HelenEdith's Blog

The minutiae of my life, plus website updates and book reviews

Mensa Music Weekend 2008 Bassoonist’s Report

Posted by HelenEdith on August 20, 2008

As I had to work on Thursday, I was unable to arrive in time for the ice-breaker, but headed out from the office at about 5:30pm, checking in at my B&B in Brookmans Park on the Great North Road on my way by, and arriving at the John Lill Centre at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield in time for the Friday evening session, where I met Judy waiting outside, as it transpired that those who were staying on campus had discovered that having dinner in half an hour was a bit optimistic and hadn’t yet returned!

When the main contingent got back from dinner, Dave Silver helped me bring my rolling shopping trolley of sheet music inside, and the weekend’s musical activities began for me.

As I didn’t sing, my time was divided between the orchestra and chamber music.

The orchestra worked on three pieces over the course of the weekend.

The first piece was the Bach A minor violin concerto, for which Robert had augmented the original string orchestration to include our wind section. I had a cello part, but Robert had been busy in Sibelius creating parts for the upper woodwind to play.

The second piece was Alison Keep’s arrangement of Vaughan Williams’ “Greensleeves Fantasy”. Alison brought her laptop and printer with her, and made a few adjustments to various bits of music during the weekend. In fact, she did a couple of tasks in Sibelius which were rather more substantial than a little bit of adjustment!

The third piece we worked on was the first of a charming set of five little wind concertos by the 18th Century Nottingham composer, Henry Hargrave, for which I supplied the music. Like the Bach, it was only scored for strings, and Alison kindly entered the viola part in Sibelius and got it to print out parts for the B flat clarinets and E flat saxophone so that the whole orchestra could play. It worked out very well giving the viola part to the clarinets and saxophone, as Wendy was our only “real” viola player and the ensemble was better balanced with some more instruments playing the viola line.

Although there were more than six people at the weekend with wind instruments, some of them also played a stringed instrument or sang, and when we divided into smaller groups, the wind group consisted of just six of us. We sometimes needed to get people to double on a part as we had insufficient sextet music for the combination of Cyndy on flute, two clarinets played by Dave and Don, Sally’s alto saxophone, my bassoon and Alison’s trombone. We made ourselves at home in the gamelan room, where we played Alison’s arrangements and a selection of music borrowed from the library by Dave or brought from home by myself.

The highlight of Friday evening was a jam session. Dave Silver brought his shiny red accordion, Hilary got out her recorder, and one of the flautists (Cyndy) also got out her instrument. Dave allowed several other people to have a go on his accordion in the course of the evening. There was singing, both with Dave’s accompaniment and without; and we were treated to a handbell performance, with the performers learning from Joyce as they went along.

I detached myself from the wind group on Saturday morning as Vivien had volunteered to play through my Danzi bassoon quartet. We were joined by Wendy and Stan, but very quickly discovered that we just couldn’t get the piece started. Fortunately Robert, our conductor for the weekend, was in the kitchen area with Monica, who was also at loose ends, and both came and joined us, with Monica doubling the violin part and Robert doubling the viola part. (He plays the viola as well as conducting!} We weren’t sure whether we needed Robert more as a conductor or as a viola player, but he managed to get the group going, although we did abandon the first movement, which Robert deemed not to be sight-readable. We did get through the other three movements, though, and the whole piece turned out to be very democratic and not just a bassoon solo with an accompanying string trio, and so was musically interesting, albeit a little too challenging, for all who were present. Vivien told me that if I send her the violin part to practise that she will have another go at it next year, which is very kind of her, as she was speaking rather incredulously about seventh position at one point!

I did manage to fit in enough time with Hilary, our recorder player, to play through a Boismortier trio sonata, with David playing the piano part. I would have loved to play through the Quantz trio sonata I had with me as well, but there just wasn’t time. Nor was there time to gather the personnel together for the Telemann Concerto a 6, which is effectively a double concerto for recorder and bassoon. We would have needed a string quartet and David to pull it off, although interestingly, bearing in mind that more people in the group play the violin than the viola, a third violin can be substituted for the viola. Maybe next year…

I was also hoping to join up with Alison for some trombone and bassoon duets; and would have liked to get together with one of the cellists for a play through of the Mozart sonata for bassoon and cello. However, there just wasn’t any time for either of those two activities to happen. Maybe next year for them as well…

On Saturday evening, we went to Frankie & Benny’s for a meal. Some people drove down from the University to the Galleria, but I was one of the ones who elected to walk. I had a lovely dinner down there, where I ate too much food, and did lots of talking. I hope I did some listening, too! I certainly got to know my dinner companions better, so I think I managed to shut up sometimes and listen. We were joined for dinner by Jo Sidebottom, our Mensa Special Interest Group Secretary, and it was good to be able to put a face to the name that appears on our Intermezzo newsletter.

Having spent Friday and Saturday working on our orchestral music and playing through different pieces of chamber music (or singing, if you were a singer) we spent Sunday morning brushing up what we were going to play in the afternoon for our end of weekend concert. Then we made one last visit to the refectory, where I enjoyed a swordfish steak for my Sunday lunch. It was just as well we had to walk back from the refectory, as I needed to walk off the swordfish before I was ready to play again.

The afternoon concert started with the Hargrave Bassoon Concerto No.1 and I stood up out the front to play it. I slipped up a couple of times, but made sure I kept going! Then we played Alison’s arrangement of “Greensleeves”. Each group of players then presented a sample of what they had been working on during the weekend, with my contributions coming in Alison’s arrangement of Fucik’s “Florentine March” and the first part of the opening movement of a quartet by Walckiers, which were both played by the wind sextet from the gamelan room. I also played in a trio written by David Dreebin specially for Sally (oboe), Dave (clarinet) and myself (bassoon) and which we had rehearsed with the composer present. David also composed a flute trio which was performed during the concert, although that performance wasn’t a World premiere. There were solos from Dave Silver and Alison Keep; two different string quartets performed; and the choir did two sets of numbers. The choir sang a capella – I was impressed! We finished with the Bach A minor violin concerto, performed to a very high standard by Helen Cass.

Then we all packed up and went home, hoping that we’ll be able to meet up again next year for some more of the same.

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