Look at the gigantic bass recorder!!
On Sunday morning, Carl decided to go to Church of the Advent for their 11:15 service which precluded his attendance at the BEMF concert at 12:30 pm. That meant that I had an extra ticket so I looked for someone, perhaps a student, who might like to have his seat. When I arrived at Jordan Hall, I found Aik Shin Tan standing in front of the box office window and offered him the ticket. I found out that he was a Chinese student from Malaysia studying recorder at the Peabody Conservatory. He also plays the baroque viola, which is all the remarkable because according to him, “there is no early music in Malaysia.”
The concert we heard was called The Royal Wind Music conducted by Paul Leenhouts, who was also the director of the University of North Texas orchestra program which we heard last Wednesday. There were altogether fourteen people, including Leenhouts, who played a wide assortment of Renaissance recorders, all the way from soprano to gigantic bass. I had never seen such big recorders before, several of which were as big as a bassoon, and one about ten feet tall requiring a stand! Some of the pieces were for the entire ensemble, and others were for trios, quartets and quintets.
What to me was so remarkable was everyone performed from memory! I guess this is the equivalent of hearing a choir concert with everyone memorizing their own parts, but for a keyboard person like myself who hears (and controls) all the parts together, this was truly amazing. What if someone had a memory slip — would there be a train wreck? A number of the pieces were contrapuntal, with independent parts. This group was very rehearsed, however, and the performance seemed flawless to me. I can’t imagine how much rehearsal time it must have taken to put this nearly two-hour program together.
My seat companion argued that in Renaissance times, it would have been inconceivable to memorize the music since players only read from part books. That meant you only saw the alto part, for example, and not the full score.
Also with nearly every piece, everyone kept switching instruments. By the end of the concert, everyone got a chance to play soprano, alto, tenor and bass parts. I know there are at least two different fingerings for recorders, so every player definitely had to be versatile. I guess also they didn’t worry about germs, since the same recorders were played by at least four or five people, and no one used a cloth to wipe off the mouthpiece. Maybe I’m just too fastidious!
I found out later that Edith Ho had talked to Aik Shin Tan at the Peabody Consort concert held earlier in the week. (In case you don’t know, Edith graduated from Peabody, and wanted to support their program by attending their concert.) I guess she gravitated to him because he’s Chinese.