Salastina Music Society, co-founded and directed by violinists and chamber musicians Kevin Kumar and Maia Jasper White, recently played an intimate quartet concert for an audience of 55 people at the home of Palisadians Florence Fellman and Waldemar Kalinowski on Sunday, May 26.
Kumar has appeared as a soloist with numerous orchestras, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Jasper White, director of Chamber Music at Caltech, joined the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s first violin section in 2010.
The Sunday concert’s program, performed by resident artists Yoshika Masuda and Meredith Crawford (alongside Kumar and Jasper White) and hosted by docent Brian Lauritzen, included three of Brahms’ string quartets: “String Quartet No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 51,” “String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 51” and “String Quartet No. 3 in B flat major, Op. 67.”
Salastina Music Society plays one concert per month at private homes or churches on the Westside, recently bringing composer Derrick Spiva to Pacific Palisades for an April concert at the Villa Aurora.
“It’s a labor of love,” Jasper White told the Palisadian-Post with a smile. “Brahms is intense, juicy music. It’s one thing to play one quartet, but to do all three of them took some stamina—my back is still sore. I think playing violin is the most beautiful thing in the world, but it’s not the most natural position to have your arms in for hours and hours.”
Approaching its 10th anniversary in October, Salastina Music Society aims to bring classical music into modernity, to brush the proverbial dust off the genre and breathe new life into its lungs so a new generation can learn to appreciate its wonders.
Their proprietary concert formats approach the world of classical and chamber music from all angles, including “Sounds Genius,” a deep-dive into a beloved masterwork, “Sounds Unknown,” exploring lesser-known composers, “Sounds Mysterious,” a blind taste test of music, “Sounds Delicious,” which pairs gourmet meals with live music, “Sounds Local,” which celebrates chamber music around LA, and “Sounds Promising,” which features young and upcoming composers and musicians.
“We’re asking: ‘What is it that’s classic about classical music?’,” Jasper White shared. “Our job is to reimagine how it can be more relevant to people today, to keep expanding upon that and kind of be synonymous with chamber music.”
Salastina has quickly succeeded in garnering attention from the acoustically astute, with LA Weekly’s David Ehrenstein writing of Salastina: “As cacophony assaults us from all sides, Salastina keeps the flame of actual music burning bright.”
The group, as LA Times writer Caitlin Keller put it, “aims to bring a dose of culture to Los Angeles,” whether reinvigorating Renaissance classics or introducing entirely new styles of music to listeners.
Maintaining a fairly rigorous practice schedule, the group normally has three or four three-hour rehearsals before a concert. In advance of their recent concert in the Palisades, the quartet held nine all-day rehearsals.
“It was really fun but a lot of work,” Jasper White told the Post. “It was really satisfying to see it all come together.”
As renown grows for Salastina locally and globally, the group hopes to expand its program offerings, taking on ambitious new projects in its decennial year, including a reimagining of Mozart’s opera buffa “Cosi fan tutte,” or “Women Are Like That.”
“It’s an extraordinarily misogynistic opera,” Jasper White said with a laugh. “But that’s an example of what we’re trying to do at Salastina—take something that’s enshrined in the canon and make it relevant for today’s world.”
In the revamped version, the libretto is rewritten, characters are recast and the performers sing in English, allowing a younger generation to grasp Mozart’s work in an engaging and accessible way. The opera will be performed next year at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica and will be presented in-the-round.
“The scope of the artistic programming we’ve come up with is really ambitious and expensive, so we’ve definitely got our work cut out for us,” Jasper White said. “It’s charming and preserves the irreverent spirit of Mozart while being 1,000 times more relevant to the world we’re living in now. We’ve never done an opera before, but we’re already planning casting and budgeting.”
Several of the artists in Salastina make their bread and butter in the film and television scoring industry. Jasper White herself has contributed to scores by John Williams, Danny Elfman, Tom Newman and Alexandre Desplat.
“It’s a very different kind of work. As much as I’m grateful for my quality of life, no one wants to be a classical musician so they can play on movie soundtracks,” Jasper White said. “But it’s how we find our balance.”
It is Salastina’s fresh approach to classical and chamber music that has renewed interest in the genre for listeners young and old who are able to experience music that is at once familiar and futuristic.
The next Salastina concert, “Sounds Mozartian: Jeffrey Kahane Plays Mozart,” will be held Saturday, September 21, at 8 p.m. at Barrett Hall in Pasadena.
For more information, visit salastina.org.