Guitarist Dennis Koster has performed in some unlikely places:
“I’ve played at drug rehabilitation centers, prisons, hospitals and teen-age runaway centers--places where people are not particularly interested in hearing classical music,” he said brightly.
Koster is one of more than 100 musicians, singers, dancers and mimes on the roster of Affiliate Artists Inc., a New York-based organization that since 1966 has been devoted--as Koster puts it--"to bringing art into the life of the community, rather than having people leave their lives to go to a concert setting.”
(Funded in part by more than 70 corporations, Affiliate Artists’ programs vary from single performances to residencies which last as long as three years, as is the case with the young conductors’ programs sponsored by Exxon and the National Endowment for the Arts.)
Koster is one of two Affiliate Artists who will be performing throughout Orange County in two-week residencies supported by a $20,000 grant from the Pacific Telesis Foundation.
The residencies are part of the Orange County Performing Arts Center’s Public Gifts Campaign.
Koster will be playing in the county Oct. 6--17; flutist Rachel Rudich, also a New Yorker, will launch the program at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday at the Balboa Pier, Balboa Boulevard and Main Street in Balboa. Other sites are being determined.
The key concept behind an Affiliate’s performance is embodied in a term the organization created--and copyrighted: an “Informance.”
“The format of an ‘Informance’ is quite different from a performance,” Koster explained in a recent phone interview from New York.
“It’s an informal performance, and the purpose is to introduce people to the classical arts in a much more informal way so that normal barriers that prevent enjoyment of these arts are broken down.
“Emphasis is on an artist’s ability to communicate to the community through spoken commentary in addition to the performance itself. Dialogue between the artist and the audience is encouraged. That’s one of my favorite parts.”
Koster, 37, is an unusual guitarist in that he plays both classical and flamenco music.
“I was exposed to flamenco in the early 1960s when I was a teen-ager, and I fell head over heels in love with it,” he explained.
He began studying with such masters as Mario Escudero and, later, Sabicas. Soon he was accompanying various Spanish dance companies performing in New York and--after lying about his age (he was 16)--playing in night clubs.
He recalls his studies as extremely intense:
“Flamenco is a folk art and is not written down. So Escudero would play fast, and I would try to copy the playing as fast as I could. That’s the way you learn.
After traveling to Spain for a year to get a firsthand knowledge of the tradition, Koster decided to pursue classical music:
“I realized that flamenco is very much a part of a culture, and I wanted to study music of more universal expression.”
He made his Carnegie Hall Recital Hall debut in 1975.
Koster’s Informances tend to fall into two parts--a classical half and a flamenco half.
“I like to do the same subject matter as viewed by the classical composers as opposed to the flamenco. For instance, Tarrega has written a very famous work, ‘Memories of the Alhambra,’ and Sabicas wrote ‘Jewels of the Alhambra.’ The first is very romantic and sentimental, the other is very powerful and much more authentic in terms of Spain’s Moorish heritage.
“One could dwell on the cultural differences, but what I enjoy is the contrast in the sounds and in repertory that the guitar is capable of playing. I love playing the guitar because it supports both styles of music so well. And I like the way Affiliate Artists introduces the instrument to new audiences.”
Koster said that performing in such unusual settings as prisons and rehabilitation centers “can be very nerve-racking and frightening.”
“But I love doing it. The experience has changed me very much. It’s loosened me up and has led me to focus my attention on communication rather than on musicology as the center of a performance.”
Flutist Rudich, 29, has been with Affiliate Artists for a year.
“I love how the program brings me to audiences that I wouldn’t normally be playing for,” she said in a phone interview.
“It’s a more intimate, informal setting, with the people instead of up on a stage being very separate from them.”
Rudich, who was a winner of the 1983 Artists International Young Artists Musicians Auditions, is on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music in New York, where she received her master’s degree and doctorate in flute and performance.
But she was not always so single-mindedly focused on the flute, she recalled:
“In the third grade, they showed us all the instruments and said they would give us an instrument and a year’s free lessons. I wanted to play the harp, but the school didn’t have one and my parents didn’t want to buy a big thing like that.
“Flute was my second choice.
“I wasn’t any kind of prodigy. I just went along.”
After byways that included playing the cello, studying to be a piano tuner and training to be a preschool teacher, Rudich realized that “I always kept coming back to the flute and found it was something very satisfying for me.”
The big turning point in her life was meeting and studying with flutist/composer/conductor Harvey Sollberger, she said:
“When I heard him play, I was knocked out. He became my greatest teacher and mentor.”
And these studies led her to begin playing and championing contemporary music. “I find that I’m able to express myself in a way that, living in a modern world, one can’t always when one is playing Bach and Mozart,” Rudich said.
“That’s not to say that I don’t want to play Bach and Mozart, which I do all the time.
“In my Informances, I always play some part or some piece by some contemporary composer. When people hear me play Bach, Mozart or Telemann, then hear a little bit of a modern piece and hear what it means to me, they end up loving it.
“Even people who start by saying that they will hate it, end up loving it and being very intrigued by it.”
Rudich summed up:
“I feel, on a very simple level, I’m providing a service to composers and making history in a way because I’m able to perform the works of composers who are living. I also really love it.”