Leah Froyd is barely out of school, but she’s already making waves as a violinist and engaging the chamber music audiences of the future. After establishing herself on the San Francisco scene as a performer, collaborator, and teacher, in 2022 she added entrepreneur to her resume when she started Insight Chamber Players , an innovative chamber music experience set in some of the most stylish and exclusive residences in the Bay Area.
It’s a blazing start for a career that’s sure to keep burning bright, but it’s not because she was born with a lightning bolt on her forehead; her formative experiences have been crucial for illuminating the path to fresh answers and innovative ideas. By taking chances, stepping into the unknown, and setting out in search of her dreams rather than waiting for them to show up on her doorstep, she’s discovered the real magic it takes to ignite the classical repertoire for a new generation of listeners.
We met Leah this summer at Orvieto Musica in Umbria, Italy, and we’re sitting down to catch up on her career and chat about her vision of the future of chamber music.
OM: Tell us about Insight.
Leah: We want to create events that give people an authentic listening and social experience of our music that’s engaging, informative, and meets them where they are. Symphony concerts can have a clouded aura—most people my age started going with someone significantly older, and interfacing with classical music was a formal, ritualistic, and gate-kept experience. Yes, you’re dressed up and going downtown, but the actual event is sitting quietly for three hours. It can be an extremely intimidating proposition.
Insight is about viewing music through the lens of a Millennial or a Zoomer. Most of our social life involves social media, and if you want to meet in person you need to go online and set something up. Connecting with new people and ideas isn’t about going to a highly-choreographed social dance—it is the highly-choreographed dance!
So, when you finally take the plunge, you’re hoping for an authentic in-person experience with opportunities for smaller-scale, meaningful interactions with others. Salon-style concerts and chamber ensembles are much more natural opportunities to create those dynamics than a formal trip to Symphony Hall.
OM: How has that influenced your approach to content?
Leah: Facebook, Instagram, and online videos have empowered people with a wonderful fluency to interact with the things they’re interested in. We want to use our gathering opportunities to promote playful engagement between people and the music we’re presenting. With Insight, we’re always looking to tailor our events towards fulfilling those needs and manifesting a truly holistic experience.
Rather than starting with a concert with three big pieces they know nothing about, we create three interactive lectures so attendees can familiarize themselves with the content, get to know us, and engage in a relationship with the music while it’s happening in real time. Then, when we give a full traditional concert, they can listen with the enthusiastic vitality that only comes with trust and familiarity. If they feel comfortable having a glass of wine and talking to us before and after the show about the music, we know we got it right.
OM: Can you give us an example of how you achieve that?
Leah: Absolutely. Our next series features Schubert’s Death and the Maiden quartet. It’s very accessible, but it poses some incredibly nuanced questions: what does Death sound like? What about a Maiden? How do they interact? Good music evokes these images like it’s casting a spell, but some key insights can crack it wide open even for the uninitiated. With a little guidance and the freedom to talk, a context to participate, and permission to react, it’s incredible how nimble unfamiliar ears can be.
Technology is also revealing a lot of clues. A number of players in our collective are involved in tech spaces, and we just attended a conference on music and AI. It’s another window into how and why people with no professional knowledge of music connect with it. That knowledge can be leveraged by performers to explore using it as a tool to enhance a traditional live musical experience.
The fact is, most people who love music don’t have a professional education and a rich understanding of what they’re experiencing, and Insight is about creating that of-the-moment personal connection. But making it feel easy for them? That’s another story. It takes all your professional expertise, a willingness to seek out diverse opportunities like Orvieto Muisca, and the ability to synthesize it all into one big tapestry.
OM: What did your experience at Orvieto Musica contribute?
Leah: Orvieto is much different than most European or American festivals. European festivals tend to be completely hands off, and they feel like a vacation. That’s fun, but you have to be extremely proactive to make connections and maximize your learning. Conversely, American festivals schedule everything to the hour so there’s no time to explore and reflect. They mostly focus on giving you a pre-college/college introduction to playing Beethoven quartets and things. It’s great, but you can get that anywhere.
OM was real preparation for being a performing artist and chamber musician in the real world. It was an excellent balance of structured and free time, and we concentrated on preparing a diverse repertoire that included everything from standard major literature to contemporary music.
Also, we had opportunities at OM that you’ll never get from the average summer festival. At the first concert, we performed a quartet that had just been written by an attending composer. There’s no recording, midi, or anything—just us and the music and your imagination. Suddenly, you’re much closer to the position of Insight Chamber’s audience members. What do we do? What are we listening for? How do we engage with this to create a successful concert? It’s an incredibly important set of skills and a valuable perspective that will last for the rest of your career.
OM: Was engagement more challenging with an Italian-speaking audience?
Leah: Actually, quite the opposite. I’ve been to medieval towns before, and Orvieto is particularly beautiful and well-suited for a festival. It has so many wonderful historic and cultural spaces as well as plenty of local adventures to soak in during your down time. I felt really lucky to be there! Also, OM picks diverse and inviting spaces for concerts like museums, cultural gathering places, and social hubs, so the festival feels like we’re much more integrated into the Orvieto community.
That was really special, because if everything would have been in stuffy concert halls it actually would have created a barrier and basically made us musical tourists. It was a much more authentic experience for us, and that translates directly to everyone we perform for.
At Insight, we are very careful to pick enigmatic homes and venues around the Bay Area that create an inviting and engaging vibe. Do you know the famous clock tower? One of our first concerts was there, and it’s the perfect space to connect with a lively and enthusiastic audience! OM’s spaces resonated with that same energy, and it made a big difference.
OM: Last thing: three favorite things about Orvieto.
Leah: 1. Personal connections with the people (and the cats, all of whom I have named) The locals are incredibly warm and welcoming, and the participants and coaches were so fun and amazing to work with!
2. The food—omg. It was unforgettably delicious and unique.
3. Nature and the views. Flowers are woven into every archway and window, and the incredible Umbrian panoramas from Orvieto’s walls are absolutely unforgettable.
Leah Froyd is a 2023 Orvieto Musica participant, and founder of Insight Chamber Players in San Francisco. You can connect with her on Facebook and Instagram, and learn more about Insight’s upcoming concerts here.