Papa Don't Preach

Lunch with John Axelrod is a frenetic experience.

A man with exquisite taste, European flair and an all-black ensemble not available at the Gap, the conductor and artistic director of OrchestraX tosses out ideas and thoughts faster than he can finish a sentence. In both French and English, Axelrod subject-surfs, bouncing from his oft-repeated theory about why the paradigm of a typical classical music concert sucks to why Peter Gabriel concerts are cool, to how the graying of classical music's audience is killing its joie. In between, he finds time to deliver a sidebar on a particular Cabernet to the wine steward of an Italian restaurant near the Galleria.

Axelrod gets really worked up when he discusses the avant-garde ensemble's progress since its 1996 debut, which is best described as Madonna-nomics. "At this point, OrchestraX is moving beyond its mission statement of developing the next audience for classical music," says Axelrod. "We push boundaries to redefine ourselves with every season and every concert. Why is Madonna so successful after 20 years? Because she redefines herself with every single thing she does and allows that unpredictability to keep her presentation fresh."

Knowing Axelrod, he might not totally dismiss the notion of French-kissing a bassoonist during the November 19 season opener. But whether or not it's with his tongue, Axelrod will continue to push boundaries to bring an MTV-style sensibility to classical music concerts.

Because of budget struggles familiar to any arts organization in the wake of 9/11, OrchestraX will perform fewer concerts this season (three instead of five). The first, Classics a Go-Go, picks up where last season's May finale at a Richmond strip club left off. The orchestra will revisit the nightclub scene, this time at the spacious Metropolitan Ballroom, with go-go-girl cages, a dude dressed as Elvis and a finale featuring acclaimed jazz pianist Marcus Robert performing Gershwin's 1924 arrangement of "Rhapsody in Blue."

We assume the Material Girl would approve.

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Greg Barr
Contact: Greg Barr