You can enjoy three of Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello plus three of the Machine House Brewery’s special brews in this “Bach and Brew” classical-music event.
In a rare case of a reality even tastier than its title, “Bach and Brew” is tuned up to surface Sunday evening (Aug. 21) in Seattle’s Machine House Brewery. The brainchild of Oberlin Conservatory-trained cellist Steuart Pincombe and his mezzo-soprano wife and manager, Michelle, the evening pairs three of J.S. Bach’s magnificent Suites for Unaccompanied Cello with three of the Machine House’s special brews.
“The combination works really well for our audiences,” Steuart explained by cellphone while camped in Wyoming. “I do a tasting beforehand where I choose what suites to pair with their brews. Then the brewer or one of the reps speak about the historical brewing tradition of their brews, and I intersperse performances with short explanations of my historical approach to the music. It’s very much what they did then and what we do now.”
Perhaps because the Pincombes, both 29, had not researched who else was performing classical music in nontraditional venues when they packed their belongings and almost 4-year-old chocolate lab, Lucy, into a trailer and began their “Music in Familiar Places” tour last October, their approach is unique. Not only does Steuart perform on a historic 1750 German cello equipped with gut strings, but he also eschews amplification whenever possible.
Music in Familiar Spaces presents “Bach and Brew”
6-7:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21, Machine House Brewery, 5840 Airport Way S., No. 121, Seattle, Name your own ticket price (at the door), plus the cost of beer. (206-851-9629 or www.musicinfamiliarspaces.com)
“Ours are not perfect, quiet spaces,” he conceded. “I’ve discovered that a lot is lost when music is amplified because people don’t listen as intently. The lack of amplification actually encourages quiet listening.”
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In an appeal to young music lovers, the Pincombes also chucked a set admission fee in favor of a “name your own ticket price.” The beer is extra, of course.
Called a “superb solo cellist” by Strad Magazine, and a “gorgeous player [with] perfect intonation, imaginative phrasing” by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Steuart began touring when he was in high school. From there, he toured as featured soloist with various baroque and chamber orchestras in the U.S. and the Netherlands. While he continues to perform, present master classes, coach and teach every July at the three-week Credo Chamber Music Festival at Oberlin, in Ohio, he and Michelle realized they wanted to do something different that would also speak to new audiences.
“For us, it was essential that we spend time together,” he said. “Michelle was getting a bit tired from her work, and I was totally burned out from the pressure of my concert travel schedule. So we decided to address it by living together in a very small space, which is a challenge for two very stubborn people. It’s had its challenges, but we’ve grown a lot closer as we’ve gotten to know each other again.”
Their Music in Familiar Places project, which takes the couple and Lucy to homes, churches, cafes, bars or any place where community already exists, has so far been a huge success. They estimate that half their audience members have never been to a classical concert before. This they credit to the fact that the nature of their community-building presentation, choice of spaces, and accessible admissions policy makes people feel comfortable and welcome.
“Sometimes the madness of it all really hits, and I think to myself, why are we doing this?” Michelle said. “But most of the time, I’m amazed that we are able to have our adventure because many people around the country think what we do is important. As tour manager, that both gives me a great sense of responsibility and leaves me feeling extremely humbled. It’s not been easy, but I’m so grateful for it. Besides, who wants something that’s easy?”
Certainly Steuart has challenged himself with his choice of music. Asked to explain what Bach’s music means to him, he paused for the only time during our chat before responding.
“To me, these cello suites are some of the most incredible music out there,” he said. “Bach knew what the cello was capable of, and how to stretch its limits. But he also chose at times to leave out the bass line. I find it so incredible that his music is so well written, and so clear in its direction, that even untrained listeners hear the fullness of the music and fill in what’s unwritten.”