Only in the musty museum world of classical music would white dinner jackets and ties qualify as "informal." But that's standard attire for the male musicians at summer festivals, including Portland's otherwise relatively relaxed Chamber Music Northwest. Now, after decades of denial, administrators around the country are finally waking up to the need to reach new and younger audiences before much of the old one expires. Many of these attempts amount to little more than short-term marketing gimmicks, but CMNW's new Protégé Project, which opens this weekend, may be a happy exception.

The four-concert series brings accomplished groups (Sospiro Winds, Jasper Quartet and Atria Ensemble) of up-and-coming twentysomethings to venues more associated with ambitious pop music—Someday Lounge, Mississippi Studios, the Woods. The youngest, Portlander Becky Anderson, is studying at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music. Tickets will be affordable; you can eat and sip a brew and clap when you want; musicians will wear real-people clothes, talk to the audience and generally act like any other band rather than the haughty automatons outsiders sometimes mistakenly assume them to be. The series is lacking in contemporary and homegrown music, but many pieces do come from way back in the 20th century, and for classical music, that's progress.

Longtime CMNW artistic director David Shifrin conceived the project as a way to provide promising young musicians the opportunity for intensive coaching (at area youth workshops), mentoring, onstage experience and even devising their own programs. Staff suggested the alt-venue component, and executive director Linda Magee acknowledges that it's an experiment. "We hope putting younger performers in these non-traditional venues and shaking up the traditional performance practices may draw a different kind of audience," she says. "We want to serve the art form and also break some misconceptions and excite people who otherwise wouldn't come."


CMNW's Protégé Project visits various locations June 27-July 18. See for details.