Friday, May 11, 2007

dur dur d'etre beta

First I have to give thanks to Mister Burns for getting me into the Jordi Savall concert at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Having only recently become enamored with the early-music maestro (courtesy of his disc exploring the curious folios of 17th century composer Tobias Hume), I was beside myself to get into one of these performances, but two dates he's playing in the US. For all the upscale grandeur of going to a concert at the Metropolitan Museum, they instantly set our minds at ease by making the audience enter through the cafeteria.

As a newbie to this music, I'll admit to being somewhat lost amid the blue hairs in attendance and what exactly to listen for, but the program notes attest that before 1800, it was expected that composed music were to have some of its music improvised in performance, so that it might blossom freshly-created for its audience. So whereas I might otherwise not have familiarity with the folios of composers like Diego Ortiz, Mr. de Sainte-Colombe le pere (or his son, Mr. de Sainte-Colombe le fils), and Marin Marais (or even Bach, honestly), I could at least appreciate the spontaneous moment.

Not necessarily one for etymology, I find it curious that names for themes (canario, chaconne, passacaglia) stem from New World explorations, even though they are ultimately of Old World lineage. Tonight, Savall plays a viola da gamba crafted in 1697, in a line-up including harpsichord and a dual neck stringed instrument, the theorbo (think medieval Jimmy Page here). When the trio commences, the most shocking thing is how quiet the music is. Unamplified, there's an inherent hush to the audience as well, yet my ears panic, harried that they're missing something. But wait, it's just that the ears have always been reactive, dealing with overload and volume, the necessity of shutting out. Now, in the quietude, they slowly begin to open up, so that the music blossoms mid-performance.

As I'm most familiar with the work of Tobias Hume, I can hear how Jordi Savall teases out new filaments, new pathways in the notation. Hume is as bizarre a figure in the early-music world as he would be in modern music, which is no doubt what draws me to him in the first place. First and foremost, the Scotsman was a soldier of fortune, prefacing one of his 1605 folios for viol with the claim that "the onely effeminate part of me, hath beene Musicke; which in mee hath beene always Generous, because never Mercenarie." If this music is effeminate, then lord only knows what he must've been like in the flesh (in old age, the notes say he was reduced to eating snails in the field, for lack of mercenary work); his program is in stark contrast to the other pieces of the night. Savall's bow work is volatile, at times physically attacking the viola, barking out proclamations between flurries of plucked and bowed passages, rapping kinetic taps of the bow across its strings.

Throughout the night, I am reminded of Joanna Newsom's most recent EP, perceiving it as this attempt to bridge new music and old. From its instrumentation (and their furious interplay) to its artisan craftsmanship down to its poetic imagery, almost none of the music elicited by her Ys Street Band strikes me as "indie." Talking to a friend afterwards, while he thoroughly enjoyed the evening's performance, noting Savall's masterful tone and exuding of grace, he sheepishly admits that he still has a Hall & Oates song stuck in his head. His date claims that the quicksilver lines on theobro evoke Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" in her own head. And so worlds collide.