Switched-off Bach: Historic music ensemble plays for Beyu lunch crowd
Diners at Beyu Caffe – some using laptop computers and other wireless devices – took a step back several centuries and heard music from the Baroque period played on historic (and unplugged) instruments.
Members of the Ensemble Vermillian performed in a free listening session during lunch at the downtown café Friday. The listening session was part of the HIP Music Festival, put on by Mallarmé Chamber Players and other organizations, which continues with concerts and events today and Sunday.
The acronym HIP means “Historically Informed Performance.” In this kind of performance, musicians play the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and other composers on instruments built like those that were around during the Renaissance and Baroque (about 1600-1750) eras. Musicians also sometimes use different tunings than modern players. Historically informed performance comes from decades of scholarly research about early music.
Ensemble Vermillian – a group based in Davidson, N.C., and Berkeley, Calif. – one of the HIP festival guest artists, played music by Bach, Claudio Monteverdi, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Arcangelo Corelli and other composers. The instrumentalists were Vermillian co-founders (and sisters) Frances Blaker (recorders), Barbara Blaker Krumdieck (baroque cello), and David Wilson and Peter Lekx (baroque violin).
Blaker introduced a composition by Bach, one originally written for organ. The transcription meant that the instrumentalists were playing parts originally written for right and left hand, and feet, Blaker told the audience. She took the left-hand part on recorder, while her sister played the foot (or bass) part, and Wilson the right-hand part.
Blaker also discussed her historical instrument with the audience. “I’m playing a large tenor recorder, a very heavy piece of wood,” she said. To free her hands to play, Blaker said she had to play this particular recorder while sitting. She used a stand, which rested on her lap, to take the weight of the recorder off her hands. In an interview after the performance, Blaker said the instrument – larger than other recorders she played at the concert – is a modern hybrid between a Renaissance and a Baroque recorder, meaning the instrument has a wider range of notes.
Many Baroque era ensembles play with a harpsichord, which was absent from the Beyu performance. Blaker explained to the audience that the music of the era was flexible as far as instrumentation. Composers often wrote for the upper voices, and allowed for the addition of harp, lute, harpsichord or other instruments, or their absence depending on circumstances, she said.
Except for a microphone for announcements, the sounds of these instruments had to carry without electronics. The gut strings on the cello and violins, and the recorder gave the music a warm, woody sound – which, combined with the smell of coffee, was a welcome contrast to the icy winds blowing outside Friday.
This event was the second free music listening session Mallarmé held this season. The organization may expand the free sessions next season, said Tony Sprinkle, the group’s operations manager.
HIP Music Festival events continue Feb. 2 and 3, 2013. For information, visit www.mallarmemusic.org.