Known as the “modern-day Pied Piper,” Adams is regarded by many to be the greatest recorder player of our time. Stylistically unique and unbounded by historical preconceptions, he coaxes truly extraordinary sounds from his simple recorders. He has thrilled, charmed and transported listeners throughout the world, attracting the highest acclaim from audiences and the international music press. Adams’s performing career has taken him around the globe as soloist with orchestras including the BBC Symphony, the Philharmonia, The Academy of Ancient Music, Guildhall Strings, the English Sinfonia, and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra among many others. He is a member of the dazzling ensemble “Red Priest,” with whom he has won numerous awards for his recordings.
Piers Adams is regarded by many to be the greatest recorder player of our time. Stylistically unique and unbounded by historical preconceptions this modern-day Pied Piper coaxes truly extraordinary sounds from his simple recorders. He has thrilled, charmed and transported many thousands of listeners, attracting the highest acclaim from the music press :
“The reigning recorder virtuoso in the world today!”
Piers Adams trained initially as an astrophysicist before turning professionally to the recorder at the age of 21. A series of prizes and awards – including first prize in the inaugural Moeck International Recorder Competition (1985) – led to debuts in the premier London venues, and launched his busy international solo career. He has given recitals in most of the major UK festivals and concert halls (including eight to date in the Wigmore Hall) and in most European countries, as well as visits to USA, Canada, Russia and the Far East. He has been invited to perform concertos with, amongst others, the BBC Symphony and Concert Orchestras, the Philharmonia, the Academy of Ancient Music, the English Sinfonia, the City of London Sinfonia, London Musici, the Irish Chamber Orchestra, the Lapland Chamber Orchestra and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, and has made many CD recordings, reflecting his wide musical tastes. He can frequently be heard on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM, both through his recordings and live concert broadcasts, and has appeared on television in many countries – including BBC’s Pebble Mill, Blue Peter and Newsround, and in a major documentary, ITV’s South Bank Show.
In recital, Piers Adams performs with pianist and harpsichordist Howard Beach in programmes of astonishing breadth. With his unique collection of recorders he leads his audience from Arcadian gardens to wild gypsy carnivals, from the salons of Vienna to the cloistered walkways of English academia, from Zen theatre to sleazy Manhattan bars. His repertoire of concertos is equally expansive, ranging from the major works of the baroque era to David Bedford’s ear-boggling Recorder Concerto, which he has recorded and performed many times to rapturous acclaim.
Amongst Piers Adams’ most successful ventures are the world-famoius baroque supergroupRed Priest, which has brought a radical new approach to the music of the 17th and 18th centuries, and his Recorder Roadshow which has appeared on BBC news and in the Guinness Book of Records. He was also closely involved in a major multimedia venture entitled “Dances with Gods”, which combined his recorder playing with modern electroacoustics, ancient mythology and Indian dance.
Although he currently has little time for teaching, Piers Adams has been actively involved in education over the years, with professorships at a number of UK music colleges, and masterclasses at the Dartington International Summer School. He has also been active in musicological fields, researching, arranging and publishing new recorder repertoire.
“A Toot, a Whistle, a Plunk, and a Boom”
The above quotation refers to an animated cartoon made with the introducing of music to children. It sums up where music originates at least on instruments, and is fundamentally a universal truth, (although it is interesting to note that no reference to bowed string instruments is shown in the quotation). In concert with string instruments, this evening’s program deals with the “toot” part of the quotation. The recorder has been with us for a long, long time, and its origins cant be traced only in a very general way. Suffice it is to say that by the high baroque era, the recorder had attained a very high degree of sophistication, having built upon the known information from the renaissance (Silvestro Ganassi’s instruction manual of the sixteenth century was written with the recorder in mind and shows an assured, virtuosic command of the instrument one hundred eighty years later).
The writer had often wondered from whence the term, recorder, came (and this will be hashed out below) – the best explanation for this uniquely English name is that the recorder was used often to train songbirds in learning by rote. Such birds could be expensive pets – if there were to be an electronic version of such a thing, it would surely come dear! The bird would be confined as usual to its cage, and a black cloth would be placed over the cage, thus creating darkness in which it was easiest to teach, by rote, the desired repertoire into the bird’s brain. In other cultures than English, though, the recorder goes by various names: in France, it is known as the “Flute a bec,” in Germany, the sideways, or “transverse,” blowing of a flute. In his scores Johann Sebastian Bach would employ the word “flauto,” to indicate a recorder but would use “flauto traverso” for a side-blown flute.
The repertoire of the recorder is large and highly varied. One reason for this, perhaps, is that recorder are made in many different sizes from the “great bass,” which resembles a post from a stately bed, to the “sopranino,” an instrument most comfortable in the altissimo register. The same piece might be played on different instruments and therefore varied in range and in tone color (the sound of lower-voiced recorders is their mellowness, but the quality changes as the notes get higher and higher, resulting in a brilliant and penetrating sound. It might be said that, among all players of single-line instruments, the player of the recorder exploits over time one of the most extended ranges in music!
Baroque Band’s program for this evening’s concert is music that is said to be in the “stil galant,” or the gallant style. This type of music originated in early eighteenth-century Italian opera and was characterized by greater simplicity than music from the high and late baroque eras. Its phases tended to be more symmetrical (2=2, 4=4, etc.) than the magnificently eccentric lines of the real baroque style. Also, counterpoint, while never rejected, was meant to deemphasized and discreet, so that the texture of the music is more homophonic than that of the baroque, which tends to be polyphonic. In time, this style would develop, with other catalysts, into the mature classical style. The harmonic rhythm, or the succession of chords across time, is slower than the constantly shifting harmonic rhythms of high baroque music. Through composers such as Galuppi, Traetta, and many others, the gallant style became fashionable – sometimes accused of being superficial (unjustly), this music was preferred by the classes that supported it and therefore, the public who experienced it.
Giuseppe Sammartini, and his more famous brother, Giovanni Battista, composed music that displays taste, elegance, and just enough counterpoint to tickle the ears of connoisseurs (Although the taste of the early eighteenth century was in favor of a simpler type of expression, composers still learned their craft from the great contrapuntists of the sixteenth century, especially Palestrina.) Giovanni Battista is often credited for the invention of the symphony as we understand it today. The individuality sections of “Sinfonie,” heard at operas (the French and the Germans, from time to time, used overtures in deference to Jean-Baptiste Lully’s legacy), under Sammartini’s pen, which became discreet movements that, however short, answer most of the requirement of what we have come to understand vis a vis the classical era. Sammartini was the son of a French oboist named Saint-Martin and was born in Milan, where he lived all his life. Apples falling where they will, both Sammartinis became oboists and are read about in archives that afford us details of their professional lives. We know that by 1726, according to his contract as substitute “maestro de cappella” of San Ambrogio, he was described as “very famous.” He went on to compose 68 symphonies and works of all sorts for many different combinations of voices and instruments - certainly a distinguished output. Is it not ironic that Haydn, who was certainly influenced by Sammartini’s music, later in life referred to him as a “scribbler?”
Giuseppe Sammartini, the older brother, traveled more than Giovanni Battista – he made his way to London, where he earned the praise shown in his obituary (or necrology, is one wishes to be more recherche): “24 November, 1750 – Last week died at his Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, Signior S. Martini, Musick Master to her Royal Highness and thought to be the finest performer on the hautboy in Europe.” Apparently not as prolific a “scribbler” as his brother, Giuseppe shows a handsome array of compositions for the oboe and recorder as well as many other works for voices and instruments.
At this point in the notes, it is well to remember that musicians over the centuries have “doubled,” or played more than one instrument in a group. Burl Lane, a former member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, played bassoon and also played the saxophone and the contrabassoon when required. The musicians union always charges extra by the way of a “doubling fee” when it is expedient to have one player cover more than one instrument. In our own time, professional flautists will often double on recorder (sometimes, we regret, producing a vibrato that resembles a Buick trying to start at 0 Fahrenheit.), but in the eighteenth century, it was common for oboists to play the recorder as well. One of the best examples of this practice is shown in the score to Handel’s “Acis and Galatea:” Both the oboe and the recorder (alto and sopranino) are called for in the score – in these numbers, there are no oboe parts, thus indicated that the players doubled.
The name Telemann is familiar to all of us, in concert, recordings, and in this series of notes from former performances. He served as the musical director for the city of Hamburg and was the founder of the Collegium Musicum of Leipzig, and ensemble later directed by Johann Sebastian Bach. He holds the Guinness record for being the most prolific composer yet known – for example, we are fortunate to have preserved two of the passions of Bach. Telemann wrote 47 of them. From Bach, we have just over 200 cantatas, sacred and secular – from Telemann, we have approximately 1,500 sacred cantatas alone!
In any event, Telemann shows great mastery of all sorts of musical types combined with a deft use of instruments in supporting and solo roles. It is interesting to note that Telemann was the city of Leipzig’s first choice for Cantor, and Bach was the third (if eventual) choice.
Likewise has Antonio Vivaldi been chronicled in pages past – one of the most influential musicians of the baroque era, Vivaldi also showed a brilliant sense of what instruments could do. As virtuoso violinist, Vivaldi made new demands upon performers along with imagining instrumental combinations of unceasingly varied color and mood. As the occasional music director of Ospedale della Pieta, he wrote for an extremely accomplished orchestra of young ladies and was well known and published He excelled, certainly, in his won right – added to this credit is the influence that he had on the mature music of Johann Sebastian Bach, who benefited greatly from his knowledge of Vivaldi’s music.
Among good folks whose names have not become household words, Francesco Onofrio Manfredini studied music in Bologna – he learned the violin from Torelli and counterpoint with a composer named Perti. His father had been a trombonist for the church of San Petronio (home of one of the most remarkable organs of the Italian renaissance), whose liquid acoustics favor music very much. Accordingly, Manfredini the younger served in the orchestra of the parish. This ensemble unfortunately, went belly up in 1696, thus encouraging Manfredini to seek employment in Ferrara. He wrote 43 works that were published and many more that exist in manuscript, including church symphonies, concertos, sonatas, and oratorios.
All of tonight’s composers had at least a flirtation with the gallant style, some more and some less. Telemann’s music was much more popular in the German speaking world than was Bach’s, largely because Telemann’s music was considered t o be fashionable, being cast in the more gallant style. It is worthy of note, though, that Bach also had an extensive relationship with the style, at least until the mid 1730′s, and this can be heard in many of his works. The combination of the style cultivated by Bach’s son, Carl Philipp Emmanuel, would eventually merge with the gallant style to produce the high classical, which reached its apogee in the late eighteenth-century in the works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Once again, though, the musical culture of Italy has reinvented itself by the creation of the gallant style – perhaps not as dramatic a leap as that of a century before (the transition, represented most ably by Monteverdi, from the renaissance to the baroque), it charms us with its creativity and commands respect for its wide-ranging influence in the history of music.
Virtuosity, showmanship shine in period-instrument concert
The last 20 years brought a startling level of virtuosity to period-instrument performance, and Wednesday night’s concert in the Grainger Ballroom of Orchestra Hall served as a vivid illustration.
British recorder player Piers Adams joined Garry Clarke and Baroque Band in an exploration of music written in the gallant style that charmed 18th Century audiences with grace and simplicity.
But the exquisite celebrations of happiness tinged with melancholy that typified the gallant style in painting were not for Adams. His performances of four recorder concertos showed a technical command that would have far surpassed players of the period, and he drove it home with a showmanship more indebted to contemporary rock musicians than the delicacy of canvases by Jean-Antoine Watteau.
To leather pants Adams added jackets and shirts that he changed with the music. Blue and black were for Georg Philipp Telemann and Giuseppe Sammartini, two shades of red for “the Red Priest” Antonio Vivaldi. Bodily movement also acted out passages of the scores with lunges, half crouches and — in Telemann’s Concerto in C for alto recorder – balancing on one leg.
Every note sounded fresh and crisp, with air around it even in the fastest music, which at times was pushed to the limit. In the second movement of Sammartini’s Concerto in F for descant recorder Adams also provided a short but elaborate ad libitum cadenza, again played with force and dazzle.
The recorder concertos on each half of the program were separated by works for string ensemble alone. Here, in Clarke’s performances of concerti grossi by Giovanni Sammartini and Francesco Manfredini, could be discerned something different from virtuosity. Speeds slowed, tone relaxed, volume dropped from an omnipresent forte. And in, say, the interchanges between Joan Plana and Wendy Benner’s violins the ease of the gallant style replaced near-fierce flamboyance.
However, the C-minor and C-major Vivaldi concertos, for alto and sopranino recorders, returned to the evening’s bowl-you-over proficiency. It eased only in an encore, the slow movement from “Winter” of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” which Clarke began but left to Adams and players without a conductor.