Sunday, January 11, 2015

Eckhart Ensemble 2015

The Eckhart Ensemble returned to Orange this year and gave a wonderful performance, as they did last year. Many thanks to the Orange Music Society for making this gift to the community. Here is the capsule review I put on their Facebook page the morning after:

The concert in Orange tonight was splendid - there were all the technical things you could hope for - intonation, phrasing, dynamics, ensemble unity - but it's the enthusiasm and love of music making coming through at every moment that make this group really special. And the Italian Renaissance music bowled over both experienced listeners and people previously unfamiliar with it. Bravo!

Nicolas Duchamp on flute, the guest soloist, was terrific. In particular, I've never heard such strength of tone in the low and mid register. Everyone else was excellent as well, but I want to mention Fred Dole on bass. He was also a standout last year. His sound fills the room and gives a solid foundation to the music I can feel as well as hear.

Someone else to mention, who wasn't with them last year, is Giustino Riccio the percussionist for the Renaissance tunes. Besides wearing a feathered cap straight from a Renaissance painting, his percussion on various instruments was superb. I've never seen one performer watch other performers with such intensity so as to better support them with his playing.

With all the hubbub about the death of classical music and what can be done to get audiences more interested, these people have some answers:

1) Except for the cellos and harpsichordist - they all stood while playing and moved with their music making. As regular readers of the blog know, I think l lot of the power of music is that it is, in part, physical gesture made audible. Seeing players moving their entire body while making music emphasizes that aspect - and I think it helps communicate more of the music to the audience than sitting and moving as little as possible, giving the impression of robots.

2) They dressed individually and comfortably, which besides letting them look like people instead of penguins, gave a hint of the personalities behind the instruments, giving more context to the music making.

3) They were obviously having fun! As I've said about my group, when you're having fun making music, that transmits to the audience as well as the music. There's something contagious about people having fun that adds a whole dimension to music making.

3) They're mostly (from my perspective, anyway) young people and have the enthusiasm of the young and that also comes through in the music.

4) The programming of the Renaissance tunes was a master stroke. The immediacy of the music spoke both to experienced and novice listeners of classical music. One of the most experienced listeners was visibly swept away by "Belicha". And a family member I'd encouraged to go, who is not a regular listener to classical music, was one of the initiators of the standing ovation.

5) One minor point that may be more important than it seems at first - lots of alto range instruments in the Renaissance music - English horns (including a trio of them at one point!), violas and alto flute. I have a number of friends, all women as it happens, that simply do not like high treble sounds. My guess is that these same tunes played up a fifth or an octave would not have been as appealing to a number of folks.

To close, a phrase from perhaps the most experienced listener of classical music at the concert:

They played with heart from the heart.

ADDED LATER: After writing this post have thought of at least a dozen things I didn't mention. I could have gone around the entire group of players and talked about instances of their great individual and ensemble music making - every single one of them. 

And to amend my comment on some people not liking high treble sounds. During one of the Renaissance dances there was a piccolo duet. I've never heard one piccolo played so well in tune, much less two together. It was an astonishing moment. If all treble sounds were played that well, I don't think they'd be so associated with shrillness. Anecdotal proof of that being one of the people I know to dislike high treble sounds later commented on how amazing that duet was.

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