On Saturday, classical music performance comes to an unlikely venue: Hi-Tones, a popular bar on the St. Mary’s Strip known more for DJ nights and live rock or rap music.

The event, called Brews and Beethoven, will feature individual sets from cellist Emilio Alvarez, soprano Khadijah Marie Jabbar, pianist Jaime Ramirez (also accompanying Jabbar and Alvarez), classical guitarist Brant Sankey, and a string quartet. The program for the evening will feature pieces by Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Bach, Schubert, and more.

The idea for the uncommon pairing of music with venue came to show organizer Álvaro Del Norte several months ago. He said he was inspired by his own love of classical music and his desire to see it outside of its typical contexts.

“I’m always performing at bars,” he said, “and I was just wondering in the back of my head why classical music, which is powerful music that has a huge range of emotion, isn’t performed live more often and in more places.”

Del Norte, an accordion player who leads the conjunto-punk fusion band Piñata Protest and the Tex-Mex act Los Callejeros de San Anto, said that he decided to see his unconventional idea through to fruition because he likes “trying new things and breaking the rules.”

“Also,” he said, “I just thought the juxtaposition of classical music performed in a dive bar would be really interesting to do.”

Ramirez referred to the novel juxtaposition as lending “almost a performance art quality to the event.”

A few months back, Del Norte recruited Ramirez – a classically trained music director and composer who also plays in various non-classical capacities, including with psychedelic cumbia group Pochos Chidos and country outfit The 501s – to help him round up adventurous classical musicians for the show.

Ramirez said that the musicians he reached out to were surprised, intrigued, and ultimately excited at the prospect of performing classical music in an unconventional setting.

“Not every music student or classically trained musician is down for both worlds,” he said, but for those who are “it’s just really neat to get to play this kind of music in this kind of space.”

For Ramirez and his more intrepid classical music peers, some of whom may not have been able to play in a recital format for a long while, “working this old stuff up feels good, it feels kind of nostalgic.”

“Some of us have been looking for an excuse to play that stuff and dust off the old repertoire binder,” he said.

Jaime Ramirez

Ramirez wanted the performers to “try to play the hits, but also some lesser known pieces that are beautiful too,” hoping the show will offer a little something for everyone, regardless of the listeners’ prior experience with classical music.

Opened in 2011, Hi-Tones quickly became a no-frills bastion of the local live music scene, known for helping provide a platform for newer acts. The spot also has hosted touring acts over the years. Ramirez expects the classical performance to be a bit like “when you have two groups of friends that are very different and you get them together and just see what happens.”

“Hopefully people get the feeling that something is happening that is out of the ordinary, a little weird, but that somehow makes sense,” he said.

“I kind of hope people get a little rowdy,” he added.

Jabbar, who graduated in December from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a Bachelor of Music degree with a vocal performance concentration, said that an event like this can have the effect of “making classical music more accessible.”

When Ramirez first approached her with the concept, Jabbar was thrilled, thinking “this is exactly the kind of thing that I would go to.”

She’s excited at what she sees as an “opportunity to take these songs that people might sort of know the melody to, in some cases, and to let them experience the whole piece live.”

Khadijah Marie Jabbar

“Outside of its original context, which may be hundreds of years ago,” she said, “you have to sort of enliven it with something that makes it feel more relevant for people.” 

“Pop music or rock music or jazz or whatever sort of already has that built-in relevance,” she said. “… At some point you have to add something to make it relevant.”

Like Ramirez, Jabbar expressed a slightly playful ambivalence about the audience’s potential response to the show.

“I have put a little thought into how the crowd will react, but as a music student I have long since learned that you can’t control your audience or its reaction – you just present what you have prepared,” Jabbar said.

Brews and Beethoven is scheduled for Saturday night at 9 p.m. at Hi-Tones, located at 621 E. Dewey Pl.

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.

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