The home was quiet from the outside, save for the line forming outside the front door.
Inside the apartment, people filed into the small entry way, one by one, and up the wooden staircase.
Shoes laid strewn on the welcome mats on the first floor – a reminder that the audience was in someone’s home for the night.
Stage lights were attached to the wooden pillars amidst the high ceilings. A piano stood in the middle of the hardwood floor in front of large, open windows that revealed the Center City skyline. A single microphone stand stood in the center of the stage, illuminated by a single light.
Andrea Clearfield’s voice was distinct, even from the first floor. She glittered as she walked around the room, captivating the intimate community of artists gathered around her.
She stood in the living room of the loft where she has hosted the Salon – an evening of 10 ensembles or soloists to perform for an invitation only, private gathering – for the past 28 years.
The Philadelphia composer, Temple alumna and Bala Cynwyd native schedules diverse performances for the evening that present an array of musical styles. Some of the performers include a performance style dance piece set to original compositions, classical piano, blues, jazz, opera, Brazilian fusion – and the list goes on and on.
THE HISTORY OF THE SALON
Nineteenth-century salons became experimental venues for composers like Leonora Orsini, Anton Liste, Frederic Chopin, Vincenzo Bellini and Niccolo Paganini. These composers and artists were writing things specifically for salons, which created an entirely new genre of music for the time period. For many artists, the salon became a time to try new techniques, experiment with their own work and collaborate with other artists.
The salon was as influential as the opera house during that time, where new music was born in 19th century Paris, the artistic capital of the world, Clearfield said.
The same year, American writer Gertrude Stein started her famous salon thee same year the home Clearfield’s Salon is in today was transformed. The year was 1910.
Stein invited illustrious artists, based mainly in literature, into her home to blend genres, experiment with their craft and artistically engage with other writers.
“I was inspired by this time period … when there was a lot of crossover of collaboration with the artists,” Clearfield told the audience at the start of the evening.
Since the beginning of the Salon, Clearfield said she has invited more than 7,000 performers to share their artistry in her living room and more than 17,000 audience members to sit on her floors and chairs set up around the large apartment.
“The numbers are staggering,” Clearfield said. “It just feels like people are interested in this intimate exchange, this place where the audience can really get the performers, they’re so close. For me, it’s very much about a time when we all can find a rest from our busy worlds and see what stirs our souls.”
At the end of her introduction, Clearfield braced both the new and returning attendees for the Salon experience that she describes as intimate.
“You’re going to see a lot of things – some familiar, some not so familiar – but sit back and see what resonates with you,” she said. “It’s a beautiful thing to have that kind of receptivity in our busy lives.”
She concluded her speech before a performer took the mic with, “I would like to ask you now to turn off your phones or pagers and enjoy the Salon.”
And with that, the show began.
THE WOMAN OF THE HOUSE
As a child, Clearfield invited her friends over to her home to play music with her.
“I think I had been doing this as a kid and didn’t realize it,” she said. “Before computers, this is what we did. We played music in the living room.”
Clearfield said she remembers her mother and father playing piano and clarinet with their friends. Even as a child she remembers arranging music and being drawn to collaboration.
“I was doing it naturally even as a young kid,” she said. “I was picking pop songs off the radio and arranging them, or chamber ensembles and then inviting all of my friends over so we could play it.”
A couple of years after earning her master’s degree in piano from the University of the Arts as a classical pianist and composer, Clearfield began looking for an apartment that would cater to the tradition of the European salon.
“It was really about carrying on that tradition and also how I could create a vital and joyful community around me,” Clearfield said.
Every Salon evening hosts 10 ensembles. Since it’s creation, Clearfield has kept this format consistent, even though the range of styles and diversity of the performers change dramatically from evening to evening.
“That diversity of performances also draws a diverse audience,” Clearfield said. “A real cross pollination of people from different walks of life. There’s an excitement that happens, there’s a magical feeling when people are on that trip together and in an intimate space around the arts.”
Philadelphia composer Joshua Stamper recently performed at the Salon for his fourth time. The first time he appeared at the Salon, Stamper said he was taken aback with the eagerness of the audience to hear new and unfamiliar material.
“The thing that was so striking was that it was in a context in which I could perform new work and the audience was there to listen,” Stamper said. “It was a very warm environment, and people were genuinely really interested and really excited and ready to hear things. You don’t always experience that. It’s a rare environment that she has created over the years for people to come in and try out their ideas.”
Clearfield said that the intimacy of the evening can be attributed to the community of the audience and the culture of the Salon that she has instilled over the years.
“I believe that the world is connected through the global language of music and arts,” Clearfield said. “The Salon essentially is a celebration of the human spirit, and how we can create nourishing, personal and vital connection by sharing that artistic spirit in community.”
Stamper’s most recent performance featured an upcoming performance piece entitled “RIVERS,” which is the first chapter of a four part series, “Elements.” The series examines the four classic elements and how they have impacted Philadelphia. Stamper said that being able to have a “soft launch” of the piece was beneficial for him and his performers, so they could “sit with the piece before the hard launch.”
Cynthia Folio, professor of music studies, said she has performed in the Salon between 10 and 20 times, in addition to being the professor of three of Clearfield’s graduate courses at Temple and a close friend.
Folio played at the smaller space Clearfield lived in during the beginnings of the Salon.
“It eventually got so filled that people began to fill the bathroom,” Folio said, laughing. “Almost literally.”
Folio has seen the Salon evolve since its start. She said the audience makes it a special place for collaboration.
“She instills an audience that is loyal,” Folio said. “These are people who are looking for new stuff, they are looking for things they haven’t experience before. Unlike the audience going to hear Beethoven, because they know it and heard it and want to hear it again, but when you go to Andrea’s salon you never know what you’re going to experience.”
“You’re always going there expecting a combination of new and old,” Folio said.
As far as the significance of Philadelphia as the host city for the Salon, Folio said that the residency of the city’s artists is conducive to this kind of evening.
“We have specialists who do all of these things, but people that go to those concerts go there because they want to hear a specific kind of thing, whereas the people who go to Andrea’s Salons are looking to learn something and find something new and become part of this community,” Folio said.
“I just think it’s amazing that she keeps this going,” Folio said. “It’s pretty amazing that she can keep this going. She is a very good friend of mine, also. We’ve been friends since we first met.”
Emily Rolen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @Emily_Rolen