Lily Press ’09 and Simon Linn-Gerstein ’09 Make Beautiful Music
The alumni duo known as Strange Interlude is looking to change the way people think of chamber music by turning it into a conversation between audience and performer.
When Lily Press ’09 and Simon Linn-Gerstein ’09 play chamber music together under the name Strange Interlude, they are as focused on story-telling as they are on music. “It’s conversational,” says Linn-Gerstein of Strange Interlude performances, which grew out of the “lecture-recitals” they performed at Haverford. “We play the music in intimate spaces and talk about it, breaking down the barrier between performer and audience.”
The duo—Press on harp and Linn-Gerstein on cello—came together when both were music majors and anthropology minors at Haverford, and the partnership continued into their joint professional careers and subsequent marriage.
As Strange Interlude (a moniker taken from a line in a Marx Brothers movie), Press and Linn-Gerstein, who are both 34 and live in Los Angeles, aim to cast a wider net for collaborators and audiences than might be typical for a chamber music duo of harp and cello. “At Haverford, so many of our music professors, like Curt Cacioppo, Heidi Jacob, and Ingrid Arauco, were also composers,” says Press. “They showed us that commissioning new work is part of being a chamber musician.” About once a year, they do just that: commission a new work and collaborate with the composer on recording it. Their most recent project is Lemur Meets Panda, a 20-minute piece by Jessi Harvey BMC ’09, with whom they first collaborated as Haverford music students. They released a recording of Lemur Meets Panda in early 2022, along with an online premiere performance. A live debut took place in late May at the Monk Space in Los Angeles.
But the recording of commissions doesn’t capture the interactive and intimate experience of most Strange Interlude concerts. “What’s so wonderful about the salon-style house concerts we do is the host invites their community,” says Press. “It’s really nourishing to play for new audiences. Often attendees come to the experience not knowing a lot about chamber music, and for many it is their first time seeing a harp or cello live and up close.” These smaller spaces allow Press and Linn-Gerstein to have conversations before, during, and after their performances. “We talk about our experience playing the music,” says Linn-Gerstein. “It can be important for the listening, and it connects it to the personal.”
And while the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenging time for Press and Linn-Gerstein, as it was for most professional musicians, their focus on intimate house concerts worked nicely with the shift to streaming performances. They also found that their duo format adapted well to slimmed-down pandemic weddings, which had them providing music for “smaller elopements and micro-weddings,” as well as backyard nuptials.
The variety of listeners, collaborators, and situations allows the duo to bring their improvisation training into the work, opening them up to different musical possibilities. Many of their commissioned pieces have space for improv within the scores, and the shifting moods of a wedding gig require them to adapt to the moment. Unusual things can happen, observes Press, recalling the time a groomsman who liked their playing invited them to record loops for his hip-hop album. “It was amazing to share studio time with him and his colleagues,” she says.
Press and Linn-Gerstein note that as much as their music training drives their work, their anthropology minors are key to Strange Interlude, too. “Performing well is great, but creating a connection and communicating from the stage are important for bringing people into the music,” says Press. “Our music and anthropology backgrounds prepared us to do that.”