Tuesday, 21 June 2011

I left off observing a snail at the top of the Heilige Berg in Heidelberg I believe. Here's another one in the garden where I was staying.

The concert in Heidelberg went well, but entering on the cantus firmus of Josquin's Miserere Mei was risky and sounded it too: an unaccompanied choir's pitch naturally moves around and by the time I came in, they'd all gone a bit flat. I followed as best I could, but the moment of entering and correcting was audible and awkward. When we did it a few days later in Paris for the radio, the choir decided it was safer to leave the trombone out altogether. So Tina and I played our Dufay first thing in the soundcheck and then headed off to Versailles for the rest of the day, as you do, thus foiling my current efforts to transform this blog back from being a travel diary into a discussion of music and performance. More on music later, I promise.
A brief view from the RER

La Grande Écurie, where the sackbuttists worked

The Golden Gates of the Palace at Versailles

The Chapel where Couperin Worked

Is that a macaroon or a meringue?
(No, no, it's definitely a macaroon.)

Down by the Silly Gardens...
Let's geek out now for just a minute and talk formants. The brief soundcheck in Paris also involved the very strange experience of playing trombone with singers all around me banging tuning forks and looking at me oddly. A bit rude, if I may say. I was using a mouthpiece that emphases high overtones in order to blend better with the trumpet Tina was playing - so it had more of an "ee" vowel sound than the usual trombone "oo" sound, and because of this, to them I sounded sharp. After showing them on my electric tuner that I was in fact in tune, I changed back to a normal trombone mouthpiece and they were satisfied. Interestingly my last singing lesson also focused on distinguishing clear vowel sounds at all pitches - acoustically the same question of changing the overtones for the same fundamental. Lots of work to do there.

In Paris, by chance our hotel and the concert hall were in or barely outside the 19e arrondissement, where Claire now lives. After settling into the hotel a bit, Tina and I wandered over to Claire's for some magnificent pork in whisky cream sauce - yum!
The morning after the concert, I caught the 6 am Thalys to Cologne and then the very fast train to Frankfurt, where I was picked up and driven to Lauterbach for a noon rehearsal. Oof. Luckily the cheapest seats on the Thalys were in first class - I can recommend it! Free breakfast and pretty reliable wifi the whole way - I was surprisingly rested and in form by the time we had to rehearse.

The project in Langenthal with Arpa Festante - Handel's "Saul" - was a good one indeed. Nate and I were put up privately with some lovely people from the choir, which involved having all of the conversations mentioned in my last post, but also eating very well (though they did feed us sprouts just two days after they'd discovered sprouts were the source of E. Coli!) and going on a bike ride in the countryside. Parts of their little village of Frischborn was quite untouched:

Old Wilting House in Frischborn

And the Don Quixote medal
for embracing wind power goes to Hesse

The Lauterbach

I like to work with Arpa Festante a lot because I find it tends to be made up of team players. This was quite true of the trombone section. Not only had we all come from playing at a different pitch and tuning system, but getting out of the car and straight into rehearsal gave us no time to make sure we were on the same page tuning-wise. After rehearsing the trombone bits with the orchestra and having a coffee, we found a room in the church hall next door and had a tuning sectional. We all consciously checked our egos at the door and, neither walking on eggshells nor giving a trace of doubt as to the musical ability of our peers, we determined chord by chord who had to move in which direction to get things in tune. It paid off and I think we all enjoyed the concert much more for it.

Rehearsal in Lauterbach, during one of many trombone tacets

I've been busy since I came back too - though the sparseness of my posts has as much to do with reoccuring pains in my wrists as general rushing around. I had one quite uncomfortable concert on Saturday, playing only fairly high and very low parts, all in awkward keys. The conductor emailed us all to make sure that we'd printed out the 40 pages of score she'd sent us and would have it cut, paste and taped it into parts before the first rehearsal - about 3 hours' work to do it properly and a fair expense of paper and ink. Having myself at one point put in over 100 hours editing music and making parts for a project that I was in charge of in order that no musician would have be forced to volunteer their time for secretarial work, I was a bit taken aback that there were no pleases or thankyous involved in telling us we had to make our own editions. Finally I convinced myself that 50 francs of the fee was in fact for this hassle and expense, as the rest was still not a bad concert fee in the end. This past Easter though, I met a conductor in Basel to get some notes to play from and when he tried to hand me a full score I simply refused to take it, saying I couldn't make the page turns while playing and really didn't have time between now and then to re-photocopy the whole mass onto single-sided paper and cut and paste it into parts - which was absolutely true. I explained him what needed to be done and he had parts ready for us by the rehearsal. In other instances when I have had the time, I've been happy to help out with making editions, but usually only if asked nicely by someone who knows just how much of a faff it can be.

After this concert on Saturday, I returned home where Alex had prepared a feast in my honour - it's one of the last days we're all in Basel before I leave my flat. After home-made paté on spelt rolls, cold pea and mint soup, came perfectly roasted duck breasts, new potatoes and carrots. Two home-made ice creams, gooseberry and strawberry-elderflower were served with home-made cookies for dessert and it was all fantastic.

The next day, the whole Potter family and I we headed out to the Bielersee to rent a canoe and a kayak and go paddling. The clouds were ok but the wind gusted right through the valley, and after building up over 14 km of like the waves were steep and around 4 feet high, some of them cresting. I went out a few times in it in my kayak (the water was far warmer than in the ocean last July after all) and alternated fighting and riding the waves, but it was far too dangerous for the kids in a canoe so with them we stuck to the quaint canal running through Biel instead, observing all manner of duck. A good time was had by all. Now the rest of the week involves playing another two concerts, organizing moving when I can, and getting my talk ready for Barcelona - lots of reading still to do. Thank goodness it's the longest days of the year!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Again, if you're looking for the memorial post about Bruce Haynes, please click on May to the right of this post. Thanks.

This past weekend's Mozart Requiems both went fairly well. I'm finally buying my own classical tenor trombone and the Tuba Mirum solo is a challenging way to get used to a brand new instrument. Specifically, the slide wasn't broken in yet, and while sometimes it was just fine, other times it was reluctant to slide without undue pushing and pulling. I brought it back to the shop for some TLC after the conductor stopped twice and told me to play more flowingly in the first rehearsal - though admittedly this is also because he wanted to take the solo a bit faster than I did.

On Saturday I had the solo in the back of my mind and heebeejeebees about it all day. Mozart put it in a kind place, though: the trombones are playing constantly and don't get a moment to stop and think from the beginning of the Introit until the fateful first notes of the Tuba Mirum, where we're all quite warmed up (if a bit tired). Playing on a new instrument with no spit-valve, getting the outer slide back on with my shaky hands after emptying the water out already gave me a feeling of triumph going into the solo, and it went well.

The second day I hadn't slept well at all and didn't have the energy for the same adrenaline-fueled brand of heebeejeebees, but tiredness dulls my resistance to negative self-talk, so that was the challenge instead. I dismissed some bits of it as amusing and other bits as just irrelevant, especially when I had the thought that I didn't deserve to nail the solo - not useful, thanks. When the solo came around, I was far more nervous than on Saturday though and decided just to focus on playing musically - always a good solution - but of course I forgot to follow the conductor's faster tempo - oops. He wound up having to follow me a bit more instead. Not a big problem, actually, and I enjoyed my appoggiaturas more. Interestingly enough, more than one person told me they liked it better this second night.

Here's our section after some BRS at Schmale Wurf (which we finally found out means "Runt of the Litter"):

Keal, Claire, Catherine

Now I'm in Heidelberg, playing Josquin and Dufay on a programme with Klangforum, who specialize in contemporary music and I'm quite looking forward to hearing the rest of the programme. The last time I willingly listened to Xenakis was almost ten years ago on the day of 9-11, when it seemed to fit the events of the day better than something melodious.

I was a bit dismayed to hear that we were being put up privately and not in a hotel. Sometimes it's quite lovely to get to know the locals but sometimes I'm just not in the mood to give an explanation of historical trombones and especially not of the economics of being a freelance musician, in German, over supper. So I was delighted that this "privat Unterkunft" is actually its own little studio flat. It has a little kitchen, which is great not just because it saves money, but because my efforts yesterday in a restaurant not to eat any raw produce was thwarted by chopped chives all over my risotto. Normally chives are a good thing, yes, but we're only a few hours from the e. coli epicentre. Frozen spinach for me this time 'round, please. The other nice thing about this flat is it's up on the mountain by the castle; this is the view from the table where I'm writing:

Yesterday's rehearsal was very interesting indeed. In both pieces the conductor wants us to play quite quietly and disappear into the voices, which a simplistic part of me finds odd given how much we cost. The Dufay, from 1431, is a military piece, and he wants us to play very gently and wholesomely. So we do, but I'm making a mental note to programme it for a concert sometime so that I can get my fill of playing it loud. But the most interesting part of yesterday's rehearsal was the tuning. There's not much to play, only a few notes which repeat themselves, but the conductor was quite adamant that the tuning of the Ab I played was "wrong". I think a few years ago I would have been quite self-concious about this, but in this case I found myself fascinated that a modern musician doesn't see the tuning of an Ab as a subjective thing. At first I'd played basically a mean-tone Ab (a bit early for it yes, but he wanted pure thirds). No, too high. Well, having transposed the piece it is actually a written Bb, so I played it a bit lower. Still too high. Well, he wants pure fifths too, so I played a pythagorean Ab. Too low now, he said, and banged out an Ab on the electric keyboard in front of him. Oh, THAT Ab! Now why didn't you just say? He wasn't unpleasant about it though.

Before today's rehearsal Tina and I spent half an hour installing equally-tempered notes onto our instruments. We were unaccosted after this; the rehearsal was spent singing and playing the whole piece quite slowly so that the sopranos could write in which notes to sing more or less equally-tempered, which to lower by 14 cents (for pure major thirds) and which to raise by 16 cents (for pure minor thirds). Because that's how you have to do it when the basses are in equal temperament.

Orchestras do this, and it becomes necessary when you want enharmonic equivalency (i.e. where Ab and G# are the same pitch, which starts end of the 17th-century but doesn't really get going 'til Mozart or so). But for Dufay I would have either played pythagorean and accepted dissonant thirds, or if I wanted to be completely in tune, then mean-tone with corrected fifths and minor thirds - but you never have to correct 14 or 16 cents, only 5.5 max. I need to write a pamphlet about this, I think.

My walk on the Philosophen Weg and right up to the top of the Heiligenberg yesterday resulted in much pondering and also sore feet. More about the pondering later. In the meantime, it was awfully pretty:

Heidelberg from above

Monastery ruins

Post-Rain Joie de Vivre

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Lots of catching up to do.

I left off writing a few weeks ago in the middle of the visit of my Dad and Jane. Shortly after my last post, it was Mother's Day, Dad and I, all the moms in the building (Dorothea, Alex's mum Steph, and Jane), along with little Rebecca and Sophia, headed into depths of the Black Forest, to the Belchen, which is the second-highest mountain but with the most spectacular views. I'd been there with my mom once a few years before and while we could see out in one direction, the other was a great swathe of mysterious cloud. Time to go back.

The public transit system is phenomenal: we rode the train to the end of the line in Zell, then after 7 minutes the bus to just off the beaten track, then after 11 minutes another bus right to the cable-car station and a cable car to the restaurant near the top for Mother's day lunch. This time the walk around and up onto the summit was crystal clear.

Cable Car Ride to the Top

The Black Forest

Jane, Black Forest and France in the distance

The next day we headed to a mountain not actually very much higher, but stunningly spectacular as it's bordered by the Lake of Lucerne and the Alps. In fact, the Rigi was known for its spectacular views in the 19th century, enough that when Queen Victoria came to visit Switzerland, she was carried up on a chair by four burly men. Again, this visit was prompted by a failed earlier one, when I took Dad to see the Alps with a day trip to Luzern in 2005 and the fog was so think we couldn't see a thing. We were luckier this time.

The Rigi also the site of Europe's first cog-rail, which until last year wasn't covered by a Swiss day card, but as it was now we took our day cards and took the train to Luzern, the boat to Vitznau, the cog all the way up the Rigi.

Our Ferry's Sister Ship

Olde-Timer Cog Rail

Dad and Me atop the Rigi

Alpine Flowers and Peaks

Lake Luzern and Pilatus

Typical Swiss

Journey Back

After a wander around the city walls of Luzern we headed back home exhausted.

After a few necessary days off, on Thursday we all hopped on the train and headed to Venice. After a spectacular trip through the Alps we wound up in Milan, where we ate proper pizza and headed into town with a few hours to spare. I've been to Milan a few times for work but have seen relatively little of it. We looked at a bit of the map with some green, and thinking that sitting in a park could be quite nice, headed there on the subway. When we emerged, there was not just a park but the whole Castle Sforzesco lay before us.

Dad and Jane stunned at interior courtyard

After exploring the castle, we took a short walk past some very temping gelato stands and pompous 19th-century architecture to the cathedral of Milan. The last time I was there they were cleaning it, and it was impressive to see it in its glimmering whiteness. The space inside, with its incredible and the incredible masses of stone, was awe-inspiring indeed.

Cathedral of Milan

FInally after walking past a proper park with statues, grottos, fountains, and a cute brown rat, we headed of to the Most Serene Republic.

The Cute Brown Rat

From the front door of our alberghio some locals had stuck a poster outside their window reminding the rest of us of the pace of life on that pedestrian island.

(Click to Enlarge)

The view out the back window was also a good reminder of why it's called the Most Serene Republic:

We left our bags and headed off to find supper, and my love of seafood kicked in instantly: squid cooked in it's own ink for me, please!

The next day was mostly wandering around: a most excellent activity in Venice even if one does feel like a rat in a maze at times (good times to sit in a Piazza with a macchiatone or a gelato instead, I say). Fortunately there are lots of signs to the Rialto bridge and to San Marco - the only question is which one to follow?

Our first stop was Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, a magnificent medieval church and the burial place of Claudio Monteverdi. I found myself, looking down at his rose-strewn grave, getting unexpectedly emotional. Dear old Monteverdi! Without him, where would I be? I probably wouldn't be a professional sackbut player (would such a job even exist?), and surely wouldn't have met many of the wonderful friends I have now through playing the music of Monteverdi and the people surrounding him. Gosh.

Continuing our musical pilgrimage, we visited the Accademia del San Rocco, where Giovanni Gabrieli played the organ when he wasn't over at San Marco.

We finally started following the signs to the major tourist attractions now:

After a delicious lunch of Cicchetti - little nibbly things - we headed of to San Marco. It won't ever be ho-hum to visit San Marco, it's impossible not to get excited imagining the people who went to work there every day, and the sounds it was filled with for the first time. It's also incredibly sobering to hear what they're up to now though, since the second Vatican council. A friend of mine visited San Marco and the chapel choir was singing Kumbaya. Ow. They were singing that in Milan Cathedral the day before so I quite believe it. I didn't want to take any pictures of San Marco then - there were far too many people - but here's one of the palace balcony next door. Did trombonists ever get to play from there?

Having had enough of enclosed spaces, we took a walk by the Adriatic in the direction of the Giardini Publicci, where the tourist population thinned out refreshingly. To head back, we bought a vaporetto ticket and rode it from end to end on the Gran Canal - an excellent view of the city.

Increasing Residentiality far from Piazza San Marco

Waiting for the Bus?

A Gondoliera

We didn't want to head back into the maze so I went to the nearest - well-camouflaged - supermarket and bought some prosciutto, melon, stuffed peppers, buffalo mozzarella, a hard cheese, some bread, and some salad and some seafood salad and we feasted in the breakfast room instead.

The next morning I woke up early in order to see Venice without the tourists and to take a good picture of San Marco. It was a completely new vibe: in stark juxtaposition to the confused, map-obscured vibe of day, everyone out in the streets and on the canals was a) on their way somewhere and b) knew how to get there. I headed back to the Piazza San Marco, which except from a few people dotting it here and there, was empty, open, and grander than ever before, the domes of San Marco angelically backlit by the rising sun.

I kept wandering for a while, coming back through a district that you don't pass through just going to the Rialto and San Marco, and saw again another side of Venice. I also visited the grave of Giovanni Gabrieli, and paid my respects.

Giovanni Gabrieli's Grave

Rice? Very Jolly anyhow...

Entrance to the Gran Canal

Walking your dog alla Veneziana

After picking up Dad and Jane from the hotel, we had a low-octane wander, passing by the music museum before heading to the train station via a flea market - something I absolutely didn't expect to find in Venice. Dad got a lovely leather bag and Jane got an old, brass wind-up travel alarm clock - the perfect thing since her new plastic one had died. We also passed an unusual vegetable market:

The train ride back was more atmospheric than spectacular as the Alps were shrouded in mist and clouds.

Our last few days in Basel we explored the botanical gardens, stopping by the mill museum and seasonally visiting just in time to catch the end of the Rhododendrons.

Wild Bee Hive

Non-wild bee hive, apartments no. 1-8 - apparently
the bees aren't completely illiterate!

There was less than a week between Dad & Jane's visit and heading off to Canada myself, a week earmarked for hyperproductivity: house-hunting, and the performance of a Mozart mass and vespers, for which I got to play the bass part. I do love playing basslines - from there it's possible to drive the dynamics and phrasing of the whole section in a way that seems much less pushy as when done from the top. Also that week Helen and I headed out after the rain and got some (very clean) Elderflowers from which we made cordial.

My week in Montreal feels utterly surreal now. I managed to sign a lease just two days after I landed, giving me a bit more time to be social, but most of the time I just spent wandering about the Plateau or the Jean-Talon market pondering the impending move back. It's still just as terrifying as it is exciting, but so many things are I suppose.

Though I'd booked the flight to go househunting, in my mind the trip was more and more about weighing up past and future, and of course Bruce was always in my thoughts. I was grateful indeed, while I was there, for having people around who knew him. I optimistically stopped by his house on Friday morning to say hello to Susie, but she was off in France, until Wednesday I was told. I was leaving on Tuesday. Hum.

The morning of my flight I was out of sorts, so much so that after a failed attempt to put the cat outside, during which it bolted through the house with it's leash on and got quite scared at getting it caught and being pulled to a halt, I left the door to the balcony open briefly. Did the cat leave? I couldn't find it, or hear it, anywhere in the basement where it had been the minute before so I assumed the worse and spent the morning looking for it. It's not an outside cat, yet. Finally I decided I had to pack, and upon putting my bags in the basement, heard his bell in the corner - whew.

When it was time to leave the airport bus dropped us off at arrivals. I was deliberating whether to go up to departures and check in right away, or take advantage of free bench space and free wifi and make a phone call to Germany which was rather urgent given the time difference. The bus had been stuck in traffic and was late anyway. But I sat down to make the call. In the middle of it, who should walk by fresh off a plane from France but... Susie.

After an awkward minute of "danke, ja bis dann, ja kein problem, ich freue mich auch - TSCHUUSSSSS" as I wound up what felt like the least significant conversation I've ever had, I felt like the luckiest person in the world to be able to stand and talk to Susie then and there, to hear some more stories about Bruce's time in hospital, and about some of the projects to be completed in his memory (see Brandenburgs 7-12 here).

I landed in Basel Wednesday and had a brief nap before heading to a Mozart Requiem rehearsal - Barmy, yes, but I wanted as much time as possible in Montreal. And why should I have come back a day early for a rehearsal where I was forced to write "No Text" about the Dies Irae, really? In the end, we are following the choir's text accents, just playing louder, which seems to be what the conductor wanted anyway.

Now I've got the heebeejeebees about playing Tuba Mirum again tonight - I suppose if I ever have to play tenor on a Mozart Requiem and I don't get them, I'll know it's time to retire.