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Back to the Future With Mercury Soul in France

November 14, 2017

The question we keep asking: How does classical music reach a newer, younger audience? For San Francisco-based music project Mercury Soul, the answer includes a male pole dancer, a burlesque performer, and a violinist who also does aerial tricks.

In its quest to engage “a new generation through performances combining classical music and electronica in alternative venues,” the nonprofit organization will present an event titled "Burlesque and Beats" at the notoriously 18-plus San Francisco nightclub DNA Lounge on Friday, November 17.

The show is built around the conceit of reimagining the underground culture of 1920s France with Mercury’s own characteristic juxtaposition of classical music and popular electronic music. Four “classical” sets of chamber music performed by musicians from Classical Revolution will be interspersed with four EDM-heavy DJ sets.

The highlights of the night are slated to be a rendering of the chamber version of Darius Milhaud’s surrealist ballet Le Bœuf sur le toit (The Ox on the Roof)—think Erik Satie’s Parade, but indebted to Brazilian samba, not American ragtime; a burlesque striptease to accompany, of course, “Habanera” from Carmen; and a DJ set by Kennedy Center composer-in-residence by day and DJ Masonic by night, Mercury co-founder Mason Bates.

In keeping with their broader educational mission, Mercury Soul will present an afternoon performance the same day for public high school students. They will partner with a handful of arts schools in the area, collaborate with a select group of students in performance, and visit classrooms, all with the stated effort of challenging “students’ perceptions of what classical music is, isn’t, and can be in the 21st century.”

While neither a unique nor exclusively contemporary observation, the perceived death of classical music has certainly been the mother of much invention across the centuries; the supposed perfection of symphonic forms brought about many innovations in romanticism and modernism.

Mercury Soul’s continued 21st-century take on the perennial dilemma will include their trademark combination of classical instruments with popular electronic sounds, the familiar atmosphere of the DNA Lounge, and this time, French modernists and some pole dancing as well. Will the show successfully bridge the several worlds it straddles? See for yourself this Friday.

For more information and tickets, visit the DNA Lounge page for the event.

Peter Feher is an editor at SFCV. He can be reached at [email protected].