Classical, Intimate and Witty

Unstrung Hero, photo by Matthew Felton © 2012
Unstrung Hero, photo by Matthew Felton © 2012

Through the On-Site Review program, 4Culture evaluates arts and heritage organizations who receive Sustained Support funding. On-Site Reviewers attend events produced or presented by recipients and write up short reviews, which give the adjudicating Sustained Support panelists a patron’s-eye-view of each organization.  Each month, the 4Culture blog presents excerpts from these reviews.  This month’s review is by Chris Jeffries.

Very good job all around from Simple Measures.  The performers of Unstrung Hero were uniformly excellent, and could easily hold their own with any other region’s top instrumentalists. Repertoire of 6 pieces very nicely balanced: a famous Brahms quintet performed in its entirety, preceded by single movements from works by 5 other composers, one a little-known conservative composer of Beethoven’s era, 3 from the 20th century, and the clarinetist himself, whose piece was a charming pastiche of various melodies by the Beatles.  The playing was great, at times truly transporting.

Mt. Baker Community Club is one of those charming, small-town-feeling venues that exist all over this area, but which you could live here for decades and never know about, except to attend a wedding reception or performance like this (I’ve encountered several such in the course of 4Culture on-site reviews).  Acoustics were great. A few steps might make for minor accessibility issues. Chairs weren’t very comfortable, and the floor was not raked, making sightlines a bit problematic depending on who’s sitting in front of you.  Size was just right for event. Venue itself is hard to find in the dark, and street parking, while available, was not abundant.  (I note the group uses several venues, not just this one.)

What really sets this org apart, according to its mission, is the informal, interactive nature of the experience, and that’s just what we got. The performers not only took questions from the audience, but asked the audience questions and solicited comments, and gave informative introductions to each composer and piece. I started out feeling like I was not the target audience for this sort of approach, being no beginner when it comes to classical music – and I did feel that these portions of the program went on a bit long. However, even this jaded music major ended up learning a thing or two (including being introduced to an interesting female composer I’d never heard of), and had to admit that it did enhance the listening experience to have taken in the pre-performance discussions. My takeaway: they’re doing exactly what they say they’re all about doing, and doing it wittily and well – without in any way letting the talk and humor and back-and-forth be an excuse for even slightly sub-par musical performances. Most impressive.  I was glad to see it so well attended and wish even more people had been there. They’re doing this music a real service – not least by playing it so splendidly.  I’m glad they’re here.

Unusually, a few weeks after submitting his review, Chris sent in the following:

Since writing this review, I have attended two other chamber concerts, and I am even more convinced that this group’s approach is the way to go. Maybe it wasn’t ideal for me personally, but the more I think about it, their informal, participatory, non-threatening, warmly inviting approach to this repertoire is really a HUGE service to the arts-going public in our area. Three prestigious concerts later, I liked this one the best; this group gets my very highest recommendation.

Simple Measures begins its 2013-14 season in November.