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Virtual Concert from my living room to yours, for the SoHIP summer concert series

This spring I was all set to perform a solo program for the SoHIP summer concert series. But then the COVID hit the fan, just as they were getting ready to announce their season. Needless to say, the in-person series was canceled and replaced with a virtual, video version.

So Jake helped me set up in the living room, and I recorded a video version. Doing this is a different kind of experience from a live concert, or from recording a CD; pieces are performed as single, very long takes. This makes for an organic, honest performance – not as polished as a studio recording. It also presents many challenges, from neighborhood noise to summer heat. In the end, it’s a fantastic learning experience and I’m thrilled to still be able to share music with others even if we can’t be together in person.

The full program with notes can be found here as a PDF, or at the bottom of this post.

The video premieres on YouTube in the evening of July 29th, but of course it will still be up after that if you miss the premier!

Connecting the Centuries with the Solo Recorder
A Video Presentation for
the Society for Historically Informed Performance
Emily O’Brien, Recorder

from Violin Partita no. 2 BWV 1004
J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
arr. Emily O’Brien

Ricercata quarta
from Ricercate, passaggi,et cadentie
Giovanni Bassano (1561-1617)

Coasting on Daydreams (2015)
Michael O’Brien (b.1954)

Troisiéme Suite op. 35
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier(1689-1755)

Divertimento for solo flute
Introduction and fughetta
Variations on a Ground
Gavotte and Musette
Finale alla Gigue
William Alwyn (1905-1985)

After “Come again, sweet love doth now
invite” by John Dowland
Jacob van Eyck (1590-1657)

We typically think of the Renaissance and Baroque as the core of the recorder literature. But much of our favorite solo repertoire from those eras is actually borrowed from other instruments – flute most frequently, but also violin or cornetto or other instruments. Today, the recorder continues to change and develop in new directions; in some cases almost without our realizing it. For example, many of the most common so-called “Baroque” models of lower recorders are really nothing like any actual 18th century instrument, and the ensemble contexts in which we use them are not much like any 18th century ensemble – even when we’re playing arrangements of 18th century music and expect to hear stylistically appropriate musical choices.
But we also have more soloistic modern recorders, which are suited to performing a wider variety of borrowed literature, including later flute pieces which often have a range well outside that of a Baroque recorder. Of course Bach’s unaccompanied works are prime theft targets for every instrument; there is one partita for solo flute that recorder players typically claim as our own. But these pieces are so rich that no one can stop at just one. The wonderful Chaconne from Bach’s 2nd violin partita has been transcribed many times for many instruments. I present here my own transcription for the Mollenhauer Helder harmonic tenor, which has a range that encompasses essentially all of the original range of the piece and requires minimal octave transpositions. Of course, as a non-polyphonic melody instrument, there are many choices to be made about how to handle the chords that a violin is capable of. There are many interpretations and many ways to treat these questions; I have done my best to balance the harmonic and rhythmic context and conventions for how the piece is typically performed against what I feel works well for the instrument.
The Bassano ricercars are another example of pieces that recorder players typically claim as our own that may be at least a little bit borrowed. The book claims to be suitable for all treble instruments; the pieces do work well for the recorder, and the practice material in the book is excellent. But Bassano was a cornettist, and that instrument is most likely what he really had in mind as wrote. While the book also contains ornamented versions of madrigals, the ricercars are purely abstract fantasies in themselves, without the strictures of a pre-existing melody or discrete movements in specific dance rhythms.
And likewise, “Coasting on Daydreams” is also an abstract instrumental fantasy. It was composed for me by my father, specifically for the Helder tenor, for my album “Fantasies for the Modern Recorder”. Although it’s the newest piece on the program, the piece it most resembles in form is the oldest. And it’s the only piece performed on the specific instrument for which it was written.
The op. 35 suites of Boismortier were really written for flute, but today are performed at least as often by recorder players. Unusually, the music specifies that they may be performed either with or without the basso continuo part. They’re lovely either way. The structure of this suite as a more abstract prelude is a nice preface to the Alwyn Divertimento. It was written for flute as well, but circa 1940 and for a very different type of flute. However, despite being written in a clearly 20th century style, it also includes many neo-Baroque elements that recorder players find familiar. Its fugue and its chaconne are clear references to Bach’s violin works, and even specify the kinds of voice-switching and arpeggiated chords that wind players employ when transcribing Bach’s violin and cello works. It is, of course, technically demanding; but also very rewarding of the effort.
Lastly, van Eyck’s Comagain is a bit of a recorder player’s comfort food. Van Eyck’s Der Fluyten Lust-hof is the largest single collection of solo music that’s originally for recorder. This selection is a set of variations on John Dowland’s madrigal; the text of the first verse is as follows:

Come again, sweet love doth now invite
Thy graces that refrain to do me due delight
To see, to hear
To touch, to kiss
To die
With thee again
In sweetest sympathy

In these times when we are often unable to be together, I felt that the nostalgic character of the piece and the desire for human contact made it fitting.

The Instruments:
Helder Harmonic Tenor by Mollenhauer (Bach, O’Brien, Alwyn)
Ganassi alto in g at A=466 by Ralf Netsch (Bassano)
Scherer alto at A=392 by the Von Huene Workshop (Boismortier)
Praetorius consort tenor at A=440 by Francesco LiVirghi (van Eyck)
Emily O’Brien

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Ecco l’aurora – Andrea Gabrieli

This is “Ecco l’aurora” by Andrea Gabrieli, from Il primo libro di madrigali a cinque voci, 1566.

I was introduced to this gorgeous madrigal by Eric Haas some years ago. In this video I’m playing a tenor in C, basset in G, and bass in C by Francesco LiVirghi; and a contrabass in F by Friedrich von Huene. I’m using the Canzonet bass recorder neck strap plus extension for the C bass and G basset, so that I can comfortably play them standing up.

The text:
Ecco l’aurora con l’aurata fronte
Ch’a passo a passo ci rimena il giorno
Ecco che sponta sopra l’orizonte
Col volto suo di bianca neve adorno
Ecco la notte ne l’adverso monte
che và fuggendo al suo antico soggiorno
Et io pur piang’al l’apparir de l’alba
C’homai d’intorno l’aere tutto in alba.

And Eric’s translation:
Behold Aurora with her golden face [as she] Moves step by step to return the day. See her peep above the horizon, With white snow adorned. See the Night from the mountain opposite That flees to its old haunt. Yet I despair at the approach of dawn, Though all around be is bright and fair.

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Plague Music

For many of us, a particularly heartbreaking aspect of the shutdown situation is that we can’t make music together, and we won’t be able to again for some time. By now you’ve probably seen a variety of multi-track video efforts, so I wanted to share a couple with you. First is my own version of Morley’s “Now is the Month of Maying”, which is technically seasonal although the persistently March-like weather just reinforces the feeling that today is really just March 276th or something.
(Although you can’t see that easily in the video, for the bass and great bass I’m using the bass extension straps available through this site).

And next up, is this incredible effort by my friend Sarah Cantor, who recruited recorder players from all over the world and put together this giant virtual flash mob. I didn’t think about it too hard when I sent her my videos, but watching the finished product is deeply touching.

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New SATB Gig Bag is now available!

After many many requests, I’ve introduced a backpack gig bag that holds recorders plus music and a stand and all the various accessories you need as you go about your musical travels. It’s a little like an SATB roll that folds in half instead of rolling up, which means it’s a comfortable shape to wear on your back and it can hold other cases or items in between the two halves. It also has exterior pockets in front and back.

I know recorder players and their instruments are all stuck at home right now, but someday we’ll be once again able to play together with friends and colleagues, give performances, attend concerts and workshops, and travel with instruments. When that happens, we’ll be ready to help you carry what you need to bring!

Hope you’re all staying sane and finding ways to make music in the meantime!

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Off-topic: Learn to Knit!

If you hang around at recorder workshops, you’ve no doubt seen the occasional participant or teacher knitting in the corner – maybe with a group of other knitters, maybe finishing up an item to donate to the auction. Personally I find knitting to be enjoyable and relaxing, and a satisfying way to fill time in between things, while waiting for things, on trains and planes and buses, etc.

So this year I decided to work on indoctrinating the next generation. My neice and nephew are getting to ages that I was when I started learning how to make stuff in various ways, so for their gifts I wanted to give them each a kit that included instructions plus yarn, knitting needles, and a small swatch already started that they could practice on. I was underwhelmed by the books I could find – nothing seemed appropriately geared toward getting a total beginner from zero to a satisfyingly finished project. So I wrote my own.Knitting for James and Ellen

And I’m also sharing the book with you!

Knitting for James and Ellen

The book contains simple, straightforward instructions with photos of every step, on how to knit and purl, how to cast on and bind off, and how to make a very easy hat and an even easier ear warmer. Photos show both English and Continental styles of knitting (the difference is which hand holds the working yarn). If you’ve never knitted before, this is a great place to start! If you have knitted before, but would like to teach a friend, it makes a great starter pack. Put together the yarn and needles mentioned in the book (Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick and Quick, which is easy to find although obviously other extra bulky yarn can be substituted easily) and either print the book or include a link to the PDF, and you’ve got a learn-to-knit kit that you can customize for the recipient’s preferences.

This isn’t a comprehensive guide to every stitch under the sun, but there are lots of books and videos and websites that do that. It just gets you started and knitting something you can use right away.