Globe review of Quicksilver concert

Is here.

Jeremy Eichler took better notes and reproduced more of them
than I did, but one thing he said deserves discussion here:

Why more local presenters, given the right program and
the right occasion, don’t explore this timeslot is to me a real
mystery.

The reason the timeslot works (when it does) at BEMF is that a
lot of people take BEMF as a reason to suspend their normal life.
If they’re doing the 11PM concerts, they’re either on vacation, or
at least have given themselves permission to give up some of what
they normally do. For instance, I practice recorder and some kind
of brass instrument and vocalize over my whole range every day,
but not during BEMF. And I was deliriously happy when my CSA decided that the
cold Spring we had in New England didn’t produce enough to be
worth distributing a share this week, so I didn’t have to drive 4
miles to pick it up.

So I go to 11 PM concerts at BEMF, but would be really unlikely
to at other times. Also, even when I go, I often enjoy the last
one or two pieces less than I otherwise would because of worrying
about missing the last train. And in my case, if I miss the train
I can walk, or take a cab without going hungry for a week. Other
people are less fortunate than I am.

So I’m not at all mystified by the fact that outside of BEMF
there aren’t many 11 PM concerts.

Early 17th century Italian violin music

At the beginning of the 17th century, music got harmonically
more complicated, but remained polyphonic and melodic. A group of
violin virtuosos took advantage of this new vocabulary to compose
chamber music works of remarkable complexity.

This is the kind of repertoire that BEMF is good at showing us,
because it’s think kind of thing that the people who can play in
the opera orchestra do for fun when they aren’t in an orchestra.
This concert was no exception. The duets were played by Robert
Mealy and Julie Andrijeski on baroque violin. I was glad to see that the third
melodic instrument in several pieces was played by Greg Ingles,
with remarkably agile slide technique on a trombone.

Another break from the violin was provided by a harpsichord
solo, played by Avi Stein on an unusually mellow Italian-style
harpsichord built by Owen Daly.

I started taking notes about places I particularly liked in the
pieces (e.g. Julie’s solo in Bertali Sonata No. 3), but since every piece had one or two, I decided to just
say that I really enjoy this repertoire.

Another unusual feature of this concert was that the Boston
Bruins hockey team won the Stanley Cup while we were listening to
it. I could tell that had happened the minute I left Emmanuel
Church, since there were horns blowing and people cheering. But
the really odd part was when the people taking the MBTA home got
to Park Street and were waiting for the Red Line. A bunch of
drunken hockey celebrators came in and were yelling and throwing
things. The Early Music people all went down to the other end of
the platform. One of them muttered, “Too much alcohol and
testosterone in the air down there.” Another asked, “Who are the Bruins?”

Fiddle tunes on the viol

The Thursday 5 PM concert was called The Celtic
Viol
and featured reknowned viol player Jordi Savall
playing various kinds of Irish and Scottish music on viol,
accompanied by Paul Odette on cittern and lute and Shane Shanahan
on bodhràn.

I’m always dubious about the idea of playing lots of dance
music in a concert setting, and this concert did nothing to change
that opinion. The lyrical airs and laments were very beautiful,
and there were enough of them that I didn’t regret buying my
ticket.

But the fiddle tunes kept reminding me of Samuel Johnson about
women preaching: “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.” It was rhythmic and sounded a surprising
amount like a fiddle, but I wasn’t sure anyone would really want
to dance to it even if they could in Jordan Hall.

On a cheerful note, this was the first of the Jordan Hall
concerts I’ve been to that was anything close to sold out. I
wasn’t surprised that the Monday concert was sparsely attended,
since it wasn’t designed for the general public, and a lot of the
BEMF public doesn’t arrive until later in the week. I was
surprised that the King’s Singers sold barely half the seats,
since the Celebrity Series used to sell them out regularly, so
they do appeal to the general public. (Maybe it still does sell
them out regularly – I haven’t been a subscriber for some time.)

On the whole, this concert should probably have been
an 11 PM one-hour concert instead of a 5 PM full-length concert,
except that I would guess the viol players complained two years
ago about the big viol concert being after most people’s bedtimes.
And Jordi Savall is one of the festival’s big draws, and there
are a lot of people who can’t really deal with the logistics of
the 11 PM concerts, so it makes sense to have him when people can
go.

The Times about the exhibition

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about the exhibition later, but
here’s what
Alan Kozinn says.

It’s good he mentioned the serpent.

I think it’s a pity they keep calling it a “trade show”. It
does of course function something like a trade show, but the term
might imply to people who’d never been that they shouldn’t go
unless early music was their trade.

The King’s Singers

There were no problems with lack of rehearsal time, or
inexperience in ensemble singing, or questionable blend on the
Tuesday night concert of madrigals about triumph and conquest by
the King’s Singers.

The first half presented English madrigals from the Triumphs of
Oriana
, paired with Italian ones from Il Trionfo
di Dori
, the Italian Madrigal collection which inspired the
English one.

I went to the concert hoping to hear material that my group would
enjoy singing. I think the first one will be Michael East’s
Hence stars, too dim of light. The serpent wants to
play the bass line. In general, the serpent wants to sound like
bass Jonathan Howard.

The second half was French madrigals, starting and ending with
two Jannequin showpieces, Les cris de Paris and
La Guerre. In between were Josquin and Lassus.
A friend I talked to later wished there had been more Josquin, but
I wouldn’t have sacrificed the showpieces. Madrigals are the
ultimate living room music, but when you can do precision
fireworks like the ones in La Guerre, you should
have a concert stage to do it on.

I was glad they did that one in particular, because the battle
pieces that apparently everyone wrote and played all through the
16th century are often neglected as trivialities in the modern
concert presentations of that repertoire. I think it’s important
to see how musicians were dealing with representing the sounds
they heard (including gunfire). The battle pieces also represent
the birth of movie music, which is still an important part of the
musical landscape.

On my way in to the concert, I talked to some conservatory
students who are here participating in the EMA Young Performers’
Series. One of them was introduced as the best chalumeaux player
in the world, which embarrassed him a little, but there are only a
couple of people playing chalumeaux in public. So I told him
about being the second-best serpent player in the Boston area.

On
the way home, I ran into an MIT musicologist who has used some of
my transcriptions in his statistical analysis of something or
other. He asked about what I was publishing these days, so I
showed him the
new brochure
, and he was actually interested in discussing the
problems of getting lilypond
to space unbarred music correctly. A few years ago He wrote a Haskell program
that uses lilypond for very low-level stuff but does a lot of the
spacing and line-breaking on its own, and he says his stuff looks
just like Petrucci, but probably doesn’t work with the current
lilypond.

So I’m feeling quite good about BEMF at the moment.

Les Voix Baroques — The Song of Songs

The Monday evening concert was the typical BEMF
pickup group, that found some really good music. It was all loosely
related the the Song of Songs, including lots with
the bits that made the monks trying to honor their vow of
chastity think very hard about the relationship between Christ
and the Church. (“I sat down under the shadow of him I desire,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.”)

My two favorites were the lute and baroque guitar duet on an
aria from a Monteverdi opera, and the Purcell motet that closed
the concert.

What my friends and I argued about on the train back to Cambridge was whether
they didn’t sing an encore because:

  • They were a pickup group hadn’t bothered to think of one,
    or had the time to rehearse it if they had thought of it.
  • They’re already trying to figure out how they can possibly do as much
    music as they have left to do this week.
  • The ending Purcell
    was such a perfect ending number.

You can defend all those positions.

If it were my concert, I’d have done one of our drinking songs for an
encore. You really could hear in the motets from the Song of Songs that
these were the same people whe went to the pub later and sang our
Purcell’s and Sermisy’s.

The Globe review is here.
They picked different favorite pieces than I did, although they
also mentioned the lute-harp duet, and they rightly singled out
the singing of soprano Yulia Van Doren as particularly sumptuous.

Rant about Early Music singing for CD’s

I was again really irritated by the “female sopranos on top;
everything else sung by men” vocal forces. For people who can
sing opera, these singers sing ensemble really well, and in the
all-male numbers, there was a good ensemble sound. I can’t
imagine what the historical justification for singing church music
this way would be. I understand saying, “Church music wasn’t sung
by mixed choirs until the 19th century, so ensembles should be all
men or all women.” You can deal with the range of the parts
by either getting boy sopranos (which I’d like to hear more of),
or transposing up or down a fourth (if you can find the basses or
high sopranos).

But putting female opera singers on the top line with no voices
of anything like that timbre on the middle lines is doomed to
producing a really unbalanced sound. Which it did last night. I
think it’s equivalent to saying, “Beethoven was really frustrated
by the pianos of his day, so it’s more authentic to play his music
on a Steinway.” Easier to deal with changing the strings, maybe,
but certainly not more authentic. I love Beethoven on modern
pianos, but if I were taking people’s money for authenticity
(which BEMF does), I would get a fortepiano.