Sarah Hagen performs a series of concerts at the Port Theatre

Sarah Hagen performs a series of concerts at the Port Theatre

Cozy classics

Concert pianist Sarah Hagen aims to make classical music more accessible to audiences with Port Theatre series

Sarah Hagen has a theory about why people avoid classical concerts.

So the pianist designed a concert series reminiscent of a performance in her living room.

“People get put off by how strict classical music seems,” Hagen said. “I set it up to be a little more casual.”

Hagen is hosting the Coffee Concert Series at the Port Theatre over the next few months. The first in the series, set for Tuesday (Sept. 20) at 10:30 a.m., features Hagen on piano, performing with Laura Karney on oboe.

The concerts take place in the Port Theatre’s lobby to make the shows feel a little less formal. The weekday morning time slot, though, makes the concerts feel more decadent, she said.

Hagen took up the piano at age seven and fell in love with the grand instrument.

“We all played the piano,” she said, of her siblings. “Everyone had to get their Grade 5 piano – family rule.”

But unlike her siblings, Hagen looked forward to her lessons and practices, running home after school every day to play, often not bothering to take off her backpack before sitting at the bench.

Looking back, she said the piano is a sole instrument, one that allows the player to create an entire piece of music without having to wait for another section or instrument.

“Nothing else existed,” she said. “It was a whole world.”

Hagen performed all over the world as a chamber musician and spent 10 years on faculty at the Comox Valley Youth Music Centre. She was recognized as the valley’s Cultural Ambassador of the Year in 2006.

For more than a decade, Hagen considered why more people don’t share her love of classical music. What she found was that classical music is very demanding on the listener.

“It’s really the only kind of music you listen to in complete silence,” Hagen said. “That’s part of the listening experience.”

Unlike a rock or folk concert where guests cheer and dance, a classical concert requires concentration. Rather than trying to change that, Hagen worked with it, allowing moments of relaxation between songs so that people can laugh, sigh or even stretch to break up the intensity of the concert.

“It’s really hard work to listen,” she said.

The partnership with the Port Theatre came about after Hagen met general manager Bruce Halliday at an event in Vancouver. They had the same vision for classical chamber concerts.

Hagen invited musicians she knew personally were very talented, including Karney, whom she met during an event in Banff. Hagen also performs a solo show on Oct. 25.

Sharon Stanis, performing violin on Nov. 22, came very highly recommended, said Hagen. Chad Louwerse, a baritone singer who performs Jan. 17, fell in love with and married one of Hagen’s close friends.

Ariel Barnes, on cello, wraps up the series with Hagen on April 3.

“We’re all performing the music together,” Hagen said.

Tickets $25; $22/members; $15/students. Please call 250-754-8550 or visit