25 May 2018

Breaking barriers

Tafelmusik were in town again and they are so inventive, breaking so many barriers. Apparently, they were early period music investigators and their playing is certainly something to dream of. Sweet, shared, responsive, gentle, quick and lithe when it's called for. They also have a choir but we just saw the orchestra with narrator. Then they make a big thing of playing (at least some) programs from memory. It's a challenging task and time consuming to prepare for but the benefits were clear in the ease of interaction and the movement on stage and, I guess due to both these characteristics, the ease and mobility of phrases moving between instruments. I've never noticed these changing features quite like this and it was revelatory. It's pretty obvious, really, when you think of it. Canon playing is all about a line moving between performers, so why not move the focus of the orchestra with it. They did this and it was eye-opening and I reckon the break away from the written score is partly what promotes this. Then, again for something different, this was more a visit or investigation of Bach's experiences rather than just a performance. On top of the delicious playing, we had projected images (of Leipzig, cafes, luthiers, Australian-NZ sheep [?], ...) and a script that introduced people and places and instruments and their making and the rest. We learnt of Zimmerman's coffeehouse where Bach led a performance each Friday; of Apollo and Mercury as patron gods of Leipzig; of clothing regulations; of Haussmann's painting of Bach. All quite fascinating and new to some degree to most in the audience, I guess. But it was the music that was central. It comprised different combinations of players, perhaps a few violins, or two cellos or larger groups. The phrasing was delicious and to die for. The tones were gut and sweet (if somewhat lost in the space that is Llewellyn as I sat well back in the first half). The bows were period, none less obviously than Alison Mackay's arcing bass bow. The oboe sounded so good and the bassoon bass lines were so lovely. Bassoon does a fine bass line and this playing was special. And that physical movement that was central to the experience. Good on them for trying this informative performance even if, at times, I longed for just the perfectly sweet music itself. And we got to sing along (!) Just to a scalar fragment that formed a bass line to demonstrate the development of canon lines around it. This demonstration just convinced me that those Zimmerman session would have contained plenty of improvisation, perhaps around an indicative line from Bach, using the venue's collection of instruments. Playing was different then. As we hear with period music. Then after, there was a chat with three member of the orchestra and I was lucky enough to meet Alison Mackay, bassist and developer of this performance. A revelatory night of mixed media and the most delicious period performances.

Tafelmusik performed music of Bach accompanied with visuals and narration under the title Bach and his world. The program was conceived, developed and scripted by Alison Mackay (bass) with Elisa Citterio (violin, director) and Blair Williams (narration). They performed for Musica Viva at Llewellyn hall.

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