|Newsletter issue 37 - July 2009|
|Written by Administrator|
|Sunday, 11 October 2009 15:07|
I am particularly thrilled to bring to you a glowing review of Danny Yeadon’s recent CD issue of the Bach gamba sonatas with Neil Peres da Costa on harpsichord. Also congratulations to Patrice Connelly for being a prize winner in the US gamba societies In Nomine competition. Jenny Eriksson and Philip Podgson celebrate their 10th anniversary of the Marais Project and provide a thought provoking discussion on the future. After a gap of many months, we again have a Sydney Consort Day planned for September12. No decision yet on a consortium and if anyone has any ideas or wishes to host one please let me know. I am pleased to say that most members have renewed their subscriptions with the new email only category being very popular. Renewals are still trickling in and if you are wondering if you have paid or not contact me or our new treasurer Rosaleen Love.
Sydney Consort Workshop Day
I am hoping to organise a consortium at Bungendore sometime later this year but not sure when yet - we have a busy schedule!
Bach, Complete Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord, Daniel Yeadon and Neal Peres Da Costa
ABC Classics 476 3394 (obtainable from ABC Shops and Bywell Classical)
Some will know that Danny Yeadon recorded the Bach gamba sonatas for the ABC in 2004 with harpsichordist Neal Peres Da Costa, for eventual commercial release. Well, here’s the result all these years later: the first Australian recording of Bach’s gamba sonatas. And a wonderful landmark it is.
Danny, as everybody will know, is a member of Ironwood and regularly plays with Pinchgut Opera plus numerous other groups; he has also played with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. Likewise from Sydney, Neal is one of Australia’s most respected early music practitioners and has played harpsichord with Danny on numerous occasions, most notably in Florilegium. Both musicians won the ARIA award last year for best classical album for their ABC recording of the Bach violin sonatas with Richard Tognetti. Thoughts of further such accolades begin to circulate when one listens to this disc. Quite why it took five years to see the light of day is a bit mystifying, but maybe the ABC felt prompted to go ahead with it following that ARIA award in October.
These are marvellously clear performances, both in the way the performers see this music and in their skilled execution of it. In particular, they bring the concerto-like character of all three sonatas very much to the fore. They surmount small-scale complexity and project a larger, architectural picture of the music; a lot more comes into focus as a result. Also outstanding is how they play as a very tight unit: Yeadon and Da Costa are in complete agreement on all matters of phrasing, timing, ornamentation and so forth.
The first thing to notice is how they play the slow movements. There’s no labouring or undue lingering: both musicians move ahead with a definite sense of line. Gone is the uneasy sense of mystery that sometimes surrounds these movements when gambists are unsure how to approach them. Bach’s ideas seem to come right into view. The opening Adagio of Sonata No. 1 in G major, BWV 1027, is quicker than one may be used to hearing, but it has an easy, relaxed feel that fits the mood of this movement. The Andante moves along at a surprising speed, but the upside is that it gains a clean-cut shape and a distinct sense of purpose. Nevertheless, one can’t help liking the more sedate tempos in the slow movements of the D major sonata a little better. They possess a lovely, thoughtful repose. The real gems are the fast movements. These are sprightly and jubilant in all three sonatas. The performers resolve Bach’s concertante-like writing with great precision and flair, tossing ideas around just as in a spirited conversation—which gives these movements just the right character.
Everyone who plays and knows Bach’s gamba sonatas looks out for distinctive or idiosyncratic features that new recordings bring to them. Reassuringly, Danny keeps things very straightforward. His tone is nicely clear, with only a modicum of vibrato; and aside from a few well-judged ornaments, he does not add a lot of affective treatment to the gamba part, such as bending of rhythms. Much the same can be said of Da Costa. They are very alike in their direct, unmannered approach.
There’s one unusual thing they do, however, which is to push the speed of the final Allegro of the G major sonata. This even gets quicker at one point—not by a lot, but it is noticeable. The effect is to add a chirpy playfulness as the movement becomes more vigour, but some may not approve. Overall it is an ebullient performance.
If one were to pick the best performance, it would be of Sonata No. 3 in G minor, BWV 1029. They bring out its Italianate, concerto-like character superbly. Yeadon’s phrasing is masterly: he differentiates the episodes in the fast movements to make their structure absolutely crystal clear. Equally memorable is the beautiful songlike character he gives the middle Adagio.
From what one can glean from Da Costa’s sleeve essay—which is detailed, thoughtfully written and of good length—they have used Lucy Robinson’s 1987 edition.
Yeadon plays his Petr Vavrous gamba, a copy of Bertrand. In terms of sound quality, engineer Virginia Read has done excellent work: both instruments sound extremely clear and realistic.
Congratulations to all.
New Music - July 2009
News from Patrice Connellly
Two events have taken place at the VdGSA Conclave in Chicago this week.
News from the USA and the UK Societies
USA - June 2009 Newsletter
The USA seems to promote viol playing in young people very well. The first report is by Alison Crum concerning her trip to Florida State University, Tallahassee where Pamela Andrews is employed as a full time viol teacher. She gives individual lessons as well as having viol consorts which meet twice a week. There are usually 3 or consorts including a high level ‘performing group’ and Alison remarks on their increased level of playing over the years she has been visiting. Also the Society recently hosted the first young players weekend. Held in a big rambling house (that’s what we need for a consortium - any offers?) near Boston, the weekend attracted 18 players who were coached by Sarah Mead, Wendy Gilespie and Josh Lee. There is also a report from Christopher Burrus who learns the viola da gamba at Valpaiaiso University in Chile! To quote the article “As a professor told me after the performance (at the end of year student concert) ‘It’s a red letter day when we see a student playing the viola da gamba on stage in Valpo!’ “ Yet another short report is about a student, Lorin Challinor, playing a movement from a Telemann viol concerto at Naperville North High School in Illinois.
One of the most valuable sections of the USA Newsletter is the “Ask your teacher’ segment. Sadly this issue reports that the column is being suspended for the time being. This last one asks the perennial question of what size of viol should I get as a first viol. Most responses were in favour of the bass though only a 7 string one if you were intent on late French solo music. As Wendy Gillespie summed it up:
Another useful segment for non-USA readers are the detailed reviews of both printed music and CDs. Martha Bishop’s Dancing Viols (PRB Productions) is welcomed by Tracy Hoover as being well worth investigating if you ‘wish to add a modern twist to your program.’ We are warned that these pieces are not like your traditional consort music and are technically demanding requiring ‘some home study’. The first ‘Tango In Nomine’ is said to be the most approachable. Edition Guntersberg have published a version of Buxtehude’s Missa alla brevis for 5 voices and continuo which fits well on a consort of 2 trebles, 2 tenors and a bass and parts in the appropriate clefs are provided. This is a piece of 6 or 7 minutes which I think many members would enjoy playing. Stainer and Bell’s issue of a performance edition from Musica Britannica of 16 In nomines for 4 viols is reviewed by Heather Miller. The pieces are ‘generally not difficult’ and the edition is clearly readable with no problem page turns. Also the original note values are used but there is no score provided. The In Nomines are by a range of composers some well known such as Tavener, Baldwin, Parsons and Tallis while others are by John Thorne, John Buck, Thomas Preston etc. Editions Baroque have published a collection of 17 duets for 2 bass viols by Simon Ives, John Ward and Anonymous. These are said to be for ‘upper-intermediate level players, with a few challenging passages lying above the 7th fret in Ward’s second piece. While finding a few errors and regretting the long introduction is in German only, the reviewer is most enthusiastic.
CD reviews are of Les Voix Humaine, whose recording of the Nymphs of the Rhine by Schenk is highly recommended along with the printed music for these pieces published by PRB productions. A relatively old (2002) CD by Concordia of ‘Titian: Venice and Music of Love’ is an ‘enjoyable CD and wonderful look into music in the time of Titian (died 1576). This was issued to accompany an exhibition of his paintings in London in 2003.
As always the ‘coming events’ make me envious - Judith Davidoff from 19-25 July for the mideast workshop, then the conclave was on in Chicago 26 July to August 2, Viols West 9-15 August, 9-21 August the Vancouver Early Music Baroque Instrumental Programme with Jaap ter Linden, and Music in the mountains with Susan Marchant next February - 26-28 at Monteagle, TN. You could keep very busy!
UK - Spring 2009 The Viol
I am very tempted by the UK system of having their quarterly newsletter undated and simply labelled with the season and year. That way I would be less obviously ‘late’ each issue. Their meeting in June this year was entitled “From Bologna to Britain: The Birth of the Viol Consort” held at the University of Huddersfield. John Bryan opened the day with a talk about making a set of viols based on a picture on an altar by Lorenzo Costa in 1497. It is thought that these viols might resemble those brought to England by Henry VIII. The talk was illustrated with music played on the Costa consort. Then Alison Crum coached a student consort in some early renaissance music as might have been played on the Costa viols. After lunch Michael Fleming talked about the recently funded research project at the University of Huddersfield on the making of viols. This will in part be a follow up to his PhD on ‘Viol-Making in England c1580-1660' with which he graduated from the Open University in 2002. The Society is holding a summer school for new viol players at Huddersfield from July 4 -5. Their autumn meeting will be in London on October 31 - no details yet.
Fretwork have created a mailing list on forthcoming concerts, recordings etc. To be added contact Richard Boothby
There is a report on the March 2009 meeting concerning the violone and violone grosso of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. For recent performances of these concertos Peter McCarthy toured UK with 3 violones - at 16 ft pitch, 8 ft pitch and a 3 string bass! The string length of 17th century instruments could be as long as 51 inches ( 130 cm compared to a Hall bass of 65 cm). It is apparently now thought that the designation of ‘violone grosso’ or the bass line of the Concerto no 1 was added later, while concertos 2 and 6 were written for 8 ft bass. Susan Heinrich (who gave this talk on behalf of Peter McCarthy) adds that we are too ‘black and white’ about these issues and that there was much more experimentation and creativity surrounding musical performance then which we are not used to today.
Another talk at the March meeting was by Michael Mullen on the pardessus and the quinton. The pardessus found favour for a limited time when the violin was becoming more common. While some of the music could be played on a treble viol it did not sound good in these high positions and so the pardessus with its added top string was developed. The earliest surviving instrument dates from 1699. We are told that musical amateurs among the aristocracy were discouraged from playing the violin as it was considered a lower class instrument. Furthermore the ladies did not like playing it because of the marks left on the neck, besides which they could not smile while playing! Much of the music for the pardessus was arranged from bass viol music such as that by Caix d’Hervelois and Marais. Thomas Marc, Charles Dolle, Jean Barrier and Boismortier though all wrote music specifically for the pardessus. The quinton is a hybrid between a treble viol and a violin with 5 strings tuned to g-d'-a'-d''-g'. Michelle Corrette published a book on playing these two instruments in 1748. By the 1770's these instruments were in decline and the violin became completely dominant.
As with the USA newsletter, we have a page for the younger player. On 11 February some 40 young players were organised by Jacqui Robertson Wade to a National Master Class and Giant Consort at Warwick. Players came from Warwickshire, Worcester, Gateshead, Bradford and Oxford! This event celebrated 10 years of viol teaching in Warwickshire schools.
Events include the Irish Recorder and Viol Summer School from 17-23 August, a weekend course to improve your viol playing at Huddersfield on 6-8 November, and a weekend course for ‘Violls and Voyces’ with Alison Crum and Pater Syrus at Farcombe Estate Centre on 18-20 December.
The AGM was attended by some officers and committee but only 2 other members! In contrast our AGM has lots of members but few of the committee present.
Viols on the web
http://www.violadagamba.org/ This site claims to be part of the "Federation of Viola da Gamba Societies" and has links to a large number of societies including our own. It has a lot of information on the history and construction of the viol, including sets of photos on the making of a bass and treble viol. There are links to a large number of makers and suppliers of strings etc. As with many web pages (including our own at the moment) this is not being regularly maintained and so some sections are blank or very sparse for examples the ‘Concerts' and ‘Courses' pages.
"Some of the ghosts with whom I particularly enjoy having conversations are defunct musical instruments. The good thing about dead instruments is that it sometimes doesn't take much to bring them back to life. One easy and grateful resurrection has been that of the viola da gamba.
The old gamba is with us again, speaking in its high, nasal voice, like an ambassador from those centuries when it was the principal bowed instrument of European music. And, like any good diplomat, it knows how to fit its style to the message it intends to deliver.
Sometimes acerbic and edgy, telling stories of war and glory to the ladies and gentlemen at home, as in the clip above, with all the drama of that great age of warfare and theatre, the 17th century.
At other times, smooth and eloquent as at a great council from the same century, its head bowed in prayer at the convocation, and its subsequent discourse profound yet courteous, as in this 6-part Fantasia by William Lawes, the last great English composer for the viol (as it was known in English) before the Civil War and the age of Cromwell. Lawes was, in fact, killed on the Royalist side at the siege of Chester in 1645, but not before he demonstrated the manners he had learnt at Court."
http://www.greatbassviol.com/gamba.html This site has a reasonably up to date bibliography of books and articles about the viola da gamba.
The Marais Project
What's next for Early Music: Reflections on 10 Years with Marin Marais
Age does not necessarily beget wisdom. But as our ensemble, The Marais Project, enters its "Tweens", (the term coined by marketers to describe the almost-teenager-yet-no-longer- child), we thought it timely to reflect on where we as a group, and the Australian early music movement more generally, might be headed. Although we are engaged in the professional end of the early music spectrum, we hope that the question of how to keep the historically- informed performance movement vibrant will also be of interest to all of those who love early music.
The Marais Project was founded in 2000 to support Jennifer's desire to perform the complete works of Marin Marais, the great French viola da gambist, court musician and composer of the mid-French baroque era. Now in its 10th year, that original goal is in sight and will be achieved in about three years. We thus find ourselves in a quandary similar to other more illustrious ensembles that focus on music written before 1800. That is, when we have presented the primary repertoire, what comes next? Do we go back and play all of Marais again for those who may have missed all or some of our efforts the first time around? (Lets be frank, Marais does not have the wide popular appeal of Vivaldi's "Four Season" or Handel's "Messiah"!) Do we extend our repertoire outside of the French baroque? Should we play all old viol music regardless of artistic judgments as to its quality and test the commitment of our audience? Having achieved our stated aim of playing all of Marais from end to end, another valid alternative is simply to close up shop and start something new.
Artistic questions of "where to next" are not unique to early music. Nor do we believe that there is one correct answer as to how we, or any other historically-orientated ensemble, might develop in the future. We do have some ideas and experiences to draw upon. While not neglecting the central repertoire, we suggest that there are three broad options early musicians might choose to explore or, in some cases, continue to explore.
Option 1: Create new repertoire
Any number of historical ensembles has commissioned new music and we believe that this is a practice that should be encouraged. However, we acknowledge that there is disagreement on this point. Some critics argue that composing for old instruments is an anachronism at best and an embarrassment at worst. In this view the viola da gamba was superseded by a superior instrument, the cello, in a great Darwinian battle for the survival of the fittest. Having lost that battle around 1780, the viola da gamba and instruments like it are fossils with the status of a musicological footnote. The unarticulated rationale behind this view is more often than not based on the modernist position that art, like living creatures, evolves inexorably from lesser to greater complexity. Palestrina is thus a stepping stone to Bach who lays the platform for Ligeti in a great upwardly ascending evolutionary line. Ideology aside, the creation of new music, whatever the idiom, is in itself renewing. It keeps performers alert, audiences on their toes and contemporary composers in work. Although 21st century music is unlikely to dominate our concerts in future years, we will continue to commission and perform new music as a way of bringing the unique qualities and sonorities of the viola da gamba to audiences. Each new work does not need in itself to be groundbreaking in style or harmony although hopefully some will be. The important thing in our mind is to avoid stagnation and extend artistic and technical horizons.
Option 2: Identify fellow travellers from other musical genres
During the Baroque era professional "classical" musicians were multi-skilled compared to many of their 20th and 21st century counterparts. Most composers also performed on a regular basis. Some like Bach and Mozart played several instruments competently. Musicians, both amateur and professional, were taught to improvise as is clear from the many treatises that have survived; gentlemen and women were expected to be able to realise a thorough bass competently on the keyboard. The present day musical genre with the skill-set most similar to that of the baroque would appear to be jazz, a term that now applies to a very broad set of music from swing through to blues and atonal improvisation. Jazz and baroque musicians have much in common: both play from semi-sketched "charts", they improvise for a living, use the harmonic cycle of fifths beloved by JS Bach, and many compose as a matter of course. Jazz also maintains the tradition of "sitting in" whereby visiting elite players from overseas, or local junior performers at the start of their careers, can be asked to join the house band from the audience to render a few standards. This wonderful practice has the dual effect of blooding young players and spreading innovation - not via learned journal articles - but through the practice of art itself.
It seemed natural then, for us to approach renowned jazz pianist, Kevin Hunt, who specialises in "re-composing" and improvising on classical music including Bach, Ravel and Messiaen. We initially requested Kevin first to write for us and subsequently to perform in the ensemble on the harpsichord. The latter involving a semi-composed work in which Hunt coached The Marais Project artists to improvise freely. This resulted in a first time performance on harpsichord for Kevin, and the first professional outing as an "improviser" for several of The Marais Project instrumentalists. Similarly, we invited three members of world music greats "Mara!" to do a joint concert with us in 2008 which was subsequently recorded and broadcast by the ABC in May 2009. Mara! double bassist Steve Elphick has been a core member of some of Australia's most advanced jazz ensembles for almost 30 years but had never played a baroque bass line in public. He achieved this goal in the music of Marin Marais, of course! Similarly, this program offered singer Mara Kiek, who draws on Eastern European folk music voice production techniques, and classically trained soprano Belinda Montgomery, the opportunity to blend their talents in a 13th century song cycle by Martin Codax. Percussionist Graham Hilgendorf from Japanese drumming ensemble Taikoz and Synergy Percussion also joined us for a rare experience of early music repertoire. In one sense, we are trying to modify the jazz idea of "sitting" in by opening the flow of artistic dialogue and not limiting our performances to those who have been trained in baroque techniques.
It is easy to dismiss such activities as "one offs" but our experience is that musicians and audiences alike enjoy the opportunity. As with commissioning new works, partnership experiments are potentially artistically refreshing. They build valuable links between musicians of differing genres and attract new audiences without undermining an ensemble's commitment to its core repertoire.
Option 3: Combine with other art forms
Over the past decade multidisciplinary artistic events have become all the rage. Dance ensembles such as "Legs on the Wall" combine with a range of musicians and images in performance. The Australian Chamber Orchestra recently revived a concert of music accompanied by projected images from photographer Bill Henson. Only 70 or 80 years ago live musicians provided the action backdrop to silent films. Chamber music composed before 1800 is very open to multidisciplinary explorations as it was not conceived with a sit down, black-suited concert in mind. Sacred music had its own purpose in formal worship as did secular compositions. Bach moved freely from his Church duties to Civil responsibilities for the City and then on to Zimmerman's Coffee Shop - as did his colleagues of the time. It is easy to forget that the notion of the formal, secular concert held in a purpose-built concert hall did not come about to any great extent until the industrial revolution spun off a middle class who had time and money on their hands. Prior to that point music was performed in homes and at court, often to the background of chatter, and even while meals were being served. Amateurs and professionals mixed freely. During the time of Marais, ballet was as popular as instrumental music and opera at the Court of Louis XIV and the king himself expected to be assigned a major role as a dancer, a ritual adhered to without question by his court composer, the great Lully. The point being, audiences did not necessarily sit in the same kind of hushed silence we have adopted for a contemporary symphony concert or opera performance. Artistic and other distractions often accompanied the notes played.
If we are prepared to be less precious about what a concert is or is not in the first decade of the 21st century, we are potentially open to an interesting range of artistic possibilities. We hope that early musicians will boldly continue to combine with dancers, poetry, historic readings, PowerPoint slides and film. Why care if some experiments are not successful? Failure is part of life and of art.
For our part, the Marais Project has featured the dancers of The Early Dance Consort on many occasions and even commissioned a short ballet by Stephen Yates which we recently recorded for our new CD. We have held poetry readings from the time of Marais, created a concert based on the book "Tous le Matins du Monde", and given concerts in collaboration with ceramic and other artists. These kinds of events ensure that early music, and the musicians who perform it, do not sit outside the mainstream in some museum corner, but are dynamic participants in the artistic activities of the communities they live in.
In closing, after 10 years we still believe that there is much left for us to do. We would like to thank our audience and colleagues for their support thus far. We also wish the next generation of early musicians all encouragement for the future knowing that they must, and will, push the boundaries further. It is their job to make us uncomfortable at times!
Philip Pogson & Jennifer Eriksson
Philip trained as a classical musician in Australia and Europe and now works as a strategic advisor and consultant. In addition to directing The Marais Project, Jenny is also Director of Sounds Baroque, an ensemble that performs modified versions of baroque operas on historical instruments as part of the Musica Viva in Schools Program. Jenny and Philip have been married for 25 years. Along with Jennifer, Marais Project members are Tommie Andersson, Catherine Upex(Tabrett), Chris Berensen, Fiona Ziegler and Belinda Montgomery.
Voices and Viols
This wonderful initiative of John Cunningham continues to attract a good number of both singers and viol players. The most recent event was on 4th July at South Sydney Uniting church, Raglan St. Waterloo, starting at 1 o'clock. The cost is a small donation to the church. Some 6 singers and a similar number of viol players enjoyed singing/playing though a varied repertoire:
After tea break
John provided the following background to some of these pieces;
Two works of Orlando di Lasso one a setting of a supposed "prophesy" of the Erythraean Sibyl, the other the most famous example of Musica reservata, repeatedly cited by renaissance intellectuals ( eg Joachim Burmeister) for its use of rhetorical figures and arcane devices; it was especially used by Kepler as an example of what he understood by the music of the spheres. The work is composed as a type of fugue in the Lydian mode with answers at the 3rd and 6th. The theme is solmized to the syllables mi fa mi interpreted as misery famine characteristic of Earthly existence. Kepler cited it in his Harmonices mundi. Together with "Meaner Beauties" this was our contribution to the International Year of Astronomy.
In fields abroad may lead to the expectation that it is about "some corner of a foreign field is forever England" however, it is not so, in fact by the last verse it has become as raunchy as Byrd (naturally disposed to gravity and piety) ever gets. Perfidissimo is by Monteverdi, part of our project to work our way through madrigals à5 book 3."
The next event was on August 8 (while this news letter was being typeset). He intended to run the Bermudez [psalm 90/91] again with an additional verse (to different music) and also a piece by Schutz including a part for curtal (early bassoon). Another likely item is the second half of Christ rising once again, it is such a wonderfully constructed piece, that it deserves a tighter ensemble . He thanks again Graeme Stentiford for the edition he prepared. Voices and viols frequently revisit past masterpieces.
If you are interested in being on the email list contact John Cunningham
|Last Updated on Sunday, 11 October 2009 19:25|