Chamber music at the Bimhuis, Amsterdam

Bimhuis and chamber music

Bimhuis and chamber music

The performance last night with Frances-Marie Uitti and Paul Griffiths in “there is still time” was a most beautiful and poignant event. The work is described in Paul Griffiths’ website as “scenes for speaking voice and cello, the spoken part using just Ophelia’s vocabulary in Hamlet”. And in the programme as “an intimate and touching portrait of love and loss, memory and hope…” Paul Griffiths himself performs the text. Here are some reviews of the piece from his website:-

http://www.disgwylfa.com/index.php?f=data_work&a=1

I found it to be a wonderful and novel way to renew the tradition of chamber music. I don’t know if it is the case (I’ve heard it said) that composers now tend to neglect chamber music in favour of big ensembles, orchestras, opera houses. If so, listening to this duo for speaker and cello, should remind them of the power that exists in a minimal setting.

I can pay tribute to Uitti in this way – the harpsichordist Gerard van Vuuren said to her after the performance that the bow becomes part of her arm, and the cello becomes part of her. I have a feeling about that too. For me, as soon as she picks up the bow something inside says “oh, this is special”. Anyone reading these reactions should make sure to see her (she tours quite a lot) and find their own way of describing exactly what it is she is doing with this instrument. It’s a remarkable achievement. There is the two bow technique, the admirable improvisations, the possibilities of the instrument itself (last night an electronic cello and [I think for the first time] her recently acquired METAL CELLO). But in the end, it’s not about these aspects, it’s about what Gerard pointed to………

There is nowhere for the performer to hide in this setting. Indeed, it’s not about hiding, it’s about intimacy. The public is very close to the sound. In the Bimhuis last night, there was no stage, so the performance space dissolves into the auditorium and the auditorium dissolves into the bar space behind. And from the bar, it’s just a vista of water. So the venue seems to be all about openness. It’s uplifting, that’s for sure.

Afterwards people were going up to Frances’ little gaggle of instruments like curious spectators in a zoo. A dangerous moment. Those instruments can bite if approached carelessly. And one woman caught her leg on a spike. Heh-heh.

The instruments can make tiny tiny sounds. The metal cello was having its waist tickled at one point by some bow hairs. A faint breathy sound came out.

As to the musical material in general, you would expect some lamentation at certain points……..and yes, there is enough of it to satisfy an Elgar, I think. And when the two bows come out and there are four note chords, the chance to have some rich tonality is not funked. So some baroque chord progressions appear. But arrived at from an oblique angle, touched on and quickly abandoned.

All the while, the voice, through the microphone, is making sounds that can, if they want, marry together with the cello ones. Those faint breathy cello sounds I mentioned were matched by breathy sounds from the speaker. And when the voice rises to a shout, out comes a second rank cello that can be slapped about a bit and doesn’t mind. (Mmm…..I wonder what that feels like…..?)
The movements are well proportioned. There are some short ones. This is vital, because the big trap awaiting improvisers is the tendency to be prolix.

Afterwards, people sat quietly. I didn’t myself feel like moving either. Eventually I carried some of the instruments downstairs to the dressing room and then joined my friends in the bar for a few beers.

Ophelia drowning – above it’s Harold Copping – just for a change……….

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