Classical


Kronos Quartet in Kirkland

Last night I saw the Kronos Quartet perform at the Kirkland Performance Center in my hometown. I can’t really stress how important to my musical development the Kronos Quartet have been nor how far I’ve really moved away from what they do.  I’ve always listened to classical music; in elementary school I used to scour the Anacortes Public library for their classical music LPs and when I “graduated” from elementary school among the list of predictions from my fellow classmates was “classical music snob”.  While I did of course eventually add rock and then jazz to my listening I always maintained an interest in classical music and I’d argue my love for long form symphonic works informed what I liked in those other musics.  I mostly listened to the canonical composers with only the “radio friendly” 20th century composers (Shostokovich, Stravinsky, Sibelius, etc) making an appearance. In college I gradually became interested in modern composition the most important event in this was a friend lending me a CD of string quartets by Lutoslawski, Cage, Pendericki and Mayuzumi. I think he lent me this as it was the only Cage he had which I was becoming interested in, but while I liked all of the quartets  it was the Lutoslawski that really grabbed me at that point. Wanting my own copy of this piece I took my meager college budget to Rainy Day Records and scoured their meager classical section. They didn’t have a lot of 20th century composition but they did have a number of discs by the Kronos Quartet include an EP of them playing the Lutoslawski.  I picked this up and the rest, as they say, was history.

Kronos Quartet play Lutoslawski's string quartetSo much music that became very important to me was introduced to me by picking up various Kronos discs: Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Zorn, Tan Dun, John Lurie, George Crumb, Arvo Part Henry Cowell, Harry Partch, John Oswald, Henryk Gorecki, Elliot Sharp as well as those I knew but being just a kid had few recordings of like Anton Webern, Alban Berg, Demitri Shostokovich and Thomas Tallis. Of course many of these composers I’d prefer versions by other ensembles and most of them I’ve more or less since moved on, but they all led me to where I am now. Of course no other discovery brought to me by the Kronos Quartet was more important to my current listening then their recording of Morton Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet.  At the time I was buying their releases as they’d show up and I must have bought this one pretty much as it was released in 1993 (my prime period of Kronos collecting was 1992-1997). I recall finding this one immediately beautiful and hypnotic, it fit in with the ambient music I was also exploring at this time.  But the low volume of the recording was always a bit of a hindrance for me, I felt it wasn’t as well recorded as some of their other pieces. It got shelved for a while but would be returned to as my interest in the experimental composers arose a few years later.

Morton Feldman Piano and String QuartetMorton Feldman and the Kronos Quartet have a quite interesting history, something worth thinking about for those who tend to dismiss the ensemble.  Feldman worked directly with them and scored his epic String Quartet (II) for them though they “only” ever performed a 5 hour version of the piece. These days the Ives Ensemble and the Flux Quartet have performed the entire piece in its 6 hour glory. I recently came across a recording off the radio of Feldman’s first String Quartet performed by the Kronos Quartet that I’ve found to be extremely informative. It is the third recording of the piece I’ve gotten and by far the longest, clocking in at 20 minutes longer the version of it I have by the Ives Ensemble.  But most interesting is difference in the sound of the violins. Feldman specifies a lack of vibrato and his strings often sound dry and grating with the occasional changes in this for effect. Kronos does this as well but there is a resonance to their playing that the Ives players don’t quite seem to use. Perhaps it is a very light vibrato or other bowing technique that is like the string equivalent of half depressed sustain pedal that Cardew felt was the key to Feldman’s piano works. After getting this recording and listening to it on my high end stereo I revisited the Piano and String Quartet which I had not played since getting a copy of the Ives take. Played on this stereo, where its low dynamic range wasn’t nearly an issue, it revealed the same thing as that String Quartet recording, a level of dynamic to the play, that while very subtle and soft really brings out a lot more in the music. Very soon I’ll have a fourth version of this piece with my favorite interpreter, John Tilbury, on the keys and if the Smith Quartet is as good as Kronos on the strings that should be the definitive version of this piece.

While Feldman is the most important composer that Kronos led me too, it is hard to deny the importance of Terry Riley and John Zorn for years of my life. Riley led me to other minimalists and the whole modern ecstatic drone, freak folk and the like which was a big part of my listening from the late ninety’s to about the mid aughts. I’m still on the Aquarius Mailing list from that period as they were best purveyors of such material. John Zorn led me to so much music, though in all honesty I never actually bought a ton of his music. First the ex-pat Downtowners, Wayne Horvitz and Bill Frisell, both now living in Seattle who introduced me to the post-downtown scene that was thriving here from say 1996-2006. This was my primary interest in music for years and I can’t even begin to say how many concerts I saw in Seattle of this ever widening sphere of music. Somehow it got wired into the Jam Band scene and became completely uninteresting, but there was a period where I thought it was some of the most creative music I’d seen. Most importantly though I got onto the Zorn Email list in its prime and from there I got introduced the most modern of improvised music that really captured my interest for all of the aughts. From there I spiraled back to the experimental composers, found other modern composers such as Lachenmann, Nono, Xenakis, Scelsi et al and that brings me about to where I am now. Obviously a highly compressed history there but trying to sort of stay on topic here.

Kronos Quartet Sun Rings performance

I first saw Kronos Quartet perform in Meany Hall at the University of Washington in maybe 2000? I saw them again there a couple of years later, premiering Terry Riley’s  Sun Rings so it must have been 2000-2001.  By this point I had mostly lost interest in them, they had moved away from the music that interested me.  They became increasingly interested in various world composers and while I think there is much great music to be found exploring the dusty corners of the world I just haven’t been all that taken with the compositions they’d commissioned. Additionally I was tending toward preferring other ensembles for many of my favorite pieces of theirs. But finally being gainfully employed and living in the Seattle area I couldn’t miss the chance to see an old favorite. I remember quite liking that show though I can’t find a record of it online and don’t recall what they played. I was pretty into Riley and Zorn at that point and the odds are they played some of both. It was definitely my interest in Riley that brought me to see Sun Rings which had interesting moments but made me realize that I really like early Riley and just wasn’t that taken by his Requiem for a Dreamcurrent output. Since that show (2003) the only Kronos I’ve paid any attention to was their soundtrack for Requiem for a Dream which I quite liked and Fountain which I liked a bit less. I pretty much had stopped paying attention to them and was thus surprised to see them working with Trimpin in that great documentary I saw last year.  I would definitely have gone to see that performance.

At some point last year I discovered that the Kronos Quartet were going to play at the Kirkland Performance Center which I should say is about a mile from where I live.  I’ve lived in Kirkland for three years now and within five miles of it for the last decade and have never visited the Performance Center. Mainly its because they tend to cater to that older demographic with the safe material that it seems to demand.  An opportunity to finally visit the center seeing a group that used to love and figure would still be at least enjoyable was not one to pass up.  I almost forgot about it though, but luckily Christopher DeLaurenti wrote it up in his The Score column in the Stranger reminding me just in time. I bought tickets online which I was able to just print out and leaving work slightly early (7:30 show? – just try to tell me they aren’t catering to an older demographic) I went home and then walked to the venue.  The Kirkland performance center has a 400 seat auditorium and I have to say it is very nice. The acoustics were great, the seating had a steep rise off the stage providing great sight lines from my back of the hall seating (the online chart was confusing, I thought I was buying a front row seat, turned out to be the back row. Worked out okay though, it sounded fantastic there). There was some brief announcements and a bit of history of the group (started in Seattle BTW) and the show began.

Kirkland Performance Center

Kronos Quartet: Tailor Made
Kirkland Performance Center
Kirkland WA USA

Set I:
Bryce Dressner
Aheym (homeward)
Missy Mazzoli
Harp and Altar
Terry Riley
Good Medicene Minimal Americana nit my fav Riley
Alkesandra Vrebalov
…hold me, neighbor, in this storm…

Honestly I don’t really want to write all that much about the music. None of it really appealed to me, it is pretty much exactly as I said above. This program was “Tailor Made” for the Kirkland Performance center and I don’t know if was targeting this demographic or if its just how they are but the program was pretty toothless. There was a lot (a lot) of pieces with tape accompaniment, Harp and Altar, and …hold me, neighbor, in this storm… from the first set and Cafe Tacuba from the second and this almost always were in such a way as to extend the ensemble as opposed to how historical tape accompaniment is used. In Harp and Altar there was vocalizations throughout which initially almost sounded like string effects and blended nicely but then became really pronounced and chopped and just sounded like bad pretentious pop. For …hold me, neighbor, in this storm… there was field recording type of material but also Muslim-ish singing and other vocal aspects. The Riley piece, from his epic Salome Dances for Peace, is one of those later Riley pieces I’m not so taken with. It was like Americana with repeated motifs so Minimalist Americana. It was one of the better pieces all told, but pretty bland. The first piece Aheym (homeward) was probably my favorite from this set. It had a very propulsive sound all of the strings playing in unison. After some time of this various instruments would break off and add various contrasting sounds. It was somewhat cinematic with distinct episodes but it was pretty engaging throughout.

Set II:
John Zorn
Selections from The Dead Man
Hamza El Din
(realized by Tohru Ueda)  Escalay (water wheel)
Traditional
(arr. Jacob Garchik) Smyrneiko Minore
Café Tacuba (arr. Osvaldo Golijov) 12/12

E1: Tusen Tarkon (sp?) Swedish
E2: Egyptian tango

There was a short break in which I took the opportunity to check out the rest of the performance center. It doesn’t have much of a lobby and it was pretty packed with people getting away from their seats for a bit.  There wasn’t much to do so I fairly quickly returned to my seat. The break wasn’t too long and then the second set began.  The Zorn piece it opened with, God help me, was probably the most interesting that they played sonically. Zorn used a lot of extended techniques, especially those favored by Lachenmann. So scritchy bowing brunched against the strings, bowing the back of the instrument, whipping the bows in the air and so on.  It was typical Zorn though, with lots of short quick segments, short little quotations and a cartooney feel.  Zorns compositions rarely do much for me and it was the sounds that I enjoyed the most here. Oddly the piece was played for laughs and as the ensemble would dramatically turn the page of the score after a minute of intense noise making the audience laughed everytime. It ended with whipping the bows in the air, generating clouds of resin which slayed the audience. The following piece, Escalay, was another rather cinematic piece with a pretty droney characteristic. I honestly don’t remember much about it beyond that but it was okay if unmemorable.  Smyrneiko Minore is an old Greek song that Harrington had encountered on an old recording. So musically it was pretty straightforward Greek folk music with the violins alternating on playing the vocal parts.  Short and to me not that interesting.  The last piece was made for Kronos by Café Tacuba a Mexican band that plays Latin Dancey pop music and it more or less had a tape of a full band playing, plus some field recording type of material that they played with. Pretty lame overall, but not my kind of music in general.  They played two encores, one a Swedish song that I’m just guessing on the spelling, that was simple and melancholy and an Egyptian Tango that was, well an Egyptian tango arranged for string quartet. After this there was a short Q&A with questions from the audience. Not much of interest was asked though.

So that was the Kronos Quartet in Kirkland. I’d say that’s about it for Kronos performances for me unless they do something unexpectedly interesting. They really seem to have become toothless as they have gotten older, using the world music, backing tapes and arranging pop tunes for greater accessibility. I certainly respect what they are doing, slipping the occasional interesting and challenging piece over on the audience but it doesn’t seem to be the driving passion for them. There is an issue that I recall being raised in an artist chat I saw with the Ives Ensemble last year about commissions and world premiers:

This led to several questions about compositions written especially for them and John told us that they rarely get unsolicited compositions mainly because they are very picky on what they choose to play. He then brought up that when playing festivals the programmers really want “World Premiers” and that this leads to an issue where a piece is often only played that one time, as after that performance they need the next world premier.  He said that for them they have found that many pieces benefit from repeat performance: “Returning to a piece you find that it has become a part of you – comfortable.” One of the other members then chimed in to say that playing a piece many times is “Honest to the piece” and that it matures and you discover more.

The Kronos have played over 600 pieces many of which were written for them and I wonder if they are susceptible to this issue. They are always trying to play new material and world premiers and things written just for them that a lot of it seems to go by the wayside.  But worse to me is that so much of their material is just slight and seems calculated for popularity. Bollywood pieces? Arranged pop albums? World music? this is all a pretty far cry from Feldman, Crumb, Gorecki, Lutoslawski et al. I’ll always appreciate them for their introduction to so much great music and that really was the point of this post, but they are clearly playing for someone else now.

Forty Years From Scratch
Broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM

May 2nd & 3rd, 2009

I’ve not forgotten the final segment of my report on the Forty Years from Scratch radio broadcast, I’ve simply been busy and there has been other things going on.  Plus, perhaps I’m a victim of my own success, after the last two reports I felt I couldn’t give the final section short shrift.  The final hours did contain some sections that I was a bit loathe to revisit, political stuff that certainly hasn’t aged well. However there was again an amazing amount of fascinating information and fantastic music so it has been mostly a pleasure going through the final twelve hours or so of this epic event.

If you missed them be sure to check out the first two reports on the Forty Years from Scratch: Part 1, Part 2

13) Forty Years From Scratch: Chris Hobbs’s Sudoku Slot

No Hobbs, this seems to actually be just jukebox selections, in fact it seems to be the Scratch Jukebox I from Liberty Belle on for about 15 minutes.

14) Forty Years from Scratch: Self-Built-Breakfast

Stefan Szczelkun, noted visual and plastic artist, theorist, polemicist and builder, hosts a special Scratch breakfast show. Stefan’s Art Projects Flickr Set which includes a bunch of Scratch related scans.  Explores politics and music. Opens with Joan Baez and then a few songs by arch-hipster Richard Ferrena exploring as he put it the problem of hipsterism.  Stefan gives the following anecdote when having lunch with Tilbury and Prévost in Huddersfield just after 9/11.  Tilbury said, “They deserved it”, they being the institutions in the Twin Towers as they in his opinion had killed many more people then were killed in the towers.  This, Stefan says, underscores the deep hatred of capitalism by members of the Scratch which hasn’t faded. This is a good summery of much of the next few hours.  “Culture and politics are both about coming to agreements. Political expressions in culture have often be excised from capitalist culture.”

Stefan played many other pop songs, poetry readings, folk tunes and the like all that had a populist or directly political nature. In many ways he is illustrating how the horribly Scratch propaganda songs were an utter failure: this is music that had a message and was good music within it’s styles. Not much of this music appealed to me here (there was some all right dub played) but I think that Stefan illustrated some strong points about politics and music. The best music in this segment was the piece he concluded with which was  field recording he made as he walked through London to this studio.


Stefan Szcelkun Walk in the Park

15) Forty Years from Scratch: The Cardew Brothers
16) Forty Years from Scratch: Ascough On

This segment begins directly with the Cardew Brothers et al playing  a new composition based on a Christopher May piece in Scratch Music for Tom Chant (tenor sax),  Horace Cardew (clarinet), Celia Lu (voice), Mizuka Yamamoto (violin) and Walter Cardew (electric guitar).  The music is initially these fragments of wobbles, squeaks, whistles and hesitant scrapes. This is really nice but alas pretty quickly in Celia starts doing vocalizations that I found rather dreadful: sort of Liz Tonne-esque vocal improv with sounds, operatic bits, scatting et. But even worse was the Walter and Sabrina songs they played with Celia singing along with Mizuka Yamamoto on violin.  I really couldn’t take Celia’s singing, I can’t even really describe her voice, it was extremely unusual but in a grating way, this sort of chanting staccato squeak.  Now I should say that the voice is a very personal thing and what one person likes another person won’t.  Celia’s singing was absolutely not to my taste but others might enjoy her sound and technique.  The initial piece I feel was still worth hearing to get a taste for how Walter and Horace play which seems really good.  The best piece was a duo of Walter on guitar and Mizuka Yamamoto on violin though it wasn’t fairly straight in an expressive, almost romantic way. In between playing Carole Finer interviewed the Cardew boys about their memories of the Scratch Orchestra when they were young children.  They concluded with a Walter and Sabrina version of Cornelius Cardew’s We Fight for the Future, which was certainly not improved in this version.


Walter Cardew, Mizuka Yamamoto Guitar and Violin duo

After they played the show went on to the next hour which was supposed to be with Richard Ascough but he didn’t make it in to the studio due to a mixup so Carole played more jukebox stuff beginning with a very nice Two Harmonium Piece (1970) composed and played Hugh Shrapnel and Micheal Chant, that had an almost Organum feel to that.  The hour was finished off with some rather bad revolutionary choir music featuring Emily Cardew called The Velvet Fist. The final thing played in this was filler from the Promenade Theatre Orchestra (PTO) which was a sub group of the Scratch that was entirely trained musicians playing difficult music on mostly toy instruments.  This bit of filler included four pieces,  beginning with a piece consisting of these over-driven ringing tones with a continuous almost metallic drone all playing rather minimalist like shifting patterns. This was followed by a waltz from John White that was a lot more percussive and will a meandering melody line. Next they played Straight Off the Top by Chris Hobbs, which seemed to be mainly low toned wind instruments. The next piece, whose composer and title I couldn’t make out, was a combination of wooden block sounding percussive and staccato horn playing with a shifting melodic line on maybe a clarinet.  Concluding with another Chris Hobbs piece again mostly on wind instruments with some additional percussion that was faded out as the next segment began.  In the main this was good stuff though the recording was pretty rough.

17) Forty Years from Scratch: Out of the Scratch – Music and Class Struggle

The issue of the politicization of the Scratch has certainly come up time and time again, but there are a number of segments in this final block that feature unapologetic supporters of this politicization.  I certainly don’t blame anyone for what happened in their youth but the fact is that the music the Scratch did was far more radical and far more lasting in their politics.  Consider Keith Rowe’s reflection on that period from earlier in this broadcast:

“.. At the time it was uncomfortable but [we felt] necessary.  We were  “˜politically clumsy’,  not to say that  the content of what we were trying to do was wrong but the way we did it was really, really clumsy. “¦Humanly clumsy; the way we dealt with people.”

The members of the Scratch that revel in the banalities of its politicization seem to have not gained any of this sort of perspective.  The  loss of a creative, vital musical and essentially human movement for the narrowest and least effective political movement in perhaps the last hundred years.  Trying to turn the Scratch Orchestra into a musical propaganda unit of this dogmatic, narrow and cruel political organization was a real tragedy.  The earlier segment by Stefan Szczelkun underscores this by playing political music that is actually also good music and there is not a single Maoist anthem to be heard.  A lot more of the issues of the politicization of the Scratch is dealt with in Tilbury’s Cardew bio so perhaps I’ll get into that in greater depth when I post my review of that book, so here is a fairly condensed version of what went on in this two hour block.

This segment was hosted by Brigid and Laurie Scott Baker along with guests Vicky Silva, Bethan Phillips and Chris Thompson.  This segment to me was one of the most difficult with lots of insufferable bad  political music and the discussion was basically apologetics for turning the Scratch into an unsuccessful propaganda unit.  The music played included the Cardew compositions Thalmann Variations, Boolavogue and Will of the People and Nothing to Lose but out Chains which is a Baker composition based on Peacock Soldiers/Mac the Knife which included an overlay of snippets of a recording from Cardew’s last speech and an improv at the end (which was fairly bowed bass solo at the end, though with lame drums and noodling from other instruments).

Laurie says that listening to that final speech you can see that Cardew had not softened his political views at all. That the fact that toward the end of Cardew’s life was a sign he was engaging composition again was a sign of political maturity not a change in direction.  This is confirmed by Tilbury’s bio, in which he describes that the party, as it moved away from Maoism, softened its stance on so called “revisionists” and realized that working with sympathetic people as opposed to alienating them because they weren’t 100% toeing the party line was a smarter move.  Cardew was encouraged to reengage with the composing community in an attempt to further these aims. Tilbury does hint that Cardew missed the rigorous intellectual climate he’d once been part of, so while he clearly was mainly into it for the political reasons he might also have had his own personal reasons.

18) Forty Years from Scratch: White in the Afternoon

Begins with some Scratch Jukebox including the oft played Liberty Bell, before John white comes on air. John’s first meeting with Cardew was him in the audience laughing uproariously at one of White’s compositions.  Later they became friends after Cardew criticized him for a choice he made in playing a certain symbol in Octet ’61.  At the time the avant garde  traditions of Darmstadt ruled the day which wasn’t very appealing to White.  Meeting Cardew along with other experimentalists (Cage, Tudor, et al) led white toward that direction.  When the Scratch was formed White was playing both experimental music, but he was also conducting musicals in the London’s West End. Thus he wasn’t able to be present at all of the Scratch performances and rehearsals.

White got fed up with the Scratch Orchestra’s free improvisation he felt it was therapy for the player and not much fun for the audience. So he broke away with small group to do music inspired by the minimalists. After sketching out his history with the Scratch White then went on to play a fairly long recent composition of his: Latin Phrase book Ritual which basically follows a fairly typical cantata form but with “amusing” Latin phrases as the sung material (I came, I saw, I vomited) and a bit more abstract musical elements: toy pianos, gongs, banal samples, etc.. Very White-like.

Promenade Theatre Orchestra
The Promenade Theatre Orchestra founded 1969 by John White with Hugh Shrapnel, Alex Hill and Chris Hobbs playing on toy pianos, reed organs and so on in reaction to the improvisatory nature of the Scratch. After John’s new piece Carole then plays about 18 minutes from the PTO concert that was partially played before at the end of the Cardew Brothers segment.

Carole then concludes the segment with a few minutes of music from the Harmony Band which was a sub-group with Dave Jackman, Chris May and Carole Finer. This little bit played featured a quite subdued background droning whine with sharp, louder interjections plucked from stringed instruments. This was pretty great I think, the contrast between the drone and the spikier elements keeping it interesting and a beautiful ending with ringing bells.


Harmony Band piece

19) Forty Years from Scratch: Sound Out

Carole Finer is joined by Stella Cardew for an hour of Scratch Orchestra memories and music. Stella felt like she was never a member of the Scratch, it was just a part of her life.  She was involved in performing and with the art aspects of it though. The Chelsea Town Hall concert was one that featured artists,  including Stella,  painting during the performance on a giant expanse of canvas upon which they flung paint. This was Keith Rowe’s suggestion apparently, to paint in the style of Sam Francis. Rivers of paint. She also along with Tim (?) painted backgrounds for the Scratch opera , Sweet F.A.. They played a few pieces of music that were “covered” by the Scratch beginning with the Rolling Stones, Honky Tonk Woman whose performance not surprisingly was a lot more noisy and chaotic. Stella spent a decent amount of time talking about Cornelius and she pointed out how good he was with people, he’d make every one he’d talk to feel like they had a special relationship with him (which you can contrast a bit with Tilbury’s talking about how Cardew always seemed a bit detached. Perhaps this is part of how he changed in his political era). Another anecdote that Stella told was that while Cornelius hated school he loved the Cubs (like the boy scouts) skills from which he put to use in the Scratch camps.  Some of the other music she played included a recording of a choir song, Ash Grove, sung unaccompanied by her daughter Emily. The song is about nature and greenness which is the color that Stella associated with the Scratch Orchestra. There were too many good stories and anecdotes to fully document but a really interesting segment from a vital perspective.

At the end Micheal Chant joined them and they talked about Private Company which he founded and included Stella and Carole.  Chant would set impossible tasks for the company and the attempts to realize them was the performance.  Stella read some of her impressions of PC that she jotted down back during its time, which mostly revolved around doubt, mystery and yet rewarding.  Carole said she always found Chants instructions mystifying and asked him if he had any idea of how they would actually realize these instructions. He answered saying that the pieces were very philosophical and that PC was formed perhaps as a reaction to the Scratch even though it existed from the beginning.  Chant traces its history back to Pavilions in the Park which were these events in 1968/69 from which he signed up whoever showed up: Bob Cobbing, Allen and Joe Davis and others,   Stella and Carole joined later. Private Company would do a lot of events eventually doing weekly events at the Poetry Society until 1973 when they ended as Chant left for political work.  Once again there was too many good stories to fully document. But they ended with a new Private Company piece that Chant handed out unexpectedly. They read it through and deemed that the performance.


Scratch Orchestra plays Christian Wolff Burdock

They played a Scratch performance of Christian Wolff’s Burdocks as filler after this segment.

20) Forty Years from Scratch: Radio Smith

Dave Smith, Richard Ascough, Derek Barker, Hugh Shrapnel and Carole Chant in the studio performing a number of Smiths’ pieces.  Performance of Coin Piece (1972) which was written for but never performed by the Scratch. Coin Piece uses spun coins from each performer to select from a set of activities. This was nice piece made up of a lot of sound of coins spinning on plates, with a hard edge metallic sound and then various short events from a variety of instruments as well as spoken text.


Dave Smith Coin Piece

He talks about how his recent work, which seems pretty far away from the Scratch, is still heavily influenced by it.  He has recently written 42 1 minute piano pieces, the limited time scale he feels gives you permission to do things you couldn’t get away with at length. He began with Multiple Mazurka Mix which is made up of Chopan’s many mazurkas and can be said to hearken back to John White’s Scratch piece for the Beethoven concert where he played only the left hand parts of all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Moonlight Restricted, which borrows from an idea of Chris Hobbs where he recomposed a Tchaikovsky piece applied to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.  Other pieces played included: New World Order, Reverse Swing, and Eagles As Orb an anagram of Rob Grassay.

Moderation in Nothing,  piece from 1976 written for four ex-Scratch members Howard Skempton, Micheal Parsons, John Lewis and Dave Smith.  Schonfeld after the first performance stated that it reminded him of the Scratch. Smith hadn’t thought of that but on hearing him say that, felt it made sense as it was a somewhat unusual piece. They were all playing instruments that weren’t their regular instruments (wine glasses, soprinano recorders, electric piano, finger cymbals, ocarina, bells and so on), it was only rehearsed once as he wanted each member to perform as if it was a solo, which gave it a rather informal sound akin to the Scratch. After this explanation Smith then played this piece, which began with high notes from the wine glass and the recorder. Thin short phrases, spaciously presented with events overlapping at times at others being on their own. I quite liked this extract from this piece: it was shifting, sedate, hypnotic, but not from drone as its all made up of these shorter elements.


Dave Smith Moderation in Nothing

After this extract from Moderation in Nothing, we return to another bit of A Day in the Life of John Tilbury to fill the gap between this and the next bit.

21) Forty Years from Scratch: Live Gala Concert

This segment was the longest of the the marathon at four hours and contained a wide varity of interviews, live music and archival performance. It began with a reading of a short abstract from Richard Church’s Improvisation to Revolution a history of the Scratch Orchestra ’69-’72.  This sounds like an interesting, essay, or book that I’ve not been able to find much more on.  A sample quote on the founding of the Scratch:

“Disillusion with the unnecessary complexity of much avant-garde notation and its inability to communicate on a human level, was a central issue in the Scratch Orchestra and acted as common link between many of its members.”

Shrapnel’s Wood and Metal Band was going to do a live performance but three of them couldn’t make it so they ended up not playing live. They did however play recordings from 1972 performances at the Spielstrasse for the Munich Olympic Games. The members of this sub-group in the studio were Hugh Shrapnel,  Chris May, Carole Finer, Dave Smith and Richard Ascough, missing were Barbara Piece and Alec Hill and Bryn Harris. This sub-group was created for the Beethoven Today Concert to perform a simple Beethoven march that Hugh arranged for a few instruments.  Sometime after this concert Micheal Parson’s suggested reforming this group as its own little band. The idea of the band was to play composed pieces straight, but with ad hoc instruments.  It is interesting how many of the sub-groups took on this idea.  This was the group that played Liberty Belle, which we’ve so often heard. They’d often take obscure British composer and elevate their music to popular classics status: Ketelby, Ezra Reed were examples cited. The Wood and Metal Band pieces played from recordings in this session included Écossaise, that initial Beethoven march, Liberty Belle, Little Toddles (Ezra Reed) and Carolina Cakewalk.


Wood and Metal Band Little Toddles

Next up Richard Ascough played an extract from the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert, the infamous Pilgrimage from Scattered Points of the Body.  The impetus for this concert was Fantastic Voyage, the SciFi film where Raquel Welch among others fly through the body in a tiny submersible.  There was a collection of popular classics associated with each region of the body, for instance Mahler s 6th Symphony for the brain.  The final piece of the concert was a composition by Richard Ascough called Rationalization and Realization which ended the BBC broadcast of this concert (though they cut off a bit in the beginning. This piece Ascough wrote to utilize the trained and untrained musician aspect of the Scratch and includes Micheal Parsons on the organ. This piece had typical Scratch density, but was somewhat low key, with a steady state feel from the long organ tones. Short meandering bits from various instruments would come in and out rising above the organ but not until half way through or so do drums start to really rise above the background sound.


Scratch Orchestra Rationalization and Realization

He followed this with a computer realization of a quintet he wrote in 1971 that was never performed. This was followed by Hugh Shrapnel,  Chris May, Carole Finer, Dave Smith, Richard Ascough and Derek Barker doing a live performance of Paragraph 6 from Cornelius Cardew’s Great Learning. This is a nice take on the piece, which by its nature is a collection of semi-discrete events.  Their sound sources included bells, crumpled paper, mouth organs, recorders, slide whistles and voice.


Cornelius Cardew Great Learning Paragraph 6

Following this was another reading, this time a Jeffery Barnard essay on From Scratch, an Australian take on the Scratch Orchestra started by David Ahern who was part of the Morely College group and early Scratch activities. Quite a bit of the experimentation of the Scratch Orchestra was transmuted into this group though they mainly focused on compositions from composers outside the group. This turned into Teletopia which was more AMM like then Scratch like. Some music from these various groups that Ahern started (he was something of the Cardew of Australia) is played behind this segment and beyond. It does have a sort of scratchy, sound oriented, though less focused, early AMM feel to it. This came to an end and there was a bit of Schooltime Compositions played as they set up for the next piece.

This was followed by a new work by Hugh Shrapnel After Forty Years. for any number of performers playing any number of instruments performed in studio by the attending members of the Wood and Metal Band.  It involves tunes from the 1940s amongst other things.It began with a bell, wooden percussion, mouth organ of some sort, a cell phone rings, toy pianos and other simple cheesy electronic sounds. These come in and out, in a shifting rather chaotic pattern.  Later it on it has some political speech, from Cardew himself, then a musical hall-ish segment with piano and sort of hummed melody and toward the end a more chaotic bit with ping-pong balls and random percussion. Definitely a Scratch piece. They returned to the previously playing Schooltime Compositions after this as filler.

They played a decent amount of Schooltime Compositions and then abruptly cut it out to talk with Caroline Rogers on the phone.  They talked about the performance of Christian Wollf’s Burdocks in Munich.  This is the instance where they were playing it and Morton Feldman stood up and said “This isn’t Christian Wolff!” and walked out with John Cage. They exchanged various anecdotes from this trip including border guards at some crossing insisting they unload and unpack all of their instruments at one point. At another point she performed in a reverse strip tease where she was dared to start without her knickers on which she did much to the surprise of the rest of the band. While a fairly short conversation there was again too many good anecdotes to go over.

As filler throughout the next couple of hours she played various extracts from the David Jackman interview that didn’t play earlier due to technical reasons. In this first extract Jackman talked about how he had Scratch scores from 1969 through 1971 which he thinks dates his participation pretty well.  At the ICA concert,  he played he continuously played a  tape loop that he’d put together of the tambora intro from an LP of Indian music.  He first met Cardew at a performance of Paragraph 2 from the Great Learning at which he showed up slightly drunk and slightly late. His concert was December 1969, though he doesn’t remember much about it.  He found his score though, Eight Groups of Players, which was the section on Tibetan Ritual music from the Grove Dictionary of music. Tibetan ritual music was made up of eight categories: thudding, clashing, sowing, ringing, sharp tapping, moaning, bass moaning and shrill sounds. Each group takes one of the eight categories and plays continuously for two hours.  Jackman recalls it was a wild affair, though it evaded recording, and he goes on to say:

“What I like about Tibetan ritual music, at least my perception of it, which is a mis-perception I know now, is that the pitches don’t see to matter as long as you have all the textures there it will hang together in a very vibrant way. And that was my concert. Like so much of the Scratch it disappeared very soon after we did it. Those sort of principles of putting sound together have been more or less what I’ve done in my own music, since. So in a way I’ve been playing that that piece, or recording it anyway, ever since.”

Ian Mitchell is in next who while he was never a Scratch Orchestra member, become associated with many of its members shortly after its demise.  He was studying at Goldsmith college in 1975 and became associated with John Tilbury who played various concerts with him. When Tilbury found Mountains among Cardew’s manuscripts he asked Mitchell to perform it. This had been a piece commissioned in the late seventies but it had never been performed because it was thought to be unfinished. When Mitchell examined it, he found that it indeed was finished.  The piece begins with a poem by Mao Zedong:

Mountains!
Piercing the blue of heaven, your barbs unblunted!
The skies would fall
But for you strength supporting.
- Mao Zedong, Three Short Poems (1934-357)

After this he goes on to play the rest of the piece. This is an interesting piece with a number of contrasting sections, that explore the full range of the instruments. In the beginning it uses a lot of shorter tones in the upper register and then begins dropping in single contrast low tones. In the middle it works with long, drawn out tones that are made to vibrate in various ways to interesting effect. It concludes with little runs and melodic fragments across the whole range of the instrument.


Cornelius Cardew Mountains

He follows this by introducing four of his students from Trinity College of Music that then perform a number of Scratch related pieces. First is the very short piece Little flower of the North from Schooltime Compositions which they play with mainly short, often oscillating tones, mostly in upper registers. They then play two pieces from Scratch Music, the first is England and its performance is somewhat indicative of trained classical musicians playing these sort of unstructured pieces. Lots of notes, quick sharp attacks, rather as if they are taking all their tools and just putting them out there. This is followed by Think of a Person, This is played as four solos, beginning with the harpist, who mostly plays little plucked notes, but also throws in a few harp cliches: descending arpeggios, harmonics and the like. Next is the flute, who plays long, slow rather melancholy tones which contrasts to the more sprightly harp solo before it. The violin follows with slow bowed tones mixed with sharp rather scratchy attacks. Finally the piano plays mostly single isolated notes in a rather sad floating way.

In between pieces Mitchell asked his students what they thought when they came to this kind of music. One of the students felt their training helped as its about connecting with their instruments. She also said she found it therapeutic. Another student said she found it very relevant as she found it liberating as they rarely have this “freedom of choice and individuality”.  Another student said she found it easier to play fully composed pieces after working with these more improvisatory pieces as it helps her to bring new elements to these old pieces.

The next group of pieces they played was Cardew’s Songs of Pleasure from Schooltime Compositions, Fireworks from Scratch Music followed by another take of Little Flower. The first piece is played with more extended techniques – a drumming on a the harps body, just breath through the flute, short attacks on the violin and then it resolves into more straight playing. Fireworks is played solo harp and as the name implies it’s pretty much all technical fireworks: glissandi, arpeggios, harmonics and big bass thumps. This version of Little Flower, is quite short and made up of all staccato notes on solo piano.

Four Strings
Waves. Shingle. Seagulls

Next up is is Four Strings by Howard Skempton, which is a great piece whose score is reproduced in its entirety above.  that I have a fantastic AMM version of. On this version Mitchell comments that “this is the first time he’s seen a violin played as a wind instrument”. This was one of the more abstract realizations from this group, lots of overlapping disparate tones, in the flowing and pattern based with random interjections which you can certain read into the score.  The final piece that they play is Christian Wolff’s Edges, which Mitchell introduces by saying that with Wolff’s music what at first seems totally open and completely free but when you get into the music you find how extraordinarily restricted you feel. This is a barrier that you have to get through and I have to say having played Edges myself I completely understand this. In fact I’ve made almost the same comment to others, that I found this one of the hardest graphic scores to find a way into, but so rewarding when you do. Their take involves fairly isolated events, but with the four members lots of overlap. There is a much wider dynamic range in the piece, which is called for in some elements of the score and also a much wider variety of sounds: rubbings, squelches, taps, percussive elements, noise all of which makes this a pretty diverse and interesting piece of music.


Christian Wolff Edges

This segment was in my opinion a great thing.  Classically trained musicians often come across as stiff playing this kind of music and some never seem to be able to break free of their routines.  Having students work with less structured pieces probably goes a long way to get them to shake free of some of their training.  This could be the creation of the next generation of experimental musicians.

22) Forty Years from Scratch: Au Revoir

The final two hours of the thirty-six begins with what sounds like Organum and as its followed with another section of the David Jackman interview this seems very probably. This opens with Jackman asking himself the question: “What did I learn from the Scratch? … I very much like a sound that’s collective. That has a collective feel to it, even though strangely enough its mostly just me. … The sound itself doesn’t have a soloist, so its a collective noise of some sort, whether its a consonant noise, or its discordant or its just noise. … I think this came from Scratch Music.” Jackman also says he doesn’t have much faith in the work he did at that piont that he kind of rejects it now. Not like how Cardew rejected his old music, which Jackman felt had an essence of violence to it.  He felt it was too bad he published material from then as he was still a student in musical terms.  “I made all of my mistakes in public”.  He lost all interest in performing after the Scratch and has never regained interest in it. I don’t want to perform live, I make my music in the studio which suits me down to the ground”.  This fragment ends with him saying; “I don’t think my music is new, I’ve recontextualized things so that they appear new”.

There is more Organum played and then Micheal Chant comes on to discuss current activities with fellow composer Hugh Shrapnel. They talk a bit about the legacy of the Scratch and one point that Chant makes is that the revolutionary movement that it came in contact with is still in progress. He allowed that its perhaps in retreat but that they are still proud of it. But really the ideas of the revolution are completely bankrupt, and while the basic goals of improving things for humanity are truly worthy and ones that I’m highly sympathetic toward, there is nobody seriously championing those ideas.  It is in my opinion absolutely vital that we discard ideas that have proven to to be unfeasible and that we turn our energies toward generating new ideas. The great thing about programs like this is that they teach us the ideas that have been tried and if we are paying attention we can learn what works and what doesn’t. Chant goes on to say that a lot of the point of this marathon is how the effects of the Scratch is still being felt today, which I think in the musical sense is completely true. The real legacy of the Scratch is the music and the ideas behind the formation of the group.  The political stuff is just a footnote on how the group ended.  Anyway they go on to talk about their current activities and how they still work in their political agenda. Some of it, anti-war activities for instance, I can totally get behind, though it shows that they themselves aren’t agitating for violent overthrow of the bourgeois so much these days.

Some music was then played beginning with a piece from Hugh Shrapnel that he wrote as a soundtrack to an anti-war film by Stuart Monroe as part of the Not In Our Name movement. This is a sort of melancholy keyboard melodic line meandering over a background wash that becomes increasingly dissonant and various audio samples such as Bush’s “Axis of Evil” quote from the State of the Union are played. This was followed by the last five minutes from Chant’s contribution to this project, Seize the Initiative, which he says he wrote with the Scratch in mind in that it can be played by trained and untrained musicians. This piece was basically various voices reading rather revolutionary-ish slogans while initially sedate music rambled along becoming increasingly bombastic.

There is another bit about the politics where Chant and Sharpnel point out that they were young and that it was the spirit of the times which justifies the propagandist nature of their political music.  However from reading Tilbury’s book I don’t think this is entirely true.  The Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) persisted in idealizing Mao and Stalin well past the discrediting of their idealogies and revelations of their horrible abuses and well after many of the other British communist parties (splitters!) had long moved on. Yes it was revolution was in the air and I think that youth forgives a lot, but to me that means as you get old you learn from your failures and repudiate your mistakes. Yes you should stand up for core beliefs and I think its great the work they’ve done, but that doesn’t forgive the excess, banalities and inhumanities of the time. Anyway that’s a discussion for another time.

It was back to the music after this political digression Hugh Shrapnel playing a piece that he wrote on the piano, Love/Hate, which was a lovely piece driven by repetitive chords.  The next piece played was New Love the middle piece from Chant’s Three Mayday Studies, which had a romantic, almost Beethoven, feel to it, very nice. Hugh described it as “searching” which I think neatly sums it up.  So this was it from Chant and Shrapnel and they played out with an extract from Chant’s opera Occupation is Not Liberation. This part of the opera anyway (the overture perhaps) was long organ chords and little melodic fragments with spaces between them. Then there was narration in English announcing the court coming into session reading out charges against Bush and Blair. Heavy handed but sentiments I can agree with.

The final 25 minutes featured Scratch members Carole Finer, Laurie Baker, Brigid Scott Baker, Michael Chant and Hugh Shrapnel plus Tom Chant and Tanya Chant.  They wrapped it up with some thoughts about the weekend and how the marathon went.  Thanks to Resonance went out and Laurie Baker (I think) pointed out that this program allowed for some of Cardew’s later works to get played which have almost never been played publicly.  Brigid joined in saying that nobody but Resonance would have done such a program, which is possibly true though there are some college radio stations that do 24 hour marathons of a single artist that possible might. Carole said that some of the best stuff for her was playing and hearing the early Scratch music, how much fun it was to revisit. Thanks were given to the engineers and to the shows they displaced.  All well deserved and as a listener I add my thanks to Resonance as well. Brigid: “The weekend has definitely been a breath of fresh air.”

The final bit of music, right before midnight, the Chant Quartet concludes this herculean broadcast with a live fifteen minute performance. The Chant quartet features two generations of Chants: Micheal on piano, Carole on banjo, Tom on saxophone and Tanya playing violin(?) and they played Beautiful Music a piece that Micheal Chant wrote back in the Scratch days. This was a very nice, slowly evolving piece with dry scratchy bowing, metallic plucks on the banjo, very well placed long single notes from the sax, and at first gentle almost background chording on the piano.  The piano chords pick up a bit in intensity now and again,  later becoming big crashes and there are sharper interjections from the banjo here and there, and one short section of rippling saxaphonics but mostly it is deliberately paced Beautiful Music.


The Chant Quartet Beautiful Music

The program begins as it ends with Carole Finer ringing a bell, this time a single chime. So that’s it, thirty-six hours of music, reminiscences, stories and details from a vital part of musical history.  An amazing, historic program that was just filled with so much information. Even in three long (too long I’m sure) posts I’ve only scratched the surface here. Much thanks to all involved, but especially Carole Finer who spearheaded this event and also provided more information and corrections to these posts.  However any and all omissions, mistakes, misspellings, misinformation, typos and the like rest entirely on myself. Further information and corrections are absolutely welcome!

The legacy of the Scratch lives on.

Ami Yoshida/Minoru Sato Composition for voice performer (1997 and 2007) (ao to ao)

This album first came to my attention via a post in the what are you listening to now thread on ihatemusic. It was subsequently posted as an mp3 file to that thread and then six months later on my trip to Japan for the Amplify festival I was able to secure a physical copy of the disc. The disc itself is a 3″ compact disc with a cute green cover with little  flowers drawn by Saiko Kimura. This little sixteen minute disc had already become a favorite but as is so often the case with this kind of music the uncompressed audio revealed far more.

Ami Yoshida is one of the most original voices in contemporary improvisation and pretty much the only vocalist whose work I regularly enjoy.  I have been fortunate enough to see her perform live twice with Sachiko M (as Cosmos) as well as with Christof Kurzmann and most recently with Toshimaru Nakamura. Her releases on Erstwhile Records (especially the two recordings with Cosmos) are recordings I go back to time and time again. These were difficult albums to access; uncompromising and unrelentingly abstract but once I found my way in was rewarded with nearly endless depth.

Minoru Sato I had only heard on one track on the companion cd to the Improvised Music from Japan 2005 Magizine. This short track is a layered drone of digital buzzing and ringing with a roiling bass drum rumbling throughout.  Not a bad little slice of music but not something that had compelled me to seek out more of his work until this collaboration.  Having looked through his website he seems to be quite active in a number of areas that blur distinctions between art and music, composition and improvisation. This is the territory that his collaboration with Ami Yoshida explores.

The mini-cd is comprised of two tracks both composed by Minoru Sato:

  1. 1997 (6′ 11″)
  2. 2007 (9′ 24″)

How these operate as compositions is quite interesting and is I think the essence to why this music has proven so fascinating.

The piece “˜COMPOSITION for voice performer’ is a composition with regards to vocal performance which is improvisational. Here I use the theme of “composition” based on the assumption that the “composition” can reproduce the essence and nature of vocal performance where the performer intends.
 
First of all, I request that the performer is conscious of the specific configuration of her/his improvisational piece in performance.
 
Recording each performance separately several times, the performances may be the same piece of music, as the performer aims for such consistency. However, this can not be entirely possible as the voice changes in accordance with physical and mental conditions and structural vagueness in the music and so on. The more abstract the music, the larger the difference will be.
 
I compiled the recordings as layers, thus having a collective “composition” reproduced in this piece. (1)
 

In essence the voice performer engages in a series of improvisations attempting for consistency in performance.  Sato then layers the varying takes together creating the “composition”.  There are two notions of composition at play here: the vocal performances and Sato’s mixing therein.  The vocalist theoretically could work with a through composed piece of music, “Recording each performance separately several times, the performances may be the same piece of music, as the performer aims for such consistency.” and this variance in performance would be revealed in the layering.  He does however generally refer to this performance as an improvisational piece which of course lends itself to an even greater degree in diversity of performance: “The more abstract the music, the larger the difference will be.“

The notions of the vocalist improvising a piece of music and then subsequently trying to replicate it is interesting. The piece that is replicated can at that point be thought of as a composition and like any composed piece it varies in realization. Sato then adds another layer of composition by mixing the takes to tape.  So we have an improvised piece of music that is attempted to become a fixed piece whose variations are then revealed through the additional step of mixing the takes together.  This is a fairly subversive notion of composition, a meta-composition, where is true structure lies in the fact that a performer cannot replicate something they improvised without introducing variance.

The two pieces on the disc are this same composition but with a different improvisation as its starting point. This are quite markedly different due to the length of time between the two pieces and the development of Ami’s sound and technique in the duration.  The first piece, from 1997, has a looping lyrical quality to it that seems both more playful and naive. Higher pitched, almost melodic the variance in the performance almost works as harmony to the simple abstract vocal lines.  The second piece in contrast evokes Ami’s trademark “howling voice” with horse, plaintive cries that, warp and twist as the timings between the performances vary. She keeps the sounds under a much tighter control – they stay in the same range consistently, but durations slip and you hear almost echos of her cries buried behind the more powerful synchronized vocalizations.

Both pieces are fantastic and they show how this simple, yet subversive compositional technique can produce endless variety when pared with a performer so ideally suited to this material. Ami’s extreme abstractions and her uncanny control over such powerful vocalizations fits the demands of this piece in such a way few other vocalists could. This type of composition, where a few rules are used to generate widely varied results is of great interest to me and something I’ve been exploring over the last year.  The way that Sato couples his simple score, with a vocalist in particular is particularly compelling. His composition takes into account, in fact depends on aspects of the vocalization as its fundamental nature.  I think that is a gray area of composition one that is ripe for exploration.  In the case the results certainly speak for themselves.

 

References
1) Composition for Voice Performer liner notes
2) Minoru Sato’s (M/S) website
3) Ami Yoshida homepage

On Friday December 12th I saw Jaap ter Linden perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied ‘Cello at Town Hall here in Seattle. Bach’s ‘cello suites are truly one of the greatest pieces of music and I was quite excited to see these performed.  Linden is a historical music specialist and he performs these pieces on baroque instruments. For me I find baroque pieces to be much more present and filled with life when they are played on period instruments using the original tunings and using some of the original performance techniques. In the baroque era there wasn’t quite as strong a division between composition and improvisation as there would come to be and it was quite common for performers to improvise their own flourishes, ornamentation and bridging sections.  Historically Informed Performances (HIP) basically sound more interesting and alive to me and often transform old war horses into lively things filled with details you never realized. For me the HIP movement of the last couple of decades has been the most exciting thing to happen in the performance of the classical repertoire.

The baroque ‘cello has a much richer, fuller sound then the modern ‘cello especially with the added mellowness of gut strings.  In this performance Linden sat alone on the stage, unamplified with just his ‘cellos and a music stand. I was lucky enough to be sitting in the second row in the first wing just off center. This was a perfect viewing angle, not blocked by music stand and able to hear the unamplified instrument with clarity and ideal volume.  I did overhear some people after the concert complaining of not being able to hear too much in the rear of the hall, which considering how nice the Town Hall acoustics are was a bit surprising. I’ve sat in the back for several ensembles without any issues, but perhaps the solo instrument just wasn’t enough (or perhaps the patrons were a bit hard of hearing).  Anyway I’ve never heard such an incredible tone, so rich resonant and lingering.

Bach’s suites for unaccompanied ‘cello languished in obscurity until Pablo Casals brought them back into light. He discovered the pieces as a young student of 13 and studied them for and later preformed them for years. Not until he was in his later 40s did he consent to record them and his 1939 recordings of the six suites brought them back into promance. Now they are a piece that every ‘cellist will play and recordings abound.  I’ve heard several of these but prior to this show I only owned Casals original recording. While the 30s was well before the HIP movement his passon and his experience with them made for a truly powerful and moving performance.  Nearly all recordings, even the HIP ones I’ve heard have followed in Casals footsteps and they really are essential for lovers of this music.  Being a solo piece and one that’s fairly explicitly written out (i.e. less room for some of the typical baroque improvisation)  I would say the only thing lacking in Casals recording is the instrumentation. The baroque ‘cello is so much richer and resonant and that aspect changes how you interpret music. There always is an issue with tempo in baroque music, often it was not specified or used terminology that has changed meaning over the centuries.  But the instrument should always be a guide and when you play these on the baroque ‘cello the increased resonance forces you to slow down a bit so that the sound doesn’t become muddy.

I’d had the pleasure of seeing a local ‘cellist perform Suite no V last as part of the Gallery Concerts series but this was the first time I’ve seen some of the others performed. Linden performed suite no’s I, V and VI and part of III as an encore. While I love all six of the suites this subset (along with all of III) are probably my favorites so this was an ideal subset for me.  I would have loved to have seen all six performed but that would make for quite a bit of playing for one person on one night. Linden was having a bit of trouble with his gut strings holding tuning as well, often doing quite adjustments between the movements.  Gut is particularly susceptible to changes in the weather especially in humidity and we were in the midst of heavy rain that day after several dry days. In other words optimally poor conditions for traveling with a gut strung instrument. This piece survives that fairly well as it is purely melody driven and a musician of Linden’s caliber can compensate on the fly for strings that are slipping a bit out of tune. It all sounded wonderful to me and the quick retunings were never a distraction.

The ‘cello suites are one of the pieces by Bach in which the original manuscript hasn’t been found. The existing manuscripts are inconclusive in such matters as articulation and slurs (bowing instructions) so every performer has determine for themselves how they are going to tackle this issue. This again is where HIP shines – HIP is really a relationship between music and performer and by researching the existing sources and the practice of the time you can approach this in a way that brings out the best in the music.  Linden outlined his strategy for this in the program notes (which are well worth reading for those interested) and his research and practice clearly was thorough and essential to how fantastic his performance was. I bought the CDs of his most recent recording of these pieces and it is a fantastic companion to the essential Casals recordings.  Recommended.


Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007
from the
Anna Magdalena Bach mss

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