This entry was posted in BEMF 09

Wednesday at the Boston Early Music Festival


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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One Comment

  1. Posted June 13, 2009 at 9:21 AM | Permalink

    This review from the Boston Globe includes a discussion of the viol concert at 11 PM.

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