Recorder Masterclass

The Boston Early Music festival usually gets at least one
internationally known recorder player to play a concert, and also
to teach a masterclass. This year it was Michael Form, who
teaches and conducts as well as playing and recording.

Quilisma Consort

The first people to play were the Quilisma Consort (Lisa Gay,
Melika Fitzhugh, and Carolyn Jean Smith), a trio of
Boston-area recorder players, who normally play Medieval and
Renaissance music but this time were performing a
“Baroque-inspired” piece, Sicilian-ish, by consort
member Milika Fitzhugh. They played it through, and then Michael
Form asked the audience what the time signature was. (He had the
score; we didn’t.)

The gentleman next to me was sure it was either 6/8 or 12/8,
because that’s what a Siciliana is. Someone farther back in the
room did get the right answer — 5/8. But Michael pointed out
that since almost everyone in the room is a musician of some sort,
and only a couple of people knew the time signature from the
performance, the playing should have gotten this across better.
So he worked with them on how to accent the first beat in the
measure without destroying the phrasing or other musical aspects of
the piece.

He also told the story of Franz Brueggen’s parting advice to
recorder players: “Blow!” He suggested that all the players would
have better tone if they were filling the recorder with air
better.

Henia Yacubowicz

Next up was an accomplished amateur recorder player, Henia
Yacubowicz, who seemed very nervous to start with, but got better
as her piece, Ciaccona from the Sonata in F major, Op. 2 by
Benedetto Marcello, went along.

Form’s first reaction was, “This is one of the most cheering-up
pieces in the recorder literature.”

His second reaction was to ask, “Are you nervous?” She
responded with a laugh, “Always.”

So he said, “Well, let’s play it together.” So they played it
together, and sure enough, she was much less nervous. Then they
played it antiphonally, with each person playing four measures,
and then the other playing the next four measures. It looked like
a lot more fun than some of the things I’ve done in masterclasses.

Then he wanted to tell a story. He used to be an oboe player,
and one of the standard pieces for oboe is the Ricard Strauss oboe
concerto. It has a motif very like the one in the Marcello:


[thousand dollars]
Thousand-dollar-like motif from Marcello Ciaccona

And the story is that in 1945, there was a US army officer who
was also a professional oboist, and he went to Ricard Straus, who
was by then old and feeble, and asked him to write an oboe
concerto. There was clearly interest but not sufficient
motivation, so the officer said, “If you write me an oboe
concerto, I’ll give you a thousand dollars.” And Ricard Strauss’s
eyes lit up, and the concerto starts with the orchestra playing a
motif with 16th notes in groups of 4. Oboists still think of
that motif as having the lyrics “thousand dollar”.

So Henia played that section, and Michael Form shouted
“Thousand Dollar” every time the motif came up.

Benjamin Oye

Next up was Benjamin Oye, a high school senior and a student
of Emily O’Brien. He played the Fontana Sonata Number 6,
accompanied by Miyuki Tsurutani (who also assisted Henia
Jacubowicz on no notice). His performance was quite poised and confident.

Michael Form noted that the Fontana sonatas are marked “come
sta”
, meaning that they should be played as written, and not
ornamented to the player’s taste (or lack thereof) as was usual
for music of that period (he died circa 1630; the sonatas were
published posthumously in 1641).

He mostly worked on a section where in his opinion, the
continuo should be fairly metronomic, but the soloist should be
rhythmically quite free.

My favorite story of the day was about how before recording
technology became common in the 1920’s, nobody had ever heard
themselves play. It was as if the mirror had suddenly been
invented when you were 50, and you could see what you looked like.

In any case, the recording engineers, who were technicians
and not necessarily musicians at all, kept complaining to the
performers that their playing didn’t line up, and eventually the
performers accepted that standard and now performances almost
always line the parts up vertically, but before about a hundred
years ago, nobody did that.

He also gave Benjamin a lesson in messa di voce,
which involves doing a crescendo and decrescendo on a single
pitch. There’s a long note in the recorder part of this piece
which is the climax of the movement, and the successful
messa di voce did indeed make it a more exciting climax.

Kim Wu-Hacohen

(This was a hand-written addition to the printed program, so
I apologize if I read the handwriting wrong and don’t have the
name right.)

Kim is an 11 year old student of Sarah Cantor, and she played
the “Optometrist” movement from Pete Rose’s
I’d rather be in Philadelphia. Michael didn’t know
the piece, so he asked the audience about the title. Someone
volunteered that it was on W.C. Field’s tombstone, and Judy
Linsenberg, to whom the piece is dedicated, told the story:

She was at her parent’s in Philadelphia and leaving for
Europe the next day, but Pete, who lives in New Jersey, was in
town and wanted to see her. She explained that she’d love to get
together, but she also had a lot of errands that had to happen
that day, so he went around to her errands with her while they
talked, and he immortalized the day in this piece, with
movements Optometrist, Shoe Store,
and Lunch.

Kim played with obvious enjoyment of the swing style of the
piece (marked Jazz inegal). The audience had
copies of the version she was playing from, which had phrases
marked with stage directions like “Waterslide” and “falling down
the stairs”. Michael asked her if she had made up those
characterizations, and when she said she had, he worked on ways to
make some of them even better realizations of her ideas.

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