Friday, 29 October 2010

In Montreal.

Being so awake early in the morning, chilling on the sofa in my nightgown waiting for others to wake up and share the excitement of seeing dawn in Montreal for the first time in over a year... it feels a bit like being a kid at Christmas.

Yesterday's flight was one of the better transatlantic ones I've flown, owing to the fact that I actually slept for most of it - something which almost never happens but I suppose my state of exhaustion was great enough. I went straight from the airport to a hamburger followed by a 3-hour rehearsal for Sunday's Biber concert with SMAM. For most of the concert I get to play 4th trumpet and had a bit of a scare when I stuck a crook in and a trombone mouthpiece (it's quite low) and was far too flat... it was tuned for the 15th-c mouthpiece that plays much higher... so I took the slide out and that brought it up to just right. As a bonus, I can hold it like a natural trumpet without worrying about the slide falling out! Then I got to play some lovely trombone parts in the instrumental pieces and, hungry again, go out for tortilla soup and local beer with friends, not to mention a nightcap of 1996 Springbank when I got back here. It's good to be back!

Today I have to get back into research mode - my first task is to re-translate my academic CV from German into English, then head to the new(ish - after my time anyway) lovely, spacious music library to read, write, and bump into people I haven't seen in a long time. That I'm going with an agenda and a deadline guarantees that I'll meet a lot of people, I think.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Far far far too much to do before my plane takes off for Canada Thursday at noon. Today's Kudos go to Alex Potter upstairs, who has just offered to do my

(.......? I don't usually edit after posting but it's now Oct. 29 and I'm in Montreal remembering my fatigue when I wrote this - am not shocked in the least to see this sentence trail off into nothing. It should continue: souvenir cheese and chocolate shopping - yey!)

Today's epic recording session had a little shocker in the middle - we recorded a diminution piece that we'd expected to do only tomorrow. What that meant was that I didn't think about it at all in the morning and didn't have time to gather any tension like I probably would have if it had been on the plan. Ok then - I'm curious to see how it turns out.

I'm pleased to see the visit counter at the bottom of the page has passed 1000 now - thanks to my loyal followers!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

We just finished our first day of recording and my brain is toast. I do like recording a lot - there's something very positive about being able to go back and improve things that could have been better. That said, with six of us there's not much room to make mistakes either - it might be someone else's best go at a certain passage.

It's hard to keep the energy up all day too - in a concert you can give your all knowing that after roughly an hour and a half you can stop and relax. Today though we worked for around nine hours and by the end we were all fairly incoherent.

Organ verdict: Out for 2 pieces, 2 pieces with just the quiet wooden pipes, 3 left with the Principale and possibly wood or 4 ft too. Did I say incoherent?

Friday, 22 October 2010

A day off from rehearsing for an I Fedeli recording of mostly Italian madrigals played instrumentally. We're recording in a little church in a tiny village nearby in Germany.

Finally the sun came out yesterday after days and days of grey, so I met the car that was supposed to drive us all from Basel, handed over my trombone and hopped on my bike. It was around 14 km and mostly flat, and I would have beaten the car (which had to go to the airport first) had I not stopped to by some apple cider on the way. I do love cycling to rehearsal because, especially when as in this case there's a bit of a hill at the end, I arrive mostly warmed up. For me at least it's mostly the breathing apparatus that needs serious warming up - the lips too but they only take a few minutes. Cycling home in the bright moonlight was fine too.

I Fedeli senza cornetti

Rehearsals have been interesting - a lot of practising playing with varied articulations and wide dynamic ranges, but then when yesterday we added organ, a lot of this detail got obliterated by it's power. It is nice to play with a proper organ - you can see above that the pipes are properly almost 8 feet and not stopped 4-foot pipes like many of the wimpy wooden ones we more often play with, but it will be interesting to see tomorrow and during the recording if we wind up a) sticking to our guns and continuing to play softly in the quiet bits, letting the sound of the ensemble meld into the organ more than one might expect, b) adapting by narrowing our dynamic range from the present "quiet - loud" to "sort of loud - quite loud", c) scrapping the organ in some pieces, or d) finding some other genius solution. I'm opting for d) but unfortunately nothing genius springs to mind.

Just finished baking the first pumpkin pie of the year and I think it's cooled - I hope you'll understand that this is a valid reason for cutting this post short.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Got up early this morning when my internal barometer said it might just be worth it. Surely enough, after days of oppressive grey there's a bit of blue, yellow and even pink in the sky. At last! When yesterday's gloom got a bit too much I went out and bought some gloves and a large orange sweater to compensate. (UK: Jumper, yes I know - now that I'm back in Basel, do I really have to keep translating?) On the other hand, when it's this cold outside my Caol Ila does seem to taste better...

This week I've been reading up on expression in sixteenth-century music: from philosophical treatises to singing technique, modular analysis to the analysis of rhetorical tropes, mathematics to aesthetics, and the acoustics of great churches to the meeting-rooms of the Florentine Camerata. I'm inclined to stick with it all not simply through fascination, but rather because the question of why we should perform expressive music and how we go about it seems still relevant to me today, and some of the tensions they felt then about it persist. What we find pleasing without investing much effort in it still depends on the same well-crafted smoothness and having enough variety (thanks Tinctoris), and we still seek out this music for similar reasons. Meanwhile, how in the hundred years after Tinctoris (c. 1500) did melancholy go from being a sin (almost a deadly one as it was a forerunner to sloth) to being pursued by cults of poets as the path to enlightenment?

I feel as though I've been waiting all my life to start this kind of reading - I've been long interested in these topics but when asked when I would embark on such a journey always answered "when I can sit still long enough." Probably the newfound ability to sit (relatively) still is also why this year I started this blog.

Two pictures have come in from last week's concert in Stuttgart:

Trying to pluck the right strings whilst singing
(The big brass boar is a Carnyx)

Looking very serious whilst blowing our horns

Sunday, 10 October 2010

There is so much going on that I have barely any time to write, but I'll at least try to skim over the past week and a half. The picture that you see here is from the Globe end-of-season party, with the theme: Kings, Rogues, Queens and Strumpets. So, here I am as the Jadis, or the White Witch. If you look carefully you can see the snowflakes I stitched into the skirt at 2 the night before. These brought me consolation when I saw the two other people who had come as snow queens.

It was an odd end-of-year party because actually the season was extended by a week - there were still eight shows to go. I had a concert in Bern on Wednesday though, so Claire played the first three and I headed by train back to Basel.

Getting out of the Eurostar there were some little plaques devoted to famous French people, and I first of all noticed this one:

Les Arts Florissants

I arrived in Basel with the tough choice of whether to go to rehearsal half an hour early, but hungry and exhausted, or five minutes late, relaxed and full of food. A quick phone call to obtain permission for the five minutes was made (can't do that in orchestras) and I managed to stay jolly for the whole evening.

The rehearsal schedule in Basel was light enough that I finally had the chance to give Sophia the pair of roller-skates I'd gotten her and try them out - twice! Once with me in boots and the other time with me in my roller skates and protective pads. I woke up the next morning with the strangest stiffness from supporting her weight on my fingers whilst skating backwards.

Sophia Victorious!

The concert on Tuesday was a blast. It was to open this exhibit about the travels of Captain Cook at the Historisches Museum in Bern, and involved music of William Shield from the 18th-century Pantomime OMAI, Or, a Trip Round the World. The bass aria involved a cadenza on the word "ascend," which proved slightly problematic as it already started on quite a high note, but it didn't make sense for the singer to sing anything but rising notes, so in the end he sang a scale, and when he got to his top note, I, trombone aside carried on singing for another octave up (with a cheeky appoggiatura to finish it off) to the surprise of all in the audience. I had only suggested it as a joke in rehearsal, not wanting to steal someone else's cadenza, but it was too silly not to do.

By the time we got to the trio song "Sound the Conch", I got to step forward and sing with the tenor and bass and this was loads of fun, I should do it more often. As I had been playing trombone the whole concert, I was pleased that the audience seemed nevertheless surprised when I put the conch to my lips and gave it a blast:

Sound the Conch!

Afterwards we were invited to the exhibit itself, where sure enough there was a proper Pacific conch horn on display with other exotic instruments. Don't ask me what the little thing on a string is though, I never figured it out (on the other hand if you know, please do tell!)

Conch and, um, thingywhatsit

Afterwards some chips and salad at Löschberg with Alison, who'd come to the concert, and I just made the 22.04 train home. I do like 5 pm concerts!

The next morning I flew to London very early, but with the time change on my side managed to sleep from 9:30 until noon before heading to the Globe to begin finishing the run. Friday I met up with Vonny, with whom I'd stayed at the very beginning of the summer, and we had a picnic on Hilly Fields before walking through Brockley Cemetary on a perfect autumn day.

Fallen Angel, Brockley Cemetary

Perfect Autumn Afternoon

Ivy win.

Saturday I went back to the Podiatrist for my how-are-the-orthotics going checkup - correcting the pronation in my left foot seems to have been a good thing for my foot and knee, mostly. I had thought that a bit of numbness in my toes was just because the orthopedic insole had a ridge in it, but it's worse than that - on top of the problems I knew I had, I also have a neuroma - arse. So now my insoles are a bit more complicated to try to correct that too.

Saturday's final shows were quite emotional, but it ended very well with a full house (including Ann and Caroline who scooped up two yard tickets which had been returned) and an electric performance from the cast. I didn't stay too long in the bar to say goodbye, but caught the last train home, knowing I still had lots of packing to do. The next morning I was sent off with a Proper Fry Up and a drive to St. Pancras with all of my things - thank you!!!

Claire met me in Paris and after dropping my stuff at her place, we wandered around the nearby Parc des Buttes-Chaumont - lovely park if full of people. As it was the day after a 4 1/2 month project, it came as no shock that I was obviously coming down with something, so supper was followed by something very peaty to try to kill whatever was in my throat and the watching of Claire and Nate's recital DVD - bravo!

Claire won nicest person of the decade for getting up at 5 am and helping me take my things on the Metropolitain to the Gare de l'Est, where I caught the 6:24 train back to Basel.

By Tuesday I was properly sick and had the odd experience of being hardly able to stand or speak, but when, that evening at an archaeology conference in Stuttgart, I went to sing a 13th-century chant from the Scottish Inchcolm Antiphoner, accompanying myself on a hammered lyre, everything worked fine. Funny how that happens.

Since all this I've had a few days off, getting better and catching up with people in Basel. Yesterday's achievement involved baking apple-oatmeal muffins and bringing them along with a flask of hot apple cider to the SBB and consuming it with Alison on platform 12 while she waited for her train. She went from Switzerland all the way back to Scotland by train, and this morning I got a text telling me that the rest of the muffins were being happily consumed in Glasgow. Yey!

For an utterly absurd celebration of muffinry, click here.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The play I saw at the Globe yesterday, Bedlam, was about mad houses in the 18th Century. It presented a new and effective way of bringing up the topic of mental health in the arts: deal with the topic in such an incredibly naïve way that the audience leaves bewildered, wanting to know the reality of the situation. The play was I think meant to show how backwards the 18th-century approach to madness was, but didn't find any way of showing an alternative. For instance, while the governor decreed that it was wrong that we lump all kinds of madness together, the characters of the play, despite the excellent efforts of the actors, were clearly divided into three groups: not mad, mad and lovely, mad and mean. Also, in a play criticizing the backwardness of the 18th-century custom of laughing at mad people for entertainment, it just kind of happened that most of the play's humour was, um, laughing at mad people. Oops.

Not to say that the public wasn't entertained, but many left a bit embarrassed too, I think.

The opera afterwards was better, because it didn't try to tackle any issues at all, other than that men and women both engage in boorish behavior, that fire on stage is cool, so are giant black balloons, disco balls, and people being lifted off the stage into heaven (to be fair Bedlam also had a characted descend from the sky on a rope). The music of Agostino Steffani was very good, employing lots of variety, and most of the singing was good too if not very baroque in most cases - but in baroque opera that's unfortunately still quite the norm.

Today I have to pack to go back to Basel early Monday morning - only back for 4 days at the end of next week so I'll bring as much back as I can this train ride. Also, shopping for my costume for tomorrow's end-of-season party with the theme Kings, Queens, Rogues and Strumpets.