It’s part concert, part variety show, perhaps in the future, a podcast. It’s the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra‘s next concert program, called Classical with a Twist: Variations on a Theme. Music Director Benjamin Simon says it will be bringing together music, interviews and fun, as they play works by Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, and Peter Heydrich.

There’s more information about the program at the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra website.

“I think classical music has a serious problem. And the serious problem is… we’re too serious.” So says Benjamin Simon, and he wants to try this approach to address that. “This is the rollout of a brand new format for me and for the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra. It’s a classical music variety show, and there’s going to be some great music, there’s also going to be some interviews, fun and games, and a theme that goes through the show, that’s actually theme and variations. We’re going to perform variations on familiar themes by Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, and then variations on the “Happy Birthday” theme by this wonderful composer, Peter Heydrich, who is a string quartet player, (of course a violist, because it’s a brilliant piece) who wrote Variations on “Happy Birthday” in a variety of styles.” Simon, himself a violist, shares a viola joke in each SFCO newsletter. He says for the new show, he’s bringing together some things he’s done in the past, and been inspired by the NPR show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. “At our ‘Classical at the Freight’ shows, I do a monthly trivia contest where I pull someone up from the audience, and I ask silly questions about a composer, or about an instrument, or about a musical era. There’s a serious answer, and usually two pretty silly answers. But in the process, people learn what Mozart’s baptized name is, and how many moving parts there are on a piano, and how many violas in a viola quartet?  Theme and Variations is a way for composers to be very imaginative and very creative. Also, very accessible, because the audience is hearing the same tune. Every 30 seconds or minute, you hear a variation of a theme that you can recognize. The brain is an incredible pattern-recognition machine, and of course, composers know this.”