A renovated factory performance space, wine, poetry, laughter, food, a bit of chaos, and … chamber music? Who said classical music had to be stuffy?
With a vision for “reshaping the typical concert-going experience,” this is the feel of a new music series — INNERchamber — in Stratford, and if Saturday night’s inaugural performance was any indication, artistic director Andrew Chung (and company) are onto something.
With the slogan “create, connect, evolve,” Factory 163 is a relatively new artistic hub of painters, sculptors, musicians and others enlivening the space for their various purposes. A simple stage, surrounded by a motley assortment of chairs, couches and support beams, makes a warm and inviting performance space, assisted by high ceilings and a live acoustic.
“Musicians wrestle everywhere,” veteran Stratford actor Scott Wentworth enunciated the poetry of Emily Dickinson with a slight skew of mischief and excitement. Throughout the evening, each musical movement was preceded with poetry — with inspired pairings by Marion Adler.
The variety and spice of the Three Divertimenti of Benjamin Britten, was a wonderful liftoff: March, with its vigorous up-down accents and farcical military; Waltz, with its dreamy swirl with folk melody; and finally, the agitated and percussive Burlesque, were each evocative and dramatic personalities in their own right. The ensemble proved versatile and wonderfully emotive for this set, gracefully manoeuvring subtle transitions and rising to the intricate demands of each segment.
Apropos of the concert theme, the program consisted of the first work written for string quartet by each of the three composers, contributing to the fresh vitality and meaning of the evening.
Next up was Samuel Barber’s String Quartet (Opus 11). The poetry pairings included acerbic selections from W.H. Auden — “love your crooked neighbour” preceding the sweetly discordant harmonies, dramatic descents, and piercing pizzicato of the first movement.
One of the most sublime themes in classical music (and famous for its use in the film The Mission), the adagio movement was breathtaking in its understated beauty — the quartet gratefully opting for a subtle and gentle take, rather than succumbing to a syrupy slather.
The exceptional musicians for the evening — under the banner The Factory Arts String Quartet — each have local ties, though with professional reputations extending well beyond southern Ontario. Julie Baumgartel and Andrew Chung (violin), joining Joshua Greenlaw (viola) and Ben Bolt-Martin (cello) combined for wonderful musical chemistry.
Detailed attention to phrasing, breathing and nuanced ensemble interpretation indicated excellent preparation and care for the music.
The unbridled celebration of life and unfiltered human existence as represented in the poetry of Walt Whitman — “Enough to merely be! Enough to breathe! Joy! Joy! All over joy!” — was a great fit with the thoroughly Romantic music of Tchaikovsky (String Quartet No. 1, Opus 11). Wentworth’s theatrical chops were brought to full bear as he embodied the poet’s sentiments and gleamed with enthusiasm.
Exquisite and irresistibly accessible, the musicians relished this work with it sweet melodies, extended pizzicato, buzzing beauty, and brief but lovely, solo sections. A blistering and climactic finish, and the crowd jumped to its feet.
The second of six INNERchamber performances entitled Reel Music, will be presented in the same space, and features some of the great themes from film scores on Nov. 14.