Cordelia Williams chats about Cafe Muse

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Last week, we wrote a piece about Cordelia Williams’ latest venture Cafe Muse, a series of events that takes classical music out of the traditional concert hall and into more relaxed social settings like bars and pubs. Here she is, telling us more!

What inspired you to start Cafe Muse?

Well, I grew up in a house where we all played to each other, among friends and
family, quite often – it was more focused on sharing whatever music we were learning
than ‘performing’ it formally. I loved that relaxed atmosphere and I knew that many years ago performances were often more informal than they are now, for example at parties and musical salons, so I thought I would try to recreate that.

What is its aim?

It’s to take live classical music into more relaxed, sociable venues, where people can have a drink and some food and meet up with friends, as well as listening to music. I suppose I want to create an evening out that will attract a younger audience to classical music, as well as people who are already regular concert-goers.

Why is it so important to take classical music out of the traditional concert halls?

I love playing in wonderful concert halls, with the acoustics, glamour and all those special
rituals and traditions we’ve inherited. But I think there needs to be more than one way
of listening to live music, more than one atmosphere, and a wider variety of audience.
Otherwise classical music will cease to be the vibrant, relevant and fluid art form that it
should be.

How did the first event go?

I was absolutely thrilled. Lots of friends came along to support and there was the most
wonderful vibe of excitement, friendliness and ‘newness’. People really threw themselves
into the idea of relaxing with a bottle of wine but also listening to some music! I played with
some friends in a piano quartet and people loved hearing the different musicians talking about
the pieces.

What sort of reactions do you get from traditional concert-goers?

I’ve been really pleased because so far everyone’s been totally positive. They typically say
what a lovely change it is from normal concerts, especially being closer to the musicians and
able to talk with them. They also particularly comment on the introductions to the music and
how much they like learning more about the composer’s context and inspiration.

How does it work, being in such a social setting? Do you find people forget to listen,
perhaps?

It’s different in different venues, but normally I find that while I’m playing people feel
comfortable eating and drinking, and maybe asking their neighbour to pass the salt, but
generally they want to listen. They have plenty of time to chat in the breaks anyway – there
are normally two or three breaks of 10-15 minutes each for ordering drinks or just milling around.

What’s the oddest place you’ve ever played in?

Once I did an event in a pub where the piano was positioned right next to the bar and the
barman kept making cocktails! Playing Schumann with the cocktail shaker rattling right by
my ear was a new experience for me.

If you could play in any venue anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I would love to do a Cafe Muse event in a beautiful Italian piazza, with the piano outside in
the sun and people gathered around drinking coffee or rosé. It wouldn’t be very practical in
the English weather though!

What’s next for Cafe Muse?

I’m really excited about starting a regular Cafe Muse series at the Theatre Royal Bar in
Nottingham. The first event there last week was packed out and so we’ll be continuing the
series over the coming months. They have a great tapas menu there! Dates will be going up
on the Cafe Muse website.

And what do you have planned for the future as a solo musician?

I’m just about to travel to Norway for a recital, so I’m especially looking forward to that. And in
July my first CD (of Schubert’s Impromptus) will be released – you can find out more about that on
my personal website. Later in the year I’ll be preparing for a recital tour in the South of France
and several performances of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards, which is a huge project. It’s a fun year I
think!

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