After two months of bi-weekly rehearsals in the gorgeous interior, enviable acoustic and Arctic temperatures of the College’s Chapel, Sarah, Eliza, Kiseok and I were proud to present the launch of the Early Music Ensemble of St George’s College. The programme, carefully selected by ourselves and our esteemed mentor Paul Wright, consisted of works which we learnt about together for the first time and others which we already loved and were now privileged to study in detail.
We met in the afternoon for a run of the concert. As I entered, the Dining Hall was in the final stages of being prepared for that evening and Kiseok had almost finished tuning the harpsichord; a precise and expert process requiring at least twelve times more work than tuning my own four-stringed instrument. We played each of our pieces, our nerves making the running time of each work subtly shorter, and then jumped in the car to get dinner (pasta, fish and chips, pide a la Broadway).
Upon returning to the College, we found that the harpsichord needed attention once again, pushing the opening time of Hall back slightly to give us time to warm our fingers and collect our thoughts. The concert finally began after a few words of welcome from the Director of Music, Michael Grebla; the Warden, Ian Hardy; and Paul. The first half of the program featured two works with a ground bass accompaniment: Aria Sopra la Bergamasca, and a Ciaccona by Tarquinio Merula. This left me free to enjoy the impressive virtuosity of my fellow string players Sarah and Eliza. I was the most anxious to perform Vivaldi’s Cello Sonata in F Major, Op. 14 but Kiseok’s accompaniment crucially permitted me spontaneity and a feeling of great musical support. It was also my pleasure to provide continuo for Eliza’s performance of excerpts from Mascitti’s Psiché Divertissment which she played with wonderful character and spirit.
At interval it was lovely to talk to members of the audience, many of whom were friends and family who had come to support us. Armed with kind words and some much appreciated positive feedback, I felt relaxed and excited to present the second half of the concert. After sitting back to enjoy Sarah’s lively and elegant performance of Aubert’s Violin Sonata No. 6, Book II, I made my page-turning debut for Kiseok who beautifully and thoughtfully performed excerpts from Couperin’s Suite in D Major.
The Ensemble came together to perform Nicola Matteis’ deeply emotional Aria Amorosa, a work and composer I had not heard of before this year but which has reminded me that the world of Baroque music extends so much further than the few composers with which it is popularly associated, and that there is so much valuable repertoire yet to be discovered. On the other end of the fame spectrum was Bach’s Air in D which I have played countless times for weddings and noisy corporate functions but never with as much realisation of its genius as on this evening when we were joined by Paul who played the well-known melody as if it were new. Our final piece was Vivaldi’s variations on La Follia and by this time I felt that I had only two aims: to make music and to have fun!
Over the last two months I have learnt that playing on historical instruments comes with advantages that far outweigh any limitations. The ability of gut strings to project is less, but their response is clearer and more articulate. The lack of endpin necessitates adjustments to my posture but allows me to move more freely and expressively with my instrument. The uneven shape of the bow makes playing legato uncomfortable but reveals and better suits the shorter, more rhetorical phrases which characterise Baroque music.
On behalf of the ensemble, I would like to thank the College and its staff for administering and organising the event impeccably and of course to Paul Wright for his inspirational and invaluable guidance and support. My personal thanks must go to Melinda Forsyth for the loan of her beautiful Baroque cello and to Emma O’Keefe for the long term loan of her equally beautiful bow. It was immensely rewarding to work and play with such fine musicians and wonderful people and I look forward to doing it all again soon!
Written by Krista Low