The ‘chamber musical’ which took place on Friday evening was unique in several ways. The format was that of a small intimate group of musicians telling a story through words and notes. While we knew the topic of the evening – a recounting of the young Bach’s trek to visit the venerable Buxtehude in northern Germany – the program developed organically, drawing us into the narrative through the actions on the stage rather than through reference to a printed program.
Narrated by the inimitable CBC personality Tom Allen, a pivotal episode in the early life of well-known composer JS Bach was explored through fact and imagination. Uncovering what happened over 300 years ago requires the skill and tenacity of a researcher. And even then, with the best information available there are huge gaps in our knowledge. Allen likened historical references to stars in the sky – pinpoints which we can connect with lines creating what happened, what might have happened – or even what ought to have happened!
Each of the musicians played an essential role as the story unfolded. They were as disparate an ensemble as you could assemble – pianist, bass trombonist, violist, harpist and vocalist but somehow their innate musicianship, indisputable skill and obvious love of their craft combined to create subtle artistry and sheer magic. Listening to the group playing as a whole, one heard the voice of each instrument blending to create a tightly woven fabric. The scat singing of the versatile and eclectic Shruti Ramani complemented the bass line of Allen’s muted trombone together with the harmonies of Lori Gemmell on harp, Alexander Weimann at the piano and David Harding on viola. The performers collaborated in various groupings and were also showcased individually. Each of the musical selections was like a tiny perfect jewel combined to create a glittering whole. Especially surprising was the ‘ballad-with-a-beat’ You Don’t Own Me, a 60’s feminist pop song which, in the context of this story, seems to indicate that, while styles may change, emotions and sentiments transcend eras! A highlight for me was the Prelude in C minor exquisitely played with Baroque perfection by Weimann.
The adventure of the twenty-year-old Bach was told with humor, skill and imagination. It sent me researching further details of the story the next day. As a music historian, I may (and do!) look at the same pinpoints of historical fact and draw the lines in different places. Notwithstanding, the event was a memorable experience. One felt that the performers were thoroughly enjoying themselves as they shared their gifts with us. It was a singular pleasure from beginning to end.
Joyce Janzen - Secretary
The Valley Concert Society