LayMusic.org goes Social

Me and Social Media

There are clearly people in the world who have figured out how to follow large numbers of friends, acquaintances, businesses, etc. on Facebook and Twitter.

I am not among them. I do check Google+ regularly and know some nice people who occasionally post there, but if there were more of them, I would probably stop reading regularly. I want my news and email sorted nicely into categories, so that I can get the stuff that I really want in 30 seconds, and look at the other stuff when I have time for it.

To that end, I read my mail with GNUS, which splits it into as many "groups" as I care to configure based on the mail headers. I also follow a large number of blogs and other webpages with RSS feeds via Gwene.org.

I don't know why everybody doesn't do it this way, but they don't. I'm always talking to someone who has unsubscribed to something interesting but not critically so because it was cluttering up they (presumably one) mailbox.

I tell people I don't do Facebook because I maintain two websites and that's enough to keep up-to-date. So I keep getting annoyed at my closest friends because they aren't interested enough in what I write to bother to read my blog. But of course it's because their lives are so cluttered with Facebook that they don't have time to also follow blogs.

So I caved about Google+

There are actually things it's easier to just post on Google+ than to put on my blog. Wordpress is pretty clueless as far as just posting a picture with a short caption, and Google+ is easier to use for a one-link pointer. So some time ago, I put a widget in my blog's sidebar that had pointers to my last few Google+ posts.

Then last June, one of my Google+ friends said how much she wished my blog posts on the Boston Early Music Festival would show up on my Google+ feed. I decided to experiment with this, and set up the Jetpack Publicize feature to automatically post blog posts as Google+ posts.

Of course, this makes the blog sidebar pointers to Google+ less useful, since often all or most of them are just pointers to the last few blog entries. But it has led to more +1's and even a few comments on what I write, which the blog basically doesn't have.

So today, I caved about Facebook and Twitter, too

So I decided the people who are always claiming they would like to follow me on Facebook but they don't have time to read my blog should have their chance. I have now configured my blog to automatically post to my Facebook and Twitter pages.

I don't know that I'm going to take up reading Facebook or Twitter, but if you do, you now have a chance to read my blog if you want to.

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News of the week of October 6, 2015

Meeting report

We played:


We are meeting regularly on Tuesdays at 7:45 pm, at 233 Broadway.

As usual, on November 3, Election Day, I won't be there for most of the meeting, so either someone else will have to to be there to open the door and find the music, or the meeting will have to be somewhere else.

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News of the week of September 29, 2015

Meeting Report

We played:


We are meeting regularly on Tuesdays at 7:45 pm, at 233 Broadway.

As usual, on November 3, Election Day, I won't be there for most of the meeting, so either someone else will have to to be there to open the door and find the music, or the meeting will have to be somewhere else.

Performance opportunity

The Boston Wort Processors are having their annual Cider Picnic on Sunday, October 25 at noon at Cider Hill in Amesbury. In the past we've played drinking songs and dance music; we could maybe try out our new shawm band if people wanted to come.

There is no admission charge, but they do like to have a headcount, so let me know if you want to come. There's also an opportunity to buy unpasteurized cider, which must be ordered in advance, so let me know if you want cider, and how many gallons.

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Strings battle brass

11pm, Saturday, June 13, Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory

In general the Saturday late night concert at BEMF features the singers who've been singing together in the opera all week singing lighter fare of the country associated with the opera -- german drinking songs if it was a German opera or bawdy catches if it was an English one. This is usually arranged by Steven Stubbs, who also conducts the opera.

This year, because they were doing three different operas and the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, Steven Stubbs said someone else should do the Saturday late night concert. So Robert Mealy, the long-time concertmaster of the BEMF orchestra, set up a concert with instrumentalists (and some dancers) performing two-choir music of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. (It wasn't all originally written for two choirs, but since back they basically thought that anything worth doing at all was worth doing twice, having one choir do it the first time and the other do it the second is a bargain-basement way of making it two choir music.)

The stage was set up with 4 strings (Robert Mealy and Julie Andrijski, violin; Laura Jeppesen, viola; and David Morris, viola da gamba and violoncello) on the audience left. There was a continuo group (Peoebe Carrai, violoncello, who may have played with the string group on some five-part music); Avi Stein, harpsichord; Charles Weaver lute and guitar, and for somed pieces Danny Mallon on percussion) in the middle. And the Dark Horse Consort (Kiri Tollaksen and Alexandra Opsahl, cornetto; Greg Ingles, Eric Schmalz and Mack Ramsey, trombones), mostly playing brass, but once they did all pick up recorders, was on audience left.

The program began with a set from the Venetian 2-choir repertoire, by Giovanni Gabrielli, Giaches de Wert and Biaggio Marini. As a recorder and early brass player, I would like to tell you that the winds duelled the strings and won, but that wouldn't be true. I don't think the brass did anything as affecting as Robert Mealy's tender solo in the Marini Balletto Secondo in the entrance of the second theme.

This does not mean the Dark Hors Consort isn't a good brass consort. Robert Mealy probably knows who taught the teacher of his teacher's teacher. If he can't go back to the sixteenth century, it's because we don't have the records, not because the tradition doesn't go back that far. The two cornetto players both learned from Bruce Dickey, who learned by reading treatises. There is an advantage to having a long tradition of exciting performance of your repertoire on your instrument.

The next set was from Northern Germany, by an english expatriot whose friends probably called him Bill Brady when he was growing up, but in Germany he worked a Wilhelm Brade. Particularly interesting was the Paduana XVI, where instead of strings playing against brass, the low strings played with the high brass and vice versa.

Then there was the Holborne set, which had a bass drum giving a funereal character to the Pavan: Spero, followed by a sprightly Fairy-round.

Finally, 8 dancers entered, wearing costumes from the 2013 festival production of Handel's Almira. The music for this set was the little-known country dance settings from Praetorius' Terpsichore. The concert concluded with the Volta, where the men lift the women high in the air, and are rewarded by seeing (and possibly even feeling) "more than the ankle".

In spite of the late hour and the exertions of the preceding week, this high energy concert left the audience feeling exhiliarated.

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Monteverdi Vespers of 1610

The ambitious program of the 2015 BEMF of presenting 3 Monteverdi operas and his Vespers of 1610 was well-received by the BEMF audience -- all of those productions were sold out. So those of us with tickets got to feel fortunate relative to the long line of people waiting in line or holding "I need one ticket" signs. There was a lot of anticipaatory excitement as we found our seats.

This production chose to use the forces available to Monteverdi in 1610: 10 singers, continuo, 4 strings and 5 brass players. There is some speculation that he wrote the work for his job-hunting portfolio rather than for actual performance in Mantua, but it's likely that at least some of it was performed in Mantua, with those forces.

The readers of this magazine will want to know about the recorder playing. There is one movement (the Quia Respexit from the Magnificat) which does include parts for 2 recorders. You would expect the two cornetto players to just pick up recorders, but in fact they did something more complicated. One cornetto player, Alexandra Opsahl, did pick up a recorder, but so did one of the sackbut players, Greg Ingles. The reason for this became evident a couple of minutes later -- they still needed two cornetti, so the other cornetto player, Kiri Tollaksen continued as a cornetto player, but Mack Ramsey, who spent the rest of the week playing bass sackbut, picked up a cornetto. Brass players who believe that you can't possibly play two different size mouthpieces should take note that both the sackbut and the cornetto sounded fine when Mack played them.

In any case, the recorder was used as it usually is in this period, to create a pastral, contemplative mood for the words, "He has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid. For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

The Boston Early Music Festival Vocal Ensemble has developed into a very flexible, well-balanced, and well-blended group. I especially liked that in this performance the alto-range parts were sung by both a male countertenor (Reginald Mobley, replacing Nathaniel Medley) and mezzo-soprano Laura Pudwell. I think groups that sing the top line with female sopranos and all the other parts with men can't get as good a blended sound as if you include both man and women on the middle parts. BEMF hasn't yet carried this to the point of using female tenors, but hiring some mezzo-sopranos is a start.

While they've succeeded in getting voices that blend quite well, they don't yet have voices that are equally comfortable with early 17th century ornamentation techniques, so there were several places where one voice is supposed to echo another and they sounded like the echo was low-fidelity because the second singer wasn't as adept at the diaphragmatic articulation as the first one. This is definitely a minor quibble, when many ensembles have singers with completely different vibrato and vocal timbre.

Another aspect of baroque performance that BEMF is famous for is the continuo. The flexibility of the large continuo forces was part of the effectiveness of this performance -- the movements with smaller vocal forces used only chamber organ (Avi Stein) and viola da gamba (Erin Headley), whereas the ones with all 14 singers singing added the rest of the continuo group: two chitarroni (Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs), Baroque harp (Maxine Eilander), and double bass (Robert Nairn).

Speaking of echoes, that was one of the fascinating things to watch in this performance. Most of the singers who had to echo someone else just went offstage and sang from there, but the cornetti stayed onstage, but the echoing player turned her back to the audience, so that her playing sounded farther away while she could still have eye contact with the rest of the ensemble.

Boston has seen a number of performances of the Vespers, and there are numerous recordings. This one seemed fresh and interesting in ways I wasn't expecting.

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Renaissonics: Polyphonic Groove

June 9, 2015, New England Conservatory of Music

Renaissonics has been performing for more than 20 years, with a broad repertoire of Renaissance music from simple dance tunes to elaborate chamber music. The members are solo performers in their own right, and can improvise virtuoso ornamentation as well as putting across the simple tunes of the dance repertoire with beautiful phrasing and rich variation of tonal colors.

For example, the first piece on this program, So ben mi cha bon tempop, is known to recorder players as Questa Dolce Sirena in Van Eyck's collection. The tune appears in Negri's Gratie d'Amore, and Renaissonics takes the Orazio Vecchi 4-part setting as their starting point. They start with a version with the G alto recorder on the top line, finishing with ornamentational fireworks. There's also a very contemplative lute solo version, a verse with lute and contra-bass recorder, one with violin and cello duet, and a conclusion with the whole ensemble together again.

The program continued with several more selections from the Renaissance dance repertoire (Caroso and Praetorius). They then played three of Ruffo's Capricci in Musica, including La Gamba in Tenor where a C bass recorder took the "tenor" line with the long notes in the middle line and the cello and fiddle did the decorative outer parts. They used a bass crumhorn on the bass line of La Danza. The next group included "Se l'aura spira" by Frescobaldi, demonstrating how well players who normally play earlier polyphony can shift to playing really inventive continuo. The program concluded with a Spanish group, finishing with Riu, Riu Chiu where the tambourine percussion is augmented by the Cuica, an instrument that produces something like a wolf howl. In our era, the cuica is associated with Brazilian Carneval music, but there are references to it in the 16th century, so it isn't so very anachronistic.

The encore was O rosetta, che rosetta from Monteverdi's Scherzi in musicali of 1607, with a particularly beautiful violin variation.

One conclusion recorder players can take from this variety of orchestration is that good renaissance recorders can hold their own with other instruments. There's a tradition of always using the smaller recorders on the top line when there are so-called "louder" instruments in the ensemble, but Renaissonics will often use a tenor recorder on a middle line with a violin playing above it.

I hadn't heard Renaissonics play since the last Boston Early Music Festival two years ago. Their ensemble is better and their arrangements more inventive and liberated. This is really something to remember when listening to younger ensembles that have been playing together for only a couple of years -- ensemble playing is something that really gets better with practice.

  • John Tyson -- recorders, pipe & tabor, crumhorn
  • Douglas Freundlich -- lute, cuica
  • Laura Gulley -- violin
  • Daniel Rowe -- 'cello
  • Miyuki Tsurutani -- harpsichord, recorders, percussion

Disclaimer: This reviewer takes recorder lessons from John Tyson, eats Miyuki's cooking regularly, and has drunk beer with most of the other members of the ensemble. (That last admission is unnecessary -- you really wouldn't want to read reviews of early music concerts written by people who hadn't drunk beer with early music performers.)

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Infusion Baroque: Who Killed LeClair?

A baroque murder mystery

June 8, 2015, 4:30 pm, First Lutheran Church of Boston

Infusion Baroque is a group of four poised and elegant musicians based in Montreal who play baroque trio sonatas on violin and flute with harpsichord and cello continuo. They were the winners of the Grand Prize and the Audience Prize at the 2014 Early Music America Baroque Performance Competition.

This concert featured two sonatas by Jean Marie Leclair (1697 - 1764) and one by his rival, Jean-Pierre Guignon (1702 - 1774). This reviewer was not able to tell that one composer was superior to the other -- apparently neither was the employer who offered them both jobs in the Royal Orchestra, and allowed them to share the first chair on a month-by-month basis. One clue to Leclair's personality was that he accepted the job, played first chair for the first month, and then quit rather than play second chair for the second month. The program notes and the dramatization both offered this anecdote as evidence that he may have been a "difficult" person to work with.

Unlike much earlier baroque music, this was music written for the Concerts Spirituelle, one of the first public concert series in existence. It was inaugurated in 1725 to provide entertainment on religious holidays when the theater and opera were closed as too worldly for the occasion. In Leclair's time they took place in the Tuileries Palace, and included a mix of sacred choral works and virtuosic instrumental pieces.

Keeping the audience interested for an entire concert of only one instrumentation and style is problematic, and there were several strategies employed by the ensemble to do this. For one thing, they play extremely well; their ensemble is impeccable, and they have an evident love for the music they play. And of course each sonata has movements in several moods, ably conveyed by the performers in this case. I especially liked the humor of the Badinage movement and the celebratory dancing of the Tambourin movement (which concluded the program) of the Deuxieme récréation de musique, and the calm flowing of the Adagio of the G major sonata.

The composers themselves seem to have considered this problem, and without introducing new instruments, they did bargain-basement "Instrumentation" changes: the Aria Gratioso of the Leclair sonata in G minor had the two solo instruments playing without the continuo, and the Paisane lourdement movement of the Guignon Sonata in A minor has the two solo instruments playing in unison.

Most strikingly, they performed a little play in between pieces dramatizing the police investigation into the murder of Leclair. He was found stabbed to death in the entryway to his house. The play has the police inspector interviewing the mercenary gardener, the estranged wife, and the aggrieved nephew. Before the final piece, they asked the audience to vote on which "suspect" they believed committed the murder. (A large majority of the BEMF audience voted for the nephew.)

I wouldn't say the play was a great success as theater – while I'd be happy to hear this group play more music, I don't know that I'd cross the street to hear them act another play without the music. But I think it did successfully keep the audience more involved in the performance.

Infusion Baroque has as one of its aims to draw a new audience to early music by integrating chamber music performance and other artistic media. They have performed with a live painter painting stories from the lives of great composers, and to a slide show of baroque visual art owned by Archangelo Corelli. This reviewer wishes them every success with this endeavor.


  • Alexa Raine-Wright, baroque flute and gardener.
  • Sallynee Amawat, baroque violin and nephew.
  • Camille Paquette-Roy, baroque cello and wife
  • Rona Nadler, harpsichord, and inspector
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8pm, Saturday, June 13, at Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory of Music

Orfeo was done as a "chamber opera", which in this case means that there were costumes, fairly elaborate staging, a fair amount of choreography, but no sets beyond a couple of platforms behind the orchestra, which was onstage with the singers.

Recorder players will want to know that there's one fairly extensive recorder solo in this opera, played ably by Alexandra Opsahl, who was also one of the cornetto players. It was one of the dances in a fairly extended wedding scene. Monteverdi wrote parts for a number of the virtuoso instrumentalists of the Mantuan court, and they were all well-played here. I especially enjoyed the brass choir which come out a central door backstage when they were required. (The cornetto players were often seated in the orchestra, but the four trombones just came out and played when needed.) Also remarkable was the harp playing of Maxine Eilander.

The singing was beautiful; I would especially single out Aaron Sheehan in the title role and Theresa Wakim as Proserpina. It was also emotionally engaging -- One person I talked to had heard sobbing during Orfeo's pleading with Caronte to take him across the Styx in Act 3.

I would also mention the dancing of Carlos Fittante as several different gods as a memorable contribution to the evening.

As far as the staging goes, I think they tried to go farther than their resources warranted. One person I talked to was especially impressed with the flowers. I was sitting in the second row, and I never saw any flowers. A person who had been sitting in the balcony also was annoyed at the incompleteness of her view. Even with the best possible seat, watching the singers in the foreground, the orchestra in the middle ground, whatever was happening on the two platforms behing the orchestra, and the supertitles above the action all at the same time would have been taxing.

They justify this kind of staging because it may be similar to what the first performance had in Mantua in 1607. But quite a number of people were annoyed at the prices (about twice what concerts cost) for something that wasn't really staged. And certainly there was no discount for seats with partial views of the action. Jordan Hall is a wonderful place to see concerts; and a little less wonderful for operas.

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Writing from BEMF

I got complementary tickets to some very expensive events this year because I was going to write them up for the American Recorder magazine.

The issue with the BEMF coverage is now out, and as usual, the very able editor, Gail Niklaus, did a very good job of editing for length and content without distorting my opinions.

Because there was so much editing for length, I'm going to post the originals of a couple of articles where I think I said interesting things that got edited for length, or in one case possibly for insufficient reverence to the gods of early music performance.

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News of the week of September 22, 2015

Meeting report

We played:


We are meeting regularly on Tuesdays at 7:45 pm, at 233 Broadway.

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