Yesterday I finally had the opportunity to see the wonderful Sparrow Quartet–and apparently not a second too soon as that concert was to be their last as a group. The group is an all-star cast of Americana/Bluegrass/Old-Time music: Abigail Washburn (banjo and voice); Béla Fleck (banjo); Casey Driessen (violin); and Ben Sollee (cello). As Carey and Ben embark on promoting their latest solo CDs with tours, it looks as if we’ll only have their recent cd and various bootleg youtube videos left to hear and see.
The Sparrow Quartet is, for all intents and purposes, a chamber ensemble. Some of their arrangements just aren’t necessarily pop-radio friendly. This is no criticism as their tunes just sparkle with energy and are incredibly interesting and entertaining. Also, their selection of the old and new (they also perform their own–or primarily Abigail’s–tunes) are a perfect balance between Presentation and Preservation (IMO, the two functions primary functions of any art music ensemble–more about this in a future post). This is, I believe, should be what all Classical (I understand the usage of “Classical” is a bit contentious, here) music ensembles should be striving for in a climate of dwindling audiences (and correspondingly, funds) and relatively static institutions (e.g. Symphony Orchestras, Opera companies, Stadium Rock shows).
I have to say that I really, really dug the Chinese tunes. I hope that at least Abby will continue to write more of her own and perform more Chinese folk music in the future.