remembering school concerts

Where in the world would one encounter a traverso player who performs larger solo sections from Vivaldi’s “Il Cardellino” at 9:00 in the morning for an audience of 80? Where can we see a fight between two rooster-dressed Baroque violinists who simultaneously play an adapted version of Biber’s Battaglia? How does one arrive at the unbelievable record of having tried to publicly perform the first half of Rameau’s La Poule on a pentagonal Virginal (but giving up because of being interrupted by a bunch of unruly chickens) approximately 750 times?. How many baroque musicians have been allowed, no: expected to snore on stage while their colleagues performed Vivaldi’s Winter? What institution allows a harpsichordist to experiment with various fingerings in the fast bits of the fifth Brandenburg concerto’s cadenza on stage, ten or eleven times a week?

For all these treats, you need to be in a Swedish basic school – at least until one year ago, when my ensemble lost its half-time position in one of the Swedish Länsmusiken. These, in other countries quite unthinkable, regional Swedish music organisations have the assignment of bringing live music to the people; they are financed by the government and to a lesser degree by the concert fees. Traditionally, this task was brought into practice through permanently employed musicians and ensembles. During the last fifteen years, many of Länsmusiken’s musicians have lost their fabulous jobs: due to government reforms, the economical basis has become narrower. Nowadays, many of the concerts are played by temporarily engaged groups. Most of Länsmusiken’s administrations are, however, still going strong.

Our Baroque ensemble survived the turmoils of the mid-nineties for twelve years, partly because of our dedication to satisfy the company’s expectations – these included school concerts. Now, it can be an unbelievably dreary experience to get up early in Swedish January slush, drive through the thickest of Göteborg’s morning rush, try to find the first school of the day hidden somewhere in the backwaters of nowhere, search for the local Hagrid to open the gym, and change into chicken costumes in a cold anteroom, with the final goal of facing fifty sneezing and coughing six-year-old kids and their unsmiling gamekeepers with a selection of virtuosic fragments from the Baroque canon.

Luckily, not all school concerts are like that, and also, we had Gabriel, Baroque violinist in our group, who (doubtless during months of selfless night-work) produced a series of most funny and successful half-hour long Baroque-music-and-theater programmes for children. We performed hundreds and hundreds of these programmes, sometimes three a day, sometimes on three different schools (we also performed at least four regular evening concert tours a year for the general public). Especially Gabriel’s chicken programme has been a recurring item throughout the years. At 95, I will probably wake up one day with an unquenchable urge to feed puffed rice to people in the street, shout Swedish commands at the geese in the park or perform other similar fragments that belong to my chicken programme duties (I am the farmer).

The anecdotes from these concerts would fill another blog. We performed the program with missing musicians, forgotten violins and forgotten costumes. We drove three hours in heavy snow and there was no audience (that was the only time we did not play). Once, during a calm moment in the “night” section of the programme (I was snoring on the floor), the motion-detector of the gym shut off the lights and I had to improvise a midnight round to get them going again. On Greenland, we had to ask whether the children knew chickens at all. They did: there were in fact three or four in the village.

It comes as no surprise that the ensemble did not lose its funding because of its waning popularity. Someone in a leading position likes jazz and finds the field of early music narrow. Of course. We only play music from Monteverdi to Beethoven – 250 years, nothing.

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