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Classical music rises among the dead

Deep in one of New York’s most prestigious cemeteries, the eerie vibrations of a string concerto ricochet off catacomb walls, a seance of sorts invigorating the spirit of classical music.

Media reports regularly warn of the genre’s impending doom, but Andrew Ousley, who founded the cheekily named “Death of Classical” series, says the obituaries are beyond premature.

“Classical music can be relevant, it can be impactful for people who are not already among the template,” he told AFP at a rehearsal in Brooklyn’s famed Green-Wood Cemetery for this week’s concert series.

“The music is not dead; it’s the creativity of the approach in getting to audiences that feels more the issue to me.”

After debuting his “Crypt Sessions” series — an intimate show held in the crypt of Harlem’s Church of the Intercession — in 2015, Ousley began curating shows in the National Historic Landmark cemetery, using the 1850s-era catacombs normally closed to the public as a venue.

The artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein and William “Boss” Tweed, known for his corrupt mid-19th-century political reign over New York, are among Green-Wood’s famous residents.

The spooky haunts offer “extraordinary acoustics” that lend “an incredible generosity of sound, that for classical, for acoustic music, for strings, voice, piano, is unbelievably enhancing,” Ousley said.

The catacomb shows known as the “Angel’s Share” series — named after a distiller’s term for whiskey that evaporates as the liquor matures — include tastings of the spirit that encourage concert-goers to mingle.

“I think it’s important to surround the music with a larger experience,” Ousley, 36, said.

“Especially for people who are less familiar with the rituals of classical music or the experience of it, it breaks down nervousness or a worry of, ‘Am I going to do the right thing, clap at the right time?'”

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