An Oboe D'Amore, A Natural Horn, A Traverso & A Pair of Bay ShoesSunday, December 22, 2013
Our mouths and the sound of strings
should for you
for ever and ever
prepare thanks and sacrifice.
Our hearts and minds are lifted up throughout our lives
great king to praise you.
Aria Unser Mund Ton der Saiten
Bach Cantata BWV 1
My graphic designer friend Graham Walker and I have gone to every performance of Early Music Vancouver’s ongoing The Bach Cantata Project which began 10 years ago. Not all the concerts featured four Bach Cantatas. As an example tonight’s program include a Cantata by Bach’s predecessor as cantor at Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722). This would mean that we have seen/heard 35 of them. Since Bach wrote around 200 of them we have a long way to go!
But after 10 years I can safely say that I know most of the performers by their first names and I can routinely (and so can you as baroque performers put on their pants, one foot at a time) go back stage to greet them. They are really part of my Christmas season family. And Christmas is a family tradition.
|Marina Hasselberg & Viola de Hoog|
Both Walker and I know something that few in Vancouver seem to know. We feel smug about it and we know that even after repeated telling people of our knowledge of this fact, that our fave centre-front-row seats will always be available to us.
There are some (mostly conservative Canadians) who feel that they must sit at the middle of the middle to get the best sound. They just might be right if they want to hear an overall sound. They might be right if they have sensitive eardrums and do not want to sit front row to hear the VSO play Ravel’s Bolero. I did, once and I took my Radio Shack sound level meter which at one point (I believe where the trombones kick in) marked 120 decibels.
Extremely loud sound is not a staple of a middle sized baroque orchestra. Sitting in front gives you a classic 60s stereo sound feel. It sounds much as my Acoustic Research AR-3A speakers used to sound. I feel that the sound is accurate and that the Chan’s room acoustics (good or bad as they might be) do not add to what I hear.
Up front I could enjoy what was my favourite moment of the evening. This was the bass Aria Wer bist du? Frage dein Gewissen of Bach’s Cantata BWV 132. The aria featured bass singer Sumner Thompson accompanied by Viola de Hoog on cello (Wow! Wow!), Natalie Mackie on violone and Michael Jarvis on baroque chamber organ.
|Ray Nurse, Marina Hasselberg & Viola de Hoog|
For those who might not know of small but interesting facts, up front I could see that the first violin’s chair had a second and extra thick cushion. Why? Marc Destrubé, the first violinist was also the conductor and the extra cushion gave him the necessary height to look upon and direct the section with the weird instruments, such as Debra Nagy and Curtiss Foster on Oboe D’Amore and Oboe Da Caccia, and Andrew Clark and Steve Denroche on natural horns (unnaturally difficult to play).
From our vantage point of the first row you might have spied Ray Nurse with his lute. The top half of his instrument is bent backwards so from where we were it looked like it had been guillotined. But just for once, and this is a most rare situation, we were able to hear the fine and very warm sound of his lute. Those "middlers" would not have heard any of it.
I can close this and write what a wonderful concert it was, which it was. And I would hope that I will be alive for the eleventh incarnation of the series next year. Walker and I get used to the usual roster of fine singers. This year we heard for the first time, tenor Aaron Sheehan pleased us and we particularly liked his German diction. We would like to see him back soon.
But I must add a bit of whimsy to it. I have a new friend, a young cellist called Marina Hasselberg who also has a group called Novo. I met her at a Microcosmos String Quartet concert. We became facebook friends (you see facebook, note it must be written in lowercase, does have some good things).
And there she was in a smashing long black dress up front playing alongside the indomitable (and scary if she were my second grade teacher and in particular while wearing her spectacles) Viola de Hoog.
Ray Nurse during the interval told me that Viola de Hoog is the best baroque cellist on the planet. I am trying to imagine what it must be like to be a young cellist sitting and playing next to her. At the end of the concert I watched de Hoog gently pinch Hasselberg and gave her a beaming smile.
One of the friendliest and happiest of all the performers is Seattle-based violist Steve Creswell who was wearing a red tie that stood out. I felt like Ferdinand and I wanted to charge. I didn’t but I managed to take Creswell’s portrait with my iPhone 3G.
“This represents Canadian content. I bought the tie at the Bay.”
Which is exactly where Hasselberg bought her shoes.
There are some who say that up front they see the singers' nostrils. I don't look. I just listen and now
thanks to Walker stare at their shoes.