Who could have known that a set of workshops on early music could be so much fun! This afternoon at LCH, Ensemble Mirable heard local performers in a set of masterclasses on ensemble, harpsichord and baroque guitar. As Mark Russell was telling one of his students, it meant that the tables were going to be reversed — he was going to be the student, rather than the teacher. The child advised him, “Remember to focus!”
I was in the first set, along with Maile Reeves and Anna Womack, violins, and John Gallagher, bass, and we played a sonata by Giovanni Legrenzi (1626-1690), making his music earlier than Bach’s. We had had a rehearsal the night before where all of us confessed to pure terror beforehand. Elizabeth Blumenstock, from Ensemble Mirable, gave us some wonderful analogies for baroque articulation. For the notes that are next to each other (conjunct, stepwise), it’s like bumping into your brother in a hallway — no big deal, no need to say ‘Excuse me!’ because you know each other. So make these notes more legato. But if you bump into your boss while going down a hallway, you definitely want to say, ‘Oh, pardon me!’ — so make the notes with wider leaps more separated, less legato. What I was struck by was how Elizabeth demonstrated the phrasing and articulation first by singing it, then by playing it. I was again reminded that singing is the basis for all music-making.
By the way, I also found out that Elizabeth knows Peter Hallock — she served as concertmaster for the period orchestra production of Handel’s Messiah at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle.
In the second set, parishioner Mark Russell, who is a piano teacher but has built one of the finest harpsichords here in Honolulu, played an Allemand by Handel, critiqued by Ensemble Mirable’s JungHae Kim. She too demonstrated with her voice how the rhythm of the passagework could be stretched or pushed depending upon the accents in the measures. Carl Crosier then played several movements from a Bach suite. I was interested to read that JungHae Kim studied with Gustav Leonhardt in Amsterdam, one of the great harpsichordists of our time, and one whom Carl and I have been privileged to hear in person.
Kevin Cooper then demonstrated the baroque guitar, and I was impressed that he read the music off his MacBook computer, an unusual juxtaposition of centuries. He explained that the continuo instruments of harpsichord, organ, lute, gamba (and theorbo) form the rhythm section of the baroque, the “nest” if you will, while the violins are the singing birds. What wonderful imagery!
We heard the group practice some of their pieces for tonight’s concert, and the sound in the reverberant nave of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu is absolutely magical. Join us, if you can, for the concert at 7:30 pm this evening.