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Composer Revitalizes the Salon Tradition

December 3, 2013 By:
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Andrea Clearfield

Mitzvah Hero: Philadelphia-born, Bala Cynwyd-raised composer Andrea Clearfield, 53, has made a major mission of revitalizing and contemporizing the salon — historically dating back to 16th century Italy. At Clearfield's loft, the salon is an informal arena for learning more about music as well as introducing important new performers who otherwise might have a more difficult time making their talents known.

What It’s All About: For the past 27 years, the multiple award- and fellowship-winning composer/mentor, has opened her Center City loft for performances by the up-and-coming and tried-and-true at no charge. While “most of the performers are seasoned professionals,” she says, the salons also offer the opportunity to witness potential stars-to-be, such as local violinist Caeli Smith, who performed there at age 14 and now studies at Juilliard School of Music. Each year, high school students from Settlement Music School also perform with the Auger Quartet directed by Linda Reichert.

The Do-Re-Mi of How It Started: “Music has always been an important part of my life,” says the daughter of Dr. Harris and Louise Clearfield — he’s a gastroenterologist; she’s an accomplished painter — “with whom  I played chamber music in our home when I was growing up," she says of both parents. "I started the salon as a way of carrying on the tradition of music in the home, fostering collaboration amongst artists and helping to build a vital and joyful community around the arts in Philadelphia.”

Not a One-Time Thing: Her success in Philly has led others to implore her to expand nationally — and she has. She now hosts and curates salons in Aspen, Phoenix and Rye, N.Y., and may possibly do another in Taos, N.M. Clearfield also earns her Mitzvah Hero stripes by offering her loft on occasion for “fundraising events for charity, social causes, performing arts organizations and young musicians for their debut CD releases.” She's also performed classical piano music in assisted living facilities and hospitals.

Good for Her: "There have been over 6,000 musicians and more than 16,000 audience members coming through my living room,” she says, forging “numerous friendships and professional relationships; some of these result in new ensembles, CD recordings and collaborative projects." Also, "there is an educational component where people can learn about and experience styles of music and arts that they might not have known previously.” 

On Dec. 8, Clearfield staged a salon at Main Line Reform Temple, the synagogue she attended growing up and where her parents are still members; she will return to stage another salon on March 23. While these are paid performances different in style from the salons she hosts at her home, synagogue cantor Marshall Portnoy still made a point of applauding her mitzvah heroism. 

“There is no question,” he says, “that she has done the world a mitzvah by reclaiming and revitalizing the salon tradition.” 

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