The Boston Early Music
Festival (BEMF) concert last night was a setting of a Croatian
epic poem for solo voice, bowed strings, and flutes. In addition
to credits for the three musicians, there were credits for stage
direction, philological advice, lighting, title translation… The
program notes and texts can be downloaded from the concert
page, if you want to know more than this page tells you.
The performance lasted slightly more than an hour, and was
followed by a session for audience questions.
What I personally most enjoyed was the improvised 3-voice
polyphony. It’s in a very dissonant style. The group leader (the
singer) said that she’d seen a book holding up a table in a
Franciscan monastery, and had asked to look at it and it turned
out to be directions for improvising this kind of polyphony. They
were very specific, along the lines of, “If the tune goes up by a
step, here are the choices for what the other voices can do.”
There was a part right after the death of Holefernes where the
singer and the flute cadence on a major second interval and just
hold it. (I really mean on the major second; it doesn’t
resolve to a fifth or anything.) It sent shivers up my spine.
The poetry, music, and acting were all superb, and if you get a
chance to see this group, you should take it. They’re working on
finding production and distributors for a DVD of the
One minor nit about the production. I was sitting off to the
side and had trouble reading the titles when the lighting got
brighter after Judith returns to Jerusalem with the head of
Holofernes. I asked a friend who had been sitting directly in the
center of the front row if she’d had problems, and she said she
had no trouble reading them except when they were obscured by the
performers, which was frequent. Since these seats we had are
normally considered among the best in their price range (mine the
cheap range, my friend’s the expensive ones), and none
of the price ranges were anything like sold out, I would guess
that a fair percentage of the audience was having one or the other
of these problems.
This was the first event of this year’s BEMF that I’d gotten
to, and I was disappointed to see that Jordan Hall was only a
quarter to a third full. I understand that the opera has
essentially sold out, but that all the concerts have lots of
available seats, so if you were thinking you might want to go, you
should encourage yourself to do it.