Salon and Saloon, Side by Side in Cincinnati

Salon and Saloon, Side by Side in Cincinnati 

Throughout the QueenCity, like-minded music lovers gather in the living rooms of those who like to host afternoon musicales. Or they descend on the neighborhood bar for a beer and a bit of Bach. They come together to enjoy chamber music concerts and voice recitals given by seasoned professionals who choose to make Cincinnati their home base. Audiences never larger than a few dozen give rapt attention to singers and instrumentalists—many of whom are home for a few days—and in typical fashion, they perform in ad hoc concerts more for their souls than for their bank accounts.

Once the performance is over, and once the tea and cookies or the burgers and fries have been consumed, and once the chatting with their admirers has died down, the singers and pianists and cellists and flutists go on to their next concert or operatic or teaching gig. For some it’s a rite of passage. For others it becomes part of their modus vivendi—one concert or church job or High Holidays or Christmas Messiah at a time.

Among the several presenters of non-traditional concerts in Cincinnati, the redoubtable James Slouffman stands out as a quintessential entrepreneur and a listener of discriminating taste—with a passion for Wagner and a sincere devotion to nurturing both entry-level and seasoned young artists. Slouffman has a small budget but big ambitions. An imposingly tall and disarmingly affable fellow, he retired not long ago from a career in visual arts and education, and now keeps retirement ennui at bay by helming the estimable Wagner Society of Cincinnati. Several times a year, he and his fellow Wagnerites meet to fete the music of the Master in any number of places. Wherever there is a piano in tune and a host willing to open a home to a group of enthusiastic lovers of the Bard of Bayreuth, there is likely to be a salon concert presented by Slouffman and his friends. One of the most praiseworthy activities of the Society is its Artists’ Studio, in which a select group of singers are modestly supported by the Society’s members; I reviewed a concert last year in which several of the their regulars appeared.

Husband and wife, mezzo soprano Stacey Rishoi and bass Gustav Andreassen, have significant careers that take them here and there, usually separately, so that one of them can stay home to take care of their young daughter. Juggling all of these balls—combining personal life and career—can be daunting. Fortunately, Cincinnati and the surrounding region provide more and more work for singers like Ms. Rishoi and Mr. Andreassen. Collaborative pianist Valerie Pool also gets plenty of work in the city, and is the accompanist-in-residence for the Wagner Society. You will also find her at the keyboard in performances of the newly-born Cincinnati Chamber Opera and as a recital partner of many singers. Guitarist William Willits is a formidable musician who, like so many of his peers, combines teaching with a “have-guitar-will-travel” attitude that keeps the jobs coming his way and the music-hating wolf from his door.

The Hickory Hill Chamber Players are the brainchild of Marjorie Frixell, a resident of Cincinnati’s tony Indian Hill township. Several times a year, her spacious home fills to the brim when she hosts afternoons with artists such as Mary Stucky, a long-term member of the faculty of the College-Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati. Stucky is a protean singer who regularly explores (with husband Rodney) the much-neglected repertoire for voice and guitar. At C-CM, at churches and temples such as the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Hyde Parkor at Frixell’s “Afternoons of Music,” listeners have had the rare pleasure of hearing the likes of the Stucky’s unearth rarities from the French Renaissance, the English Baroque, and 20th-century Spanish and English composers. Flutist Suzanne Bona and instrumentalists from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra have also appeared at Frixell’s, and she has announced a varied program on December 8, which includes Smetana’s Ma Vlast and Nielsen’s Wind Quintet.

One does not need to look any further than the Internet to find more information about the city’s myriad groups. There and here you will find Ixi Chen’s concert:nova playing everything, everywhere—everything but the “oh-not-that-again” in the tried and true places. Annalisa Pappano’s Catacoustic Consort ( and its forays into early music are best heard in the acoustically-resonant churches in which she and her world-class musicians usually perform.

Over on the Northside, Cincinnati’s funky alternative neighborhood, the Northside Tavern provides a come-as-you-are haven for a number of ad-hoc groups that, under the umbrella of Laura Sabo’s Classical Music Revolution Cincinnati play everything from Bach to Klezmer to jazz, both for your listening pleasure and for whatever you drop in the hat (especially when the contribution is noiselessly done). More saloon than salon, the Northside is the neighborhood bar where urbanite yuppies and tattooed bikers go for a beer and a burger—and a Bach—in a non-threatening environment about once a month. Among the other groups that Sabo nurtures, look out for: Ohio River Brass Quintet, Noyse Merchants, and Ubi Caritas.

And then there’s opera. Lacking the deep pockets and the elephants and the mature voices to do the Aida’s and Tosca’s, Shawn Mlynek’s Cincinnati Chamber Opera, Nanoworks Opera and Isaac Selya’s Queen City Chamber Opera have stepped up to the podium within just months of each other to provide an alternative repertory to that of their bigger and much wealthier brother, the Cincinnati Opera. From the three new kids on the block we have had Mozart’s Zaide and Weber’s Abu Hassan, Haydn’s Il Mondo della Luna, and a couple of brand new chamber operas. On the horizon, Selya soon presents L’Amore dei Tre Re of Italo Montemezzi, starring local favorite tenor Marco Panuccio.

And now, full disclosure: my wife Kimberly and I have started a concert series at the Peterloon Estate in Indian Hill. We just presented the first of four concerts as part of Music for All Seasons at Historic Peterloon. Our first, All’Italiana, was a concert for voices and guitar: Bellini, Rossini, Donizetti, and Giuliani, and both Beethoven and Schubert in a rare Italian vein. In December, April and June we follow up with concerts of traditional, Spanish and American vocal music.

There is more—many more, much more. Cincinnati is a musically-happening city and these names are just a few of the many things that make a community this size a haven for musicians and for those who, like us, are in awe of their fortitude.

Rafael de Acha