL THE CONCERTS are free, though donations are encouraged. They begin at 3 p.m. and run from an hour to 90 minutes with an intermission. During the intermission there is a raffle in which one audience member wins a set of season tickets to the WMPA.
On June 24, the performer was Jacob Wolfe Kidder, a pianist who was said he was not a stranger to the WMPA's summer concerts. "This is the third or fourth concert I've done for this series. I have played in them by myself and with my dad," said Wolfe Kidder, who recently graduated from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio. "At college I forgot what it was like to play where you could absolutely see the audience," he said as to why he liked The Lyceum's personal atmosphere.
The audience seemed to feel this connection as well. "I've heard this young guy since he was 14 or 15 years old; I've watched him develop," said Schelleng.
Despite the loyalty of his current audience, James admits he would not mind seeing it grow. "Our average [audience] is around 90 persons, but we've had as much as 140, which is the maximum number The Lyceum will hold," said James. He hopes this summer's numbers move closer toward 140. "Come back next week and bring five others," James told his audience on June 24.
Upcoming concerts feature what James calls "a broad variety of really good performers." There will be several pianists and vocalists; a string quartet; a trombone quartet; a group of WMPA woodwind players, and more. "It's a good place to spend your Sunday afternoon when it's really, really hot outside," said James.