CTC Introduces Northshore Karass Performing Arts Series April 6

Classical music has been clarinetist, composer, and instructor Gordon Inman’s bread and butter for more than a decade, but with a new venture launching in April, the 31-year-old wants to bring some youthfulness to the undertaking and begin to reverse the stereotype of chamber music as stuffy and old fashioned.

That objective has manifested itself in the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s new Northshore Karass Performing Arts Series, which kicks off Tuesday, April 6, with a performance by the Moon Change Quartet, a jazz group Inman formed during the pandemic.

The setting is the CTC patio at the corner of Tremont and River Streets, adjacent to Coolidge Park, where the outdoor space will take on a cocktail lounge vibe.

Like the quartet–which features Inman on clarinet, Tyler Lackey on piano, Gwen Arnold on bass, and Nathan Shew on drums–the five concerts of the Northshore Karass Series will employ a string of local musicians who, Inman says, “represent a who’s who of young classical musicians in Chattanooga.”

It’s part of a cultural movement by a handful of musicians who Inman says “don’t just want to sit down and follow a recipe, who want to have a higher level of agency in their playing.”

“The supposed stuffiness of classical music is an incredibly difficult stereotype to overcome, and one of the only ways we can do that is to program new, fresh, original music,” Inman says. “That could be commissioning a piece from a Chattanooga composer with interesting instrumentation, or it could be something as simple as introducing a piece that is a whole lot of fun that nobody knows.”

That’s what’s in store with the Northshore Karass Series, which has arisen out of a partnership between Inman and the Theatre Centre with funding by ArtsBuild’s new Artists Work grant program. The initiative provides project funding to individual artists, artist studios, and non-profit arts organizations to produce art for public spaces.

With the loss of audiences and jobs experienced by the region’s arts industry due to the COVID-19 outbreak, ArtsBuild’s grant program provides economic stimulus that benefits both the creative sector and the public realm. The CTC is one of eight first-round recipients of Artists Work grants.

Approached by CTC executive director Rodney Van Valkenburg to conceive the theatre’s Artists Work project, Inman has arranged several dates on the calendar that are primarily music-focused but also include dance and film. In addition to the April 6 concert, the schedule includes:

  • A 3X2 Concert with three members of the acclaimed Figment Chamber Ensemble–Inman on clarinet, Charlie Edholm on guitar, and Ben Van Winkle on cello–on Tuesday, April 20, in the CTC’s riverfront lobby. It will feature a newly commissioned piece by Chattanooga composer Matthew Weaver for the clarinet and guzheng, a traditional Chinese stringed instrument, to emulate Appalachian sounds.
  • The Big Fig on Tuesday, May 25, on the theatre’s Mainstage, featuring a full Figment Chamber Ensemble and premiering an as yet untitled composition by Inman.
  • The Counterpoint Trio on Tuesday, June 15, in the CTC’s Circle Theatre, featuring Inman on clarinet, J.P. Brian-Slack on violin, and Tim Hinck on piano. The performance will incorporate choreography by Dillon Davis of the Chattanooga Ballet, who will dance during Hinck’s composition of “Old Man with Turnip.”
  • A Chattanooga Clarinet Choir concert on Tuesday, June 29, on the CTC’s riverfront lawn, which will include members of the Chattanooga Clarinet Choir (an organization founded by Jay Craven in 1998 which Inman now runs), other community players, and a select few high school- and college-age clarinetists.

The project will also branch out with a four-day film series on May 3-4 and May 10-11, showcasing a dozen local filmmakers.

Inman has curated the eclectic series to include the disciplines he loves most while delivering performances in a space that is something of a home away from home for him. Inman was active with the CTC’s youth program, and both parents are actors who have appeared on the CTC stage. Since 2015, he has been performing with house bands for CTC musical productions.

That long-term relationship with the theatre made him a natural fit to lead the Theatre Centre’s Artists Work program, which he says was a welcomed opportunity after a year on hiatus. He had several projects in the works for the spring, summer, and fall of 2020 that were derailed.

“It’s incredibly satisfying to see something tangible corresponding with the apparent end of this situation,” says Inman, who is also an adjunct clarinet professor at Southern Adventist University and has a studio of private students. “It’s hard not to feel incredibly lucky that something like [the Artists Work Grant program] was able to manifest. It feels like the beginning of a reanimation of the Chattanooga arts community.”

Community, in fact, is what inspired Inman to give the series the name “karass.” It’s defined in the Urban Dictionary as “a group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial linkages are not evident.”

“The word is taken from my favorite Kurt Vonnegut novel, ‘Cat’s Cradle.’ It’s a very important concept to embrace now as the world is opening back up and as most of us have our priorities straight,” Inman concludes. “And it should be celebrated that everybody involved in this project is just that, a cosmically linked group on the Northshore.”

Admission to each event is $10 for adults and $5 for students. Tickets are available at 423.267.8534 and TheatreCentre.com.

Photo by Charli Thrift (@charli.j.thrift)

Posted March 29, 2021