Monday, October 27, 2014

Thank you Julian!

 It's so nice to have smart 'cellist friends. This answers the questions I posed in yesterday's blog. Thank you Julian Muller! You are the best! Here is his email to me:

Julian Muller

Dear Herb,

I read your blog post and a few things come to mind. I think that the lack of vibrato could be part of the intonation problems. In regards to the pitch sounding flat I not not sure whether they used Baroque tuning. Modern tuning is A at 440-442 and there is an average consensus in Baroque ensembles who try and adhere to certain performance practice of the baroque time period that the A is around 415. I am not sure whether they did this in the concert you went to or not. In regards to the squeaks etc. That probably just comes from slightly improper technique. They were most likely using baroque instruments, which use gut strings and these are very difficult to play on and to project a big sound. In our modern era we have emphasized a bigger sound with our modern instruments and steel strings and I think this mentality may subconsciously enter into baroque playing at times. These instruments are very difficult to play and the touch of the left hand on the strings has to be very light as well, so these could be issues for intonation and pure sound. I hope this answers some of your questions, its kind of difficult for me to assess the extent of your questions without hearing the concert itself but I hope this clears some things up!
All the best,

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Go for Baroque

This afternoon I heard an interesting concert of Baroque 'cello music in the wonderful Music Barn that David and Dominique Low have erected on their estate in Norfolk, CT.

The concert was performed by students of Phoebe Carrai,who teaches at the Juilliard School and at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge.

The performers were Ms. Carrai,Oliver Weston, Sarah Stone, Dara Bloom, Alexander Nichols, and Caroline Nicolas. They are certainly a talented young group of musicians en route to careers in Baroque music.

The undoubted star of the afternoon was harpsichordist Kristian Bezuidenbout, an incredibly gifted musician whose playing has the sensitivity, musicianship, and technical facility of my own harpsichord teacher, Gustav Leonhardt, who was called by one music critic "The greatest keyboard player in the world'. Any keyboard! Mr. Bezuidenbout is right up there with Gustav!

Mr. Bezuidenbout played the  E Minor Set of Louis Couperin and the fiendishly difficult Toccata in D Minor for harpsichord by J.S, Bach. His playing left me, and most of the audience breathless.

The fine harpsichord used today was on loan from my friend Carl Dudash, who builds these instruments iin his workshop in Norfolk.

The rest of the program included works by Domenico Gabrielli, Francesco Gemminiani, and Josef Myslivecek.

All of the players performed with musicality and assurance.

I have a few questions about Baroque 'cello technique. I have performed with several fine 'cellists and viola da gambists. I'm sure the technique is different with each instrument and for the period from which one is choosing the repertoire. I am not sure how to explain the squeaks and brief high pitches, that I occasionally heard, that had nothing to do with the composition being played. The high pitches sounded like unintentional harmonics, where the finger is not fully depressed on the string. Occasionally I was bothered with intonation, which I know can be tricky on any 'cello. I chalk this up to the fact that the Baroque 'cello is played with little or no vibrato. As with early music singers who sing without vibrato, this can cause the pitch to sound flat. Also it was chilly in the room so cold fingers could have something to do with this.

I'm only guessing at this since I do not play the 'cello myself, but having performed with Scott Kluksdahl (who is one of the teachers of today's Oliver Weston') and with the wonderful Julian Muller (who is a part of the Ferris Burtis Foundation), these extraneous sounds need an explanation.

I've already written to Julian about this.

Thanks to the Lows for bringing music like this to their wonderful concert hall in the Litchfield Hills! 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

With friends like this....

Last night Ellen, Barbara, David and I saw Barrington Stage's production of Arthur Miller's adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People. I can't remember if I saw the 1950 presentation of this but I know I read the Ibsen play at some time.
Image result for arthur miller Arthur Miller
Ibsen wrote the play in 1882. It concerns a town in Norway where the town doctor discovers that the 'healing springs', that attract crowds of sick people to the area, have been polluted by the waste from a factory owned by his wife's father. He plans to publish an article in the local paper about this and the fact that the waters are toxic. This would potentially make a huge difference in the town's prosperity which relies heavily on ill people coming for the waters. At first he has support from the editors of the local newspaper, but as time goes by they, and everyone else in the town turn against him and try to make him write that he was mistaken about the poisoning of the waters so the business of the town will not be affected. In the end he and his family are ostracized, with stones being thrown through  their windows and death threats.
Image result for henrik ibsen Henrik Ibsen

In Arthur Miller's 1950 adaptation, as presented last night, I found myself strangely unable to feel involved in the drama. The original cast included the likes of Frederick March, Florence Eldrige, and Rod Steiger. That's a pretty strong set of actors to follow.

I think Miller should have left the time period of the play where Ibsen put it; in the 1880's. It is very difficult to change periods with certain theatre works and make them viable. I remember a production of Carmen where Lorraine sang the title role where the smugglers in Act 2 were a motorcycle gang in black leather jackets. It didn't work either.

Last night's cast, directed by Julianne Boyd, attempted to wring every drop of drama out of Miller's work, but, for me at least, I could not feel involved.