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AmericanEnsemble T he idea of going out on stage, playing the music, bowing and getting out—it just doesn’t jibe with the times,” says pianist Eliran Avni. That traditional chamber music recital format will certainly not be found at performances of SHUFFLE Concert, the New York City-based, mixed-genre ensemble he founded in 2010. Audience members don’t receive a traditional program book when they walk into auditorium, but instead a “menu” with a dizzyingly eclectic list of musical choices. Everybody also gets a number; after each selection they play, the musicians pick one number out of a hat—or rather, from a smartphone— allowing the matching audience member to choose the next piece of music. The idea for the format occurred to Avni during a gym workout: he didn’t realize his iPod was playing in “shuffle” mode, and nearly toppled off the elliptical machine when a Pretenders song gave way to Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony. Now the same kind of eye-opening contrast regularly pops up during SHUFFLE perfor- mances: Handel abutting Sondheim, Ravel seguing into Stevie Wonder. “Audiences enjoy the juxtapositions, and you certainly learn something about the music,” says Avni. “When you’ve got Regina Spektor back-to-back with Schubert, something happens to the Spektor piece, and something happens to the Schubert, too. “It’s like eating in New York,” Avni says. “You’ll have pizza tonight; falafel tomorrow; and go to a five-star French restaurant the night after. Sometimes you want to eat your ribs and enjoy them; sometimes you want the whole silverware experience.” The group has six core musicians: Avni, violinist Brendan Speltz, cellist Sofia Nowik, oboist Hassan Anderson, clarinetist Moran Katz and soprano Ariadne Greif, all classically Watch clips of SHUFFLE Concert at trained, but all comfortable in the variety of styles that SHUFFLE programs purvey. The configuration allows the group to adapt to a wide variety of different forms: piano trios, violin sonatas, jazz songs and show tunes, even a chamber arrangement of Bernstein’s Candide overture. But, Avni notes, there are limits: “My brother-in-law said ‘Why don’t you do [Queen’s] ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’? I told him that it’s a piece of music that won’t be enhanced by six classical musicians.” Selections are short, topping out at ten minutes; the performances themselves run the normal length of a chamber-music concert, but since they’re presented with- out intermission, they last a mere ninety minutes. “Our goal is to reach younger audiences who would not ordinarily go out to a classical music concert,” Avni says. “Listening to a Brahms Trio for forty minutes is not what they’re going to do.” SHUFFLE reaches its very youngest audiences in the school performances that it regularly folds into its touring schedule. “We have such an incredible time with the kids—we lose all reason,” Avni says. “I think it’s because we’re all kids on stage ourselves.” Just as in the adult con- certs, the school audience gets to choose the program. But at one assembly in Oregon, the musicians took the reins and insisted on playing Milton Babbitt’s Phonemena for soprano and tape. “The kids loved it— because nobody told them they shouldn’t!” says Avni. “They experienced it for what it is: a great piece. It was a Star Wars moment.” ■ SHUFFLE Concert 14 Winter 2016 Photo: Richard Ballard and Corey Tatarczuk Smorgasbord of Sounds