Sunday at the Boston Early Music Festival

The Flanders Recorder Quartet

At some point during all-recorder concerts, I always find
myself thinking of Samuel Johnson’s remark about the women
preachers: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on
his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to
find it done at all.” I really think that even if you play
as many different recorders as well as these guys do, it still
isn’t enough variety for a concert-length program. Adding
keyboard, strings, or especially singing makes it a lot easier on everyone.

That being said, the Flanders Recorder Quarted did do one of my
favorite recorder concerts of all time four or five years ago,
when they toured with a very good singer and did the English
Consort Song repertoire.

I should also point out that a very large fraction of the
audience on Sunday afternoon was people who play in and direct
recorder consorts, so a very common remark to overhear (or make)
at this concert was, “We should play some of this stuff.” So
there are reasons for some concerts that go beyond the aesthetic
satisfaction of the audience at the time of the concert.

I thought the second half of this program worked better than
the first half — the first half was mostly early sixteenth
century music played on Renaissance recorders. It was interesting how
they combined two or three of the pieces seamlessly into a set,
but it really wasn’t enough variety.

On the second half, they played one set with three grounds on
three different consorts of instruments: medieval, Renaissance,
and baroque. The Renaissance one (Upon La, Mi, Re
by Thomas Preston (d. ca. 1563)) was the piece on the program
that most made me say, “We should play that.” And the Purcell
Chacony, which I have played, mostly made me say, “They need a
serpent.” I love recorders, but I really think there are other
instruments that work better for that kind of driving bass
line.

The final piece on the program was an arrangement from a
Sweelinck keyboard piece of Dowland’s Lachrimae
Pavane.
That was the best piece on the program for
showing off what the recorder in the hands of these virtuoso
players can be used for.

Festival Wrapup

I got home to a flurry of emails from a set of keyboard playing
friends with the subject BEMF — dying, and me with
it
. I’m not sure which of the three people wrote that
subject line. I don’t have permission to quote any of them
directly by name, but the complaints included the dearth of
keyboard makers exhibiting, the poor choice of instruments at
some of the harpsichord concerts, and the poor presentation
skills of some of the performers. There apparently wasn’t a
harpsichord masterclass this year.

I didn’t see any of the brass players who normally come from
out of town. The Sunday afternoon recorder concert was lightly
attended two years ago, and even more so this time. Saturday’s
11 PM concert, with a reputation for often being the best
concert of the festival usually fills at least the downstairs of
Jordan Hall, and didn’t this year. Of the events I went to, only
the Friday concerts were as well-attended as I would expect.

So I think the Festival is in trouble. I really love a lot of
things about it, and I hope they pull through. I think there’s
some evidence that the organizers don’t entirely understand how
important the Festival’s diversity is in making it such an
important part of so many people’s lives, and I hope they figure
it out by next time.

I’d really be happy to give them good advice about how to get
more and better brass playing. They essentially ignore all the
European early brass playing, and it’s much better organized
than anything we have on this side of the pond. If they got one
of the good ensembles that has several kinds of instruments and
some good teachers, it could really be a draw for a lot of
people who love the idea of cornetto or serpent or baroque
trumpet and haven’t had a chance to hear it or to study it.

Tomorrow I get to blog about something else. I enjoyed lots of
things about the last week, but I’m looking forward to being able
to write about other things.

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