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What Goes Well with Beer? Bach!

Music in Familiar Spaces

Sept. 19 at 7 p.m.

In a rare case of a reality even tastier than its title, “Bach and Brew” is tuned up to surface on Monday, September 19, in San Francisco’s Harmonic Brewing. The brainchild of Oberlin Conservatory-trained cellist Steuart Pincombe and his mezzo-soprano-cum-manager wife Michelle, the evening will pair three of J.S. Bach’s magnificent Suites for Unaccompanied Cello with three of Harmonic Brewing’s 12 special brews.

“The combination works really well for our audiences,” Steuart explained by cell phone 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 speaks about [their] brewing tradition, and I intersperse performances with short explanations of my approach to the music. It’s very much what they did then, and what we do now.”

Perhaps because the Pincombes, who are both 29, had not researched who else was performing classical music in non-traditional venues when they packed their belongings and almost four-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 German cello from 1750, equipped with gut strings, he also eschews amplification whenever possible.

“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.”

In an appeal to young music lovers, the Pincombes also chucked a set admission fee for a “name your own ticket price” approach The beer is extra, of course, with three specially selected tasters for $12.

Called a “superb solo cellist” by the 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 went on to tour as featured soloist with various baroque and chamber orchestras in the U.S. and the Netherlands. While he continues to perform, do master classes, coach, and teach every July at the three-week Credo Chamber Music Festival at Oberlin, he and Michelle realized, not too long ago, that 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 … It’s had its challenges, but we’ve grown a lot closer as we’ve gotten to know each other again.”

The project, which takes the couple to homes, churches, cafés, 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.

“Sometimes the madness of it all really hits, and I think to myself, ‘why are we doing this?’” Michelle acknowledged. “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. … 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.” Between the Bach and the brew, listeners will certainly have their fill.

Music in Familiar Spaces presents “Bach and Brew”
Monday, September 19, 7:00 p.m.
Harmonic Brewing, 1050 26th St, San Francisco, CA 94107
Name-your-own-ticket-price (at the door), plus $12 for three tasters of the paired brews, including tax and tip. (415) 872-6817/

Jason Victor Serinus is a music critic, professional whistler, and lecturer on classical vocal recordings. His credits includes Seattle Times, Listen, Opera News, Opera Now, American Record Guide, Stereophile, Classical Voice North America, Carnegie Hall Playbill, Gramophone, San Francisco Magazine, Stanford Live, Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco Examiner, AudioStream, and California Magazine.