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REVIEW: Love Sublime: A Valentine’s Day Shuffle (LOFTRecital)

Pianist James Barnett and soprano Bergen Baker at Saturday’s LOFTRecital performance.

Four years ago, a small organization called LoftOpera launched in Brooklyn, NY. It’s motto, “Something between a loft party and a startup opera company”, speaks to both sides of its audience experience: intimate performances stripped down to an industrially tinged, repurposed space, with something of a party vibe. LoftOpera made (and continues to make) quite a splash – literally, sometimes, with brewery sponsorship. It spawned a movement.

Champagne and liqueurs were the beverage combination of the evening.

Around the same time, a separate movement began to revive the old practice of house concerts in Boston – a once-vibrant social entertainment that had fallen by the wayside in the 20th century as giant concert halls sprouted around country. To Minnesotans, this news may seem rather Johnny-come-lately – after all, MPR reported on a local house concert revival all the way back in 2004. (Not all of the country was quite so in-step, and in fact many advocates for classical music have argued for decades that an inherent part of the classical music experience stems from dressing up and listening in ornate halls.)

Last Saturday in the North Loop, these two movements coincided with a special Valentine’s Day-themed program by LOFTRecital. Every seat was full, every ticket snapped up quickly almost as soon as they were announced.

What is a LOFTRecital performance like? The formula varies in its iterations, but Saturday’s performance took place in a magnificent two-story loft space with dramatic views of the Minneapolis skyline. Attendees brought bottles of champagne to share and mix with fruit liqueurs, with various snacks and refreshments provided. The atmosphere was casual, rather like a classy house party, until the moment came for the music to begin – at which point everyone quickly sat attentively in the black folding chairs.

LOFTRecital’s artistic director James Barnett and managing director Bergen Baker.

The musical program for the evening was a set of opera arias, musical theatre songs, and art songs, including an aria from Minnesota Opera’s upcoming Dinner at Eight. During the music, libations continued to be enjoyed, but respectfully so, with carefully timed the de-corking covered by musical climaxes and applause. Audience members received raffle tickets with a double purpose: in addition to a ticket raffle, whoever’s numbers were drawn got to pick the exact piece to be heard next, until the whole program was complete. This element added both excitement and dynamism to the evening, with numerous small groups in the audience debating which piece they wanted to hear.

The musical core of LOFTRecital comprises pianist James Barnett (its artistic director) and soprano Bergen Baker (its managing director), both of whom performed on Saturday. The audience was clearly impressed by the program and the experience; during the gap between pieces, one woman whispered to her companion, “I think I’ve fallen in love with this music.” One of the most frequent questions overheard from first-time attendees was “How can I get an invite for the next one?”

It’s word of mouth like this that’s made LOFTRecital one of the hottest tickets in the Twin Cities classical music scene. Ticket reservations vanish soon after they become available – there’re only so many people you can fit into the space, after all. As came up in many conversations, people sometimes wait many performances before managing to become a LOFTRecital ticket holder’s +1. Listening to Barnett’s melodious strumming of the piano keys and Baker’s lustrous voice, it’s easy to see why – and to fall in love.


Basil Considine