Wednesday at the Boston Early Music Festival

Exhibition

Good news: as of yesterday all the elevators seem to work, and
getting from one floor to another (the exhibition is on three
floors) is no harder than you would expect, and usually doesn’t
take any longer than walking would, if they would let you walk, which
they don’t. This is very different from two years ago.

There’s a lot to see — instrument vendors, sellers of sheet
music, a used bookstore, representatives from the summer workshops
you might want to go to…

I’ll be bringing several instruments I’ve bought there back to
meet their makers today, so they can be looked over and in one
case have the tuning checked. And I’ve seen a draft of the loud
wind class schedule for the Amherst Early Music Workshop.

The number of businesses willing to pay for the separate rooms
on the ninth floor is apparently at an all-time low. So you might
think that was a reason not to go there, but in fact it’s the
opposite — so many people are deciding not to bother going up there that the poor vendors
are desperate for someone to talk to and they really want you to
come play their instruments.

I played a shawm; the first reed I
used wasn’t working very well for me, which of course I assumed
was because I’m not a good double reed player, but the maker ran over
and gave me a different one and told me how to hold it in my mouth
and it did sound much better. If there were any chance to join a
shawm band I’d be tempted, but of course there isn’t.

I also played my cross-hands piece on the harp, and the harp
maker told me how much she liked my jewelry.

A couple of nits for the festival organizers to take note of:

  • There isn’t enough table space for all the people who want to
    leave flyers.
  • The ventillation system in the Dartmouth Room where a lot of
    demonstration concerts happen is far too loud.
  • As usual, there are almost no brass instruments. The Early
    Music shop booth had some sackbuts on display, and I will visit
    them to see if there might be cornettos under the table, but
    otherwise, nothing. I thought the translation of the German name
    of the shawm maker might be “wind instruments”, so I was hoping he
    might have some brass, but no, only reeds.

The Labyrinthine Keyboard Fantasies of Jan Pieterszoon
Sweelinck

Clavichordist Judith Conrad (disclosure: my sister) played a
fringe concert in the afternoon. She discussed the form of the
keyboard fantasia, which she said she had been playing for several
years without understanding it until she went to conservatory and
read the music history books. After she explained it, I’m not
sure I was any better at picking out the theme in augmentation and
diminution, but it was certainly good keyboard playing and
beautiful music. There were light refreshments afterwards, and
people hung around and talked.

D’amours me plains: 16th- and 17th-Century

Embellished Chansons and Madrigals

This was the 11 PM concert. Again, Jordan Hall was only a
quarter full. This was more understandable in the case of Tuesday
night’s concert, which was music nobody knew played by people most
people hadn’t heard of, but this was music early keyboard, wind
and string players play all the time, played by Paul Leenhouts,
one of the world’s most famous recorder players.

The playing was good. Paul really gets beautiful sounds out of
his renaissance instruments. People were especially impressed by
his bass recorder, which most of us don’t use for the fast stuff.
Harpsichordist Gabe Shuford was also impressive, especially in the
jazzier rhythms of the Cabezon.

A group of us, mostly recorder players, were talking about it
while waiting for the T, and all saying how beautiful it had been.
But then I made the point that complicated improvisations like
that are easier to follow when you know the tune, which I did for
only about half the program. Suddenly everyone else remembered
that they had not only had trouble following the ones with more
obscure tunes, but had sometimes had trouble recognizing the
well-known tunes in the more decorated versions. Suzanne
ung jour
was one we had all had trouble finding, even
though we’d all sung or played the Lassus madrigal.

I’m sure I’ve said this before on this blog, but people
performing that repertoire should really play an unembellished
version of the tune first. Or better yet, get a good singer to
sing the song. The great jazz players of the twentieth century
all did that, or had the great singers do it for them, and I bet
the players back in the sixteenth and seventeeth century did too,
at least when they weren’t playing something that everyone was
singing in the elevator.

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