Tag: JS Bach

Juilliard415 / Royal Academy of Music – Bach concert at Alice Tully Hall 6-15-15

Apparently everyone else in the world has been at BEMF these past two weeks. I was feeling a bit mopey that I was not also at BEMF, but that is entirely my own fault. However, I went to this concert last night, which was pretty much ok. The ensemble and chorus were a mixture of people from the Juilliard School here in New York and the Royal Academy of Music in London, with Masaaki Suzuki conducting. Also, Rachel Podger was the concertmistress. I was disappointed that she wasn’t one of the soloists for the Bach double violin concerto, but this concert seemed to be arranged mainly to offer a series of young instrumental soloists and the very (they all looked about 22!) young members of the ensemble a chance to perform.

And it wasn’t disappointing. I mentioned the Bach double concerto, so I’ll start with that. I love this piece – I played both parts of it as a violin student many years ago, and every time I hear it I’m surprised how much of it I still have basically memorized. The two soloists, Davina Clarke and Carrie Krause, directed the ensemble (a slimmed down subset of the fuller orchestra used for the two Bach cantatas that formed the remainder of the program) themselves as they played; this approach emphasized the more intimate chamber-music aspects of the concerto. (Also: have you ever noticed how baroque violinists don’t use chin or shoulder rests? It looks so awkward to me, but it’s HIP standard I guess, and probably if you’re used to it it works just fine.) The interplay between soloists and ensemble was very fine, especially in the second movement, which had an expressive pulse to it that was pretty much right on.

The two Bach cantatas (BWV 75, Die Elenden sollen essen, and  BWV 11, Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen) were a little hit and miss. Among the hits were mezzo-soprano Anna Harvey, whose singing had a really beautiful ease of expression – I particularly liked “Ach, bleibe doch” from BWV 11, and her various moments of recitative sounded fluent and natural. I just checked her schedule, and apparently she was also at BEMF this year. Unlike me. But anyway. Soprano Mary Feminear has one of those voices that projects brilliantly, although in her first aria there were a few sudden warming-up type jolts of volume – it made me wish that I could hear her sing something more extended so I could get a better feel for what she sounds like. She also had a minor hurdle to clear in the form of the woodwind section, which did not always operate to specifications. I attended this concert with my mom, who played the flute for about 30 years and who comes from a family where pretty much everyone plays some sort of wind or brass instrument; she leaned over to me after Feminear’s last aria in BWV 11, “Jesu, dein Gnadenblicke,” which had extended solo writing for two baroque flutes and an oboe, and noted that the flutes were flat. It was not entirely their fault – strings tend to push sharp as a concert goes on (apparently brass as well?) and with a modern metal flute you can adjust, but with wooden baroque ones it’s harder. So any intonation issues in that last section can be pinned squarely on the flutes. Also, that oboe player? He also had several solo parts in BWV 75, and that young man was oboeing by the seat of his pants at several points – he was on the verge of the dreaded oboe squawk during I believe it was “Ich nehme mein Leiden mit Freuden auf mich.” Which is appropriate I guess?

But the baroque trumpet soloists were great – they got an extended chance to shine in the opening and closing choruses of BWV 11 as well as at several points in the first cantata.

So. All in all, not bad.

How the sausage is made – violin edition

Like many people in this neck of the woods, I have watched clips of a few of Joyce DiDonato’s master classes recently. I enjoy those because it’s nice to see how the sausage is made (so to speak), but I have never studied singing at all, so there’s a certain amount of it that I don’t fully appreciate because what’s being taught is not something I’ve ever attempted to do.

This is clip below is a little different, because violins are something I have some experience with. It’s violinist Rachel Podger with a student working on the chaconne from BWV 1004.

One of the bits of this that made me go “right! that makes perfect sense!” begins around 1.50, where Podger and the student break the solo part up into its bass line and its melody, and then they swap it back and forth – the point is that the student has to use the base line to sort of conduct or lead herself to give the whole thing its structure. Very cool.

Bach – B minor mass / NY Phil / 3-15-13

(Detailed impressions of this concert from the performance on 3-13 here.)

This time around I was sitting in the middle of the orchestra section, about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way back from the stage. The sound was distinctly different here. I could hear the harpsichord, for one thing. In addition, aside from everything in general being a little louder, I could hear all the individual brass and woodwind parts with much more clarity. The solo oboe was particularly impressive – both in the first mezzo solo and in the bass aria towards the end of the Credo.

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A little taste of BWV 211

The way the coffee works in my department office is that there is a sign-up sheet for coffee-drinkers, all of whom are required to chip in $10 every so often for the purchase of coffee. The list is posted next to the coffee machine, with a pen for easy sign-up. I think the list functions as a sort of public shaming/incentive – if you are on the list, you get the email reminders about coughing up the money, and if you are seen pouring yourself coffee and you are not on the list, you get the side-eye.

But to sweeten the pain of paying for coffee, this is taped to the wall above the sign-up sheet:

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Bach / Coffee Cantata (BWV 211)

Emma Kirkby is one of those singers whose appeal, in intellectual terms, I understand. I can appreciate her artistry and the quality of the musicianship and even why people enjoy her voice itself. I also appreciate what she did for the whole ‘historically informed performance’ thing. And back in the 70s-80s she had some seriously badass red hippie hair.

At the same time, there is some combination of the voice and the style that just rubs me the wrong way. I am in the minority here, and that’s fine. But there it is.

I was reminded of this effect Kirkby has on me when I listened to this recording recently, which is of Dorothea Röschmann and a few other people singing three of Bach’s secular cantatas. Emma Kirkby is not on it, but there is a connection between it and her.

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