Thursday, July 19, 2012

Humboldt Day Three -- a Change of Pace

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
The wise leaders of the Humboldt Chamber Music Workshop know that the extremely busy players need a little break in mid-event, so they have engineered Wednesday as a shorter day. By chopping out the afternoon practice session and scheduling the sampler program before dinner, they give attendees a chance to take a night off.

I had a great time with my extra evening, but first, it was a full day of music. I was assigned the Nonet in F minor by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. I was thinking it was the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but the latter preceded the composer and is a completely different guy. Coleridge-Taylor, a product of an English mother and an African father, lived a short 37 years, but turned out a pretty good batch of music.

My first impression of the Scherzo, the piece we performed, was that it was spare for the bass. In truth, much of my part was runs of pizzicato (plucked) notes, but with some practice with my eight fellow musicians, it became interesting--and fun. The challenge was to play the runs properly-and in the right place. Because we occupied the main stage for our rehearsals, we got to go on first, so after a quick performance, we had the entire rest of the afternoon to sit and enjoy the other compositions.

Many were remarkable, but the one that stood out was Quintet by John Steinmetz (b. 1951). It started out with what sounded like the five winds tuning up and morphed into a drone piece, which was not only gorgeous but hypnotic. The crowd loved it. It's a real pleasure to see and hear the other groups' performances. Some apparently work out better than others, but we all know that sometimes the sound in the practice room doesn't get fully realized on stage. This is a workshop, and we tolerate the inevitable (and everpresent) imperfections. The different playing configurations let us get to know each other better each day.

After the performances, I treated myself to a 45-minute nap--I was bushed. But then, I took off with five others to the lovely Moonstone Grill, just a few miles up the coast, in Westhaven. We went there because it is a great restaurant with a sensational view, but also to remember a fellow chamber musician who is undergoing a bone marrow transplant now and who would much rather have been with us. We all hope he will be attending next year.

The food was wonderful. We shared crab rolls and oysters before the main course, which was beautifully prepared fish of various kinds. We also shared two bottles of Sauvignon Blanc from A to Z Wineworks. One of our party actually knows the owner of the winery, making it all the better.

We made it back by just after 8:30 p.m., in time to play more music. I had the distinct privilege to play two trio works for viola, cello and bass, a first for me. Thanks to Margaret, who knew the music and got it from the workshop library we three "lower strings" made beautiful music together. We played the Divertimento for Viola, Violoncello and Kontrabass by Anton Albrechtsberger and Leopold Hoffman's Trio Op. 1, Nr. 3.

The hour and a half flew by. The bass normally doesn't get to play with such a small configuration--I'm used to quintets as a minimum--but I've already played in a quartet and done these trios this week, besides the nonet from Wednesday, so who knows what the rest of the workshop holds?




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