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Classical music, casual vibe: Astral, WRTI, PHS team up for a free Garden Party on South Street

Aleksei Alexsandrov
Mandolinist Ekaterina Skliar joins other Astral artists in performance at the PHS Pop-Up Garden on South Street, on Oct. 3.

Due to inclement weather, the Astral / WRTI / PHS has unfortunately been canceled. We hope to reschedule it sometime soon.

Debussy, dogs and drink specials: such is the appeal of the Astral / WRTI / PHS Garden Party, at the PHS Pop Up Garden on South Street. Happening on our rain date of Monday, Oct. 3, 5 - 7 p.m., this family-friendly event will feature performances by Astral artists, classical trivia, and refreshment. (Debussy is not actually on the program.)

WRTI has a longtime relationship with Astral, whose roster of rising young classical talent regularly performs in our studio. The party has its precedent, too. “In the past, before Covid, we had this event as a block party, and it’s exciting for us to be able to present this for the first time since the pandemic shut it down,” says Elysa DiMauro, Director of Operations at Astral. “The Garden Party concept came up in brainstorming ideas between Astral and WRTI. It really was: How can we make this fun?

One answer can be found in the setting: the PHS Pop Up Garden, a welcoming seasonal space near the corner of 15th Street. The event will be dog-friendly, and drink specials will be available courtesy of Allagash Brewing Company. The afternoon will also include a spirited round of trivia hosted by Zev Kane, WRTI’s Classical Program Director.

“Plants, music, and delicious food and drink are three of life’s great pleasures,” says Kane. “I’m especially excited that, with the help of our friends and partners at Astral and the PHS, we’ve found a way to unite them in this unique event. Hopefully everyone who attends will be delighted, refreshed, and maybe even surprised by the variety of entertainment that’s in store.”

That entertainment – not too strong a word – comes courtesy of several artists on the prestigious Astral roster. The wildly charismatic string duo known as ARKAI, composed of violinist Jonathan Miron and cellist Philip Sheegog, are a part of that cohort. So too are three virtuosi on different instruments: saxophonist Valentin Kovalev, and mandolinist Ekaterina Skliar (who will also play a three-stringed Russian domra).

“There will be some solos, and also some group performances,” explains DiMauro. “Individually, they bring all different kinds of things to the party. ARKAI are talented improvisers, so they bring that energy, which is really fun. Valentin and Katerina are accomplished arrangers, which is great, especially because this group is so eclectic.”

As in Astral / WRTI block parties past, the event’s main purpose is to make classical music approachable at street level. “We often think: ‘What are the barriers?’ Monetary, we’ve taken that away, because this is not a ticketed event. Another barrier is formality, and having it outdoors on South Street is removing a lot of that. You might not feel comfortable walking into a concert hall, but you’re OK walking into a beer garden.”

For more information about the Garden Party, visit Astral online, or stay tuned to WRTI.

Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Editorial Director at WRTI, he oversees a range of classical and jazz coverage, and contributes regularly to NPR.