Roll over, Beethoven: Real Vocal String Quartet takes the classics for a ride

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Real Vocal String Quartet raises the bar(n) on funkdafied classical jams

“The classical composers we know so well, Beethoven and Bach and Vivaldi, they were improvisers. So really, we’re carrying on that legacy,” says Real Vocal String Quartet founder Irene Sazer. I’d love to know what the old masters would think of a RVSQ gig- would they throw down their powdered wig and get down when the women launch their cellos into “Fontana Abandonada-Passatempo,” their Afro-Brazilian jam? Get their britches in a twist over “Kothbiro,” a nyatiti song by Kenyan artist Ayub Ogada?

I reckon they’d have dug the tunes. After all, RVSQ, performing this Thursday at Freight and Salvage, attributes their freedom to perform such divergent genres to their traditional classical training. The band members- Dina Maccabee and Sazer on the violin, Alisa Rose on the violin and fiddle and cellist Jessica Ivry- were all band kids, many raised in families of classical musicians and most recipients of college degrees in their respective axes.

Some started careers in orchestras and the like. But there was always something beyond the Bach that beckoned.

“For me growing up, I had two musical lives,” says the enthusiastic Sazer, who is given to excited exclamations and breathless descriptions of the energy she gleans from her RVSQ bandmembers. “One as a ‘serious’ violin player… but on the other side, my mom was into folk music from all over the world- she sang in Yiddish. I heard world music from an early age and always loved it. I heard the Beatles, Carol King, Joni Mitchell- the really great pop music informed my life as well.”

“Because of the pedagogy of being a classical musician," she continues "it seemed so separate- but I never liked that. What I hoped for when I became a young adult was to explore lots of different styles of music- I hoped for my own individual musical language. I’m even luckier than that because I’ve found a group of people on similar musical paths.”

But RSVQ takes the path that's not taken as much.

Their alternate path has led to a loosening for RVSQ. The group's repertoire includes “Now,” an improvisational song they play at every show. It’s a chance to create a different sound for each new audience, a little klezmer here, maybe a smattering of bluegrass or trance rock of northern Mali origin, there.

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Gotta love a classical quartet that chills barefoot in the dirt

Though Sazer says she was “really afraid” of improvisation in the early days of her classical training, “it’s such a pleasure when you have people who are accomplished on their instruments and love to jump in and take the risk. It’s a thrill that we have such a vehicle for exploration. And if you’re skilled you can do it mo’ better.”

Mo’ better indeed- the women are seeing their vision resonate with a growing audience, the demographic of whom Sazer confesses is a bit of a enigma. “We have to take polls! The finding of our people is kind of a mystery.” Difficult to pigeonhole themselves, RVSQ is now working on making their name in the world music arena, even landing a gig at 2010’s South by Southwest.

Locally, you can catch them at their album release party at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage next week- but try to maintain your composure at the show. “People are going to want to come and be somewhat quiet and listen,” says Sazer, laughing somewhat at her exhortation. “There’s a lot of intimacy in our ensemble and musical product.” So keep a lid on it, Handel.

Real Vocal String Quartet
Thur/11 8 p.m., $18.50-19.50
Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse
2020 Addison, Berkeley
www.thefreight.org

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