(Le) Poisson Rouge Moves NYC Classical Culture Into Future

D avid Handler, Justin Cantor, Kendel Ratley
david@lprnyc.com, justin@lprnyc.com, kendel@lprnyc.com

Jim Luce
On Thought Leaders and Global Citizens   www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-luce

(Le) Poisson Rouge, Once The Village Gate,
Moves NYC Classical Culture Into the Future


Greenwich Village, NY. What struck me when I watched the play and then movie Amadeus years ago was that Wolfgang Mozart was a real human being who was composing not just for his king but for his people. He dealt with the palace crowd, but he also dealt with commoners. He could be both regal and common. Today, classical music is all too often seen as something dead that needs to be conserved. Two thought leaders out to change that are classical musicians David Handler and Justin Cantor, owners of (le) Poisson Rouge (LPR) who have created a venue back on the street to re-popularize classicism.





I spoke with David recently following a performance of the least ‘classical’ classical musician I know, Hahn Bin. I wrote about Hahn Bin’s debut at Carnegie Hall last year. David, a classically-trained 29-year old composer and violinist, gets that to preserve and strengthen the relevance of classical music today is to increase its availability, allowing it to perform both inside and outside the great halls, so many of which grace our city. David co-founded (le) Poisson Rouge as a multimedia art cabaret on the site of the historic Village Gate. Dedicated to the fusion of popular and art cultures in music, film, theater, dance, and fine art, the venue’s mission is to revive the symbiotic relationship between art and revelry and to establish a creative asylum for both artists and audiences.




Like the mainline churches, Rotary and the United Way, there is a graying of audiences at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. LPR hopes to draw in a younger, more eclectic crowd by offering a more eclectic mix of classically-oriented music in a social setting where flirting and drinking occur – as it did in Mozart’s day.




(Le) Poisson Rouge is housed in the venue once known as The Village Gate. ‘The Gate’ was the Greenwich Village nightclub that — for 38 years — featured musicians like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone, and Aretha Franklin. Now as LPN, the venue offers the highest quality eclectic programming along with impeccable acoustics and bold design since it opened last year.




One of the latest improvements on a Village legend are the gallery exhibitions. Since opening, LPR has staged five shows, bridging music and the fine arts for its public. These shows have been as eclectic as the venue’s music:


If All The World Were A Blackbird (Edina Tokodi). This installation of an eco-minded, Hungarian-born, Brooklyn-based installation artist marks The Gallery at LPR’s first collaboration with The Wooster Collective, known for its 2006 partnership The Spring Street Initiative, for her first solo exhibition.


#4 ADD


#3 ADD


#2 ADD


#1 ADD


Most people go to LPR for the performance, of which there are many to choose form. LPR stages about 600 performers per year, highlighting as much talent – and making it readily available to New York City patrons as possible. I spoke to David about his vision:


Classical music would be best served not in a standard configuration, but in a jazz-club setting, with patrons seated at tables, waiters serving food and drink, and performers talking about their work.




In chatting with David, a classically-trained musician, I picked up his frustration about music school graduates. Like the divinity school grads I have met who know nothing about running a church, classically-trained musicians often feel a sense of entitlement and have little ability to market themselves as aggressively as musicians from other genres do.




The National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, according to a story on (le) Poisson Rouge that appeared several months ago in The New Yorker, indicates the number of people who venture out to classical music performances in a given year has been declining for almost three decades. Further, each new generation participates less than the one that came before it. Generation X, which is now entering middle age, shows no sign of chucking its Pixies records in favor of Prokofiev.


I spoke to co-owner Justin Cantor by e-mail. Justin told me:




It is impossible to overstate the Village Gate’s historic significance. The “Salsa Meets Jazz” series at the Village Gate was a seminal part of the history of New York Latin music. In the late 70’s Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, and Wynton Marsalis, all jumped in to “jam” with the best Salsa bands of the time with no rehearsals and the musical results are legendary. The club hosted a benefit for Timothy Leary in May 1970 that featured performances from such counterculture luminaries as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Allen Ginsberg. Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris opened there in 1968. Bob Dylan wrote A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall in 1962 in the basement apartment of a Village Gate staffer.




Other performers to play “Live At The Village Gate” include Nina Simone (1962), Thelonious Monk (1963), Flip Wilson (1964), Dick Gregory, (1970), Tommy Tune (1975), and Tito Puente (1992). Performers to grace the stage of LPR in the last year have included AAA, BBB, CCC, DDD, and EEE.


The New Yorker called (le) Poisson Rouge “a brave experiment from which mainstream organizations have much to learn.” I concur with that assessment, and believe that classic music thought leaders David Handler and Justin Cantor have their fingers firmly on the pulse of young America, and through them classically-oriented music will not only be preserved but will breathe again in the this new century. Through the guidance of David and Justin, a genre of music will be perpetuated so that Hahn Bin and all the performers who follow him will have audiences to appreciate their incredible talents.



The Editors
The Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness is the communications platform of The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org). There are now more than 100 contributors around the world to this publication.

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