By Will Schick | [email protected]
The Planning Commission voted unanimously on March 2 to endorse a special use permit to allow Classical Movements, a classical music tour company based in Alexandria, to continue hosting socially distanced outdoor concerts. City Council will make a final vote on the SUP at a public hearing this Saturday.
Beginning in June, Classical Movements began hosting small-scale, distanced outdoor concerts in the garden behind its headquarters at 711 Princess St. In November, the future of the concert series was put in jeopardy after a single noise complaint from a neighbor set in motion a series of bureaucratic obstacles that prevented Classical Movements from hosting outdoor concerts.
According to Neeta Helms, Classical Movements’ founder and president, the SUP that goes before council on Saturday is technically for a live entertainment restaurant.
“[City staff and the Planning Commission] said that we should apply for a restaurant, that we had to label ourselves as a restaurant, and they actually asked us to put that in,” Helms said.
Classical Movements is not, technically, a restaurant, Helms added.
“… We’re not actually a restaurant. We don’t cook food there, and we don’t have a kitchen. We have a little kitchen but, you know, we don’t have a stove. We have a microwave,” Helms said.
Helms said that her company plans to allow for some events to serve catered food during small ceremonies, which was the reason for applying under this designation.
“Here and there … there might be some pairings of food, but it would be catered,” Helms said.
According to Helms, the SUP comes after months of trying to figure out how to obtain the right kind of permission from the city to host outdoor concerts at their location.
“We canceled a Valentine’s [event] because we were asked to get a noise permit, which required us to get a signature for a block party [and go] door to door [for] everyone’s signature,” Helms said.
Helms added that she did not think anyone in particular was to blame for their administrative struggles.
“I don’t want to blame the city. I’m just saying it’s a little complicated. I think everyone’s trying to do their best,” Helms said.
The current proposed SUP would allow for Classical Movements to continue doing what it had been doing for months: host occasional hour-long outdoor concerts that are held between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.
“We were delighted, very delighted, that the entire city Planning Commission agreed with us that we need to be able to do these one-hour concerts,” Helms said.
The concerts remain important, according to Helms, because they help to engage artists and other members of the community.
“It’s such a tough time for artists,” Helms said, “It’s sort of soul-wrecking is what I would call it. Because it’s not just the money part … [Artists] live to perform.”
Helms added that part of the magic of these concerts was that they were live and in-person.
“That is what makes the experience, and Zoom and all that is just not the same – not at all the same – not for the audience or for the artists,” Helms said.
Helms said that she is hopeful that City Council will approve Classical Movements’ SUP this weekend. If approved, they will be able to announce the upcoming season’s concert schedule.
“We got all our artists lined up for this coming season with the first concert, a Passover concert. And then the next one’s an Easter concert … then, there’s Mother’s Day, there’s Juneteenth, there’s a lot of really lovely programs,” Helms said.