Archive for November, 2007

the democratic ensemble

November 29, 2007

In a comment yesterday, Thomas D. rightly identified as problematic my provocatively not-annotated use of the word and concept “democratic” in combination with chamber music playing (see my post about rehearsal culture). Thomas writes: “What is ‘democratic’ chamber music playing anyway? In reality, one part is almost always musically leading (not always the same part!) – and there is no such thing as an artistic compromise.”

Let’s take a closer look.

A classic method to make a work team understand that true collective input significantly enhances the quality of the result is to give this team a test on a completely unknown subject: I remember that our Baroque ensemble once had to answer several pages of questions about lifeboats, knots and anchors. First, the test is attacked by each member individually, who has to answer the questions, without a dictionary, just like they feel the right answer might be. Then the whole group works through the questions, by means of a collective discussion, and the answers are then given according to democratic principles. Naturally, the result achieved by the entire group is, in terms of measurable correctness, strikingly better than even the best individual one. Surprisingly, though, I have seen a whole group of musicians, including myself, being fooled by this result. (more…)


monteverdi in kristianstad

November 27, 2007

Sunday night I drove back the 3 1/2 hours from Kristianstad after a round of harpsichord continuo in Monteverdi’s Mariavesper (as it is called here). The temperature dropped during the ride and it became snowy and icy on the road, but I was accompanied by Brahms’s fourth symphony, performed in a strikingly transparent fashion by the Stockholm radio orchestra under their new chief conductor Daniel Harding, and came safely home.

It is a fabulous experience to play in a good Monteverdi performance. (more…)

rehearsal culture

November 26, 2007

The phenomenon of the professional musician’s severe annoyance with what he perceives to be the artistic aberrations of other musicians is not new in the history of Western Music. From the beginning, the music student is driven by competition: competition for having a more informed taste, for collecting the better Cd’s and, first and foremost, for playing better than the next person. To the eyes of a growing musician whose goal is accomplishment, a more humble level of achievement will soon stand out as clumsy, a more modest talent will be seen as a weakness of character or mind, and a player who has a different taste might seem to be wilfully distorting the music. For centuries, musical observers have missed no chance for sarcasm in discussions about musical style and taste and in descriptions of musical performances.

It is very hard to free oneself from the last remnants of this kind of thinking. Even in the seasoned professional musician, the sentiment that musical taste divides the artistic world in the good guys and the bad guys lives on. (more…)

concert coughs

November 21, 2007

Yesterday I contributed with 73 chords and a few unisono passages to the Borås Orkesterförening jubilee concert with guest star Barbara Hendricks. Otherwise it was a very nice concert as well. Especially Berlioz’s Op. 7 (“Les nuits d’été”) was stunningly beautifully performed and very moving. The soloist’s utter concentration in creating a soft and intimate drama in this sequence of works was honored by an astonishingly silent audience. It is November, after all, and more than a thousand people had come to listen (this must be the absolute record for a classical concert in this area).

The few coughers that made themselves heard, however, make me wonder about the psychological workings of concert coughing.

Some time in the mid-eighties, someone’s patience in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw snapped. An orchestral concert was preceded by the following public announcement: various maestros had been complaining about the inflation of audience noises, and would everyone be so very kind to refrain from coughing. Unexpectedly, the audience did not cough very much on that evening

Why ‘unexpectedly’? (more…)

rescuing a partita

November 19, 2007

My new project is to rescue Bach’s A-minor partita. This is not a description of how to re-animate music that has suffered from one’s enthusiastic teenage assaults. I am talking about a suite that has been butchered for me by others.

Imagine a Dutch brown-brick townhouse from around 1900. One entrance hall has been transformed into a room. The other entrance serves both parts of the house – each of the three floors sports a connecting hallway with self-closing doors (eeek-thump). There are ten relatively big rooms, and eight small ones; all eighteen rooms are occupied by music students. Only one, a solitary conductor, plays no music. The others, amongst which were eight pianists at a given moment in history, all practice three to five hours per person per day, between nine in the morning and eleven at night. (more…)

go figure

November 17, 2007

It would be a thrill to see a continuo player of the 18th century prepare his part, and to ask him, for example, why he over-figured one bar and omitted all the figures in the next one. The logic of original figured basses does not often match modern expectations. But in many of the scores I prepared years ago, I can actually find the same kind of logical lapses. We tend not to notate the things that seem obvious to us, and we over-notate anything that scares us. Perhaps continuo figure frequency, whether historical or modern, is something like a sophisticated personality test. (more…)

barbara hendricks and some harpsi-chords

November 16, 2007

I just got the music for Mozart’s recitative and aria “Quando avran fine” and “Padre, germani, addio!” for the upcoming jubilee concert of Borås Orkesterförening, in Åhaga (Borås) on 20 November 2007, 8:00 p.m. Guest star will be Barbara Hendricks, the conductor Joachim Gustafsson. Guest harpsichord will be my little Italian, with the split sharps, this time pushed up to 442 Hz. and tuned in equal temperament. This is going to be fun.