AAM perform JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos – Cadogan Hall, London (19 October)

Welcome, from me, Joe Crouch (AAM principal cello) to day one of our Brandenburg Concerto tour and my first ever blog. We are in Cadogan Hall in “London’s fashionable” Sloane Square – more fashionable for shoppers than as a concert venue if we’re really honest, but we’re working on that by using the venue to promote ourselves to a new audience. Any seats left unsold were given to members of our new AAMplify scheme (if you don’t know what that is you should check out the website) with the resulting effect that our audience’s average age was cut with Osborne-esque swingeing-ness. Since I am new to this medium I’m not familiar with bloggers’ house style but I can feel a strange urge to report unfolding events in the present tense and to use nonsensically short sentences for brazenly emphatic effect. I hate myself for it. Really I do.

It’s halfway through the concert and Richard is busy tuning the harpsichord so I am grabbing the chance for a bit of peace and quiet with my laptop. When I say “tuning” the harpsichord perhaps I should clarify… Our pitch is a further semitone lower than our usual, coolly sophisticated and urbane “baroque” A=415, instead placing itself at a positively gauche 392 Hertz. Combine this with a choice of temperament which Richard has named, with brutal honesty, French Stinky Tone, and you have a recipe for ranges of timbres that could help make the concertos sound radically different from the pieces you know and love.

At the first rehearsal, however, we are left wondering if this radical difference is necessarily a good thing. Our break time conversations on the first morning tend to follow the pattern “my [instrument name] sounds like [expression of quantity] of [faecal reference]” as we struggle with these new alien sounds. Richard doesn’t panic, though, and gradually we all manage to take the mufflers off our instruments and the boxing gloves off our hands. After two days of rehearsing we are looking forward to putting these concertos back on stage after a break of over a year. By the dress rehearsal things have relaxed to the point that I can spend most of my time enjoying what my colleagues are doing. This proves an easy task. There are soloists featured in these concertos on almost every baroque instrument you can think of, and possibly more besides, and it suddenly occurs to me that not only are all of them absolutely wonderful players but also, strikingly, they are all members of our orchestra. Of course no sooner do I indulge myself in warm and fuzzy feelings towards my co-rehearsers than do I miss-pitch yet another Frenchified E flat, which leaves me cursing myself and everyone else into the bargain.

The second piece tonight is the sixth concerto, a wonderful concoction of tenorial stringed instruments that functions either as the ultimate or, in this case, as the antidote to viola jokes. As I’m standing next to my new viola-toting colleague Jane, listening to her blaze away and enjoying the sensation of being swept along by the effortless power of it all, I suddenly get a pang of nostalgia for the many times we performed this piece with her predecessor, Trevor. I have just confessed this to Jane on my way down to the changing rooms at the interval. “Funny,” she said, “I was just thinking the same thing before we went on and told [fellow viola soloist] Rodolfo. He was thinking it too so we agreed that this performance was going to be for Trev.” Well Trev, now that I know that you were the dedicatee, I feel I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to you personally for my E flats.

Footnote: I am happy to report that my computer’s word processing software doesn’t recognise the word “blog”. Wants to change it to “blow”. Interesting.

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