Early Music Festival Utrecht 2014 part: 21

Fringe concert: Ensemble Arcata

From the peaceful hortus of the university museum (see part 20) it is just a short walk to Sonnenborgh. This 16th century fortress evolved into an observatory and is now a small concert venue.

As in Kuub (see part 18), the public sits about three to five meters away from the performers. This creates quite an intimate atmosphere. It may seem that a nearly subterranean room in a former fortress is far from ideal as a concert venue. This is not the case. At an earlier Early Music Festival, I heard a concert here by an ensemble which sparked and sizzled. I have heard good concerts here by various musicians on various instruments, but so far that particular fringe concert has not been surpassed.

Tuning harpsichords

On the right: the harpsichord tuner at Sonnenborgh

While most of the public was already seated, the harpsichord was tuned. Nobody ever takes pictures of the festival’s harpsichord tuner nor applauds him for his hard work. On his bicycle he races from harpsichord to harpsichord to tune them for each fringe concert – all over Utrecht. With so many fringe concerts per time-slot, it is a hard job. It may not be a Tour de France but it certainly is a Tour de Force. When he had finished tuning this harpsichord, this audience at least gave him a well-earned applause.

Like at least two of the three previous fringe concerts of the day, the public was treated to 18th century music. Or to be more precise: to Italian sonatas from the mid 18th century. With more fringe concerts containing 18th century Italian music, there were at least two pieces I was now familiar with.

The first piece of the concert was the sonata in A op 6 nr 2 by Giuseppe Tartini. This piece was played by all three musicians and it sounded not okay. It was followed by sonata in A K. 208 by Domenico Scarlatti – solo harpsichord performance. This went pretty okay. As I love Scarlatti, I’ve heard many of his sonatas by the best harpsichord players. This performance was okay but not brilliant.

The sonata in A op 5 nr 1 of Francesco Geminiani, performed by harpsichord and violoncello was also okay. The concert ended with the sonata in A op. 1 nr 7 of Francesco Maria Veracini performed by all three musicians and this again went totally not okay.

The problem was clearly the violin. It was dreadful. Was it nerves? From observing her before the concert started, when she was walking around the room, it seemed nerves were not the problem but a dislike of the venue. But if other ensembles are able to give a sparkling, sizzling performance there, which gets the audience on its feet and shouting and clapping, there is nothing wrong with the venue.

While becoming upset by the sound of the violin, I observed other members of the public. They also pursed their lips, showed involuntary twitching, or other reactions to the horrible sound. It was not me, but it certainly was dreadful.

I’ve visited the Early Music Festival for years now. So far, there have been only two concerts where I voted “don’t want to hear this again” when handing in my voting sheet to volunteers at the end of a concert. This concert was one of them and I was pretty relieved, fringe concerts are free.

When I walked back towards the large Dom tower, I heard its carillon play. The sounds of the bells rang out over the old town. The “beiaardier” was playing either the Tartini or the Geminiani piece. I am no fan of carillon music, but it sounded a lot better than what I’d just heard.

A few streets further on, I passed someone playing on a recorder. He was also playing Italian 18th century music and a piece I now recognized from a fringe concert. It sounded better than what I had just heard.

Finally, not far from central station, I passed a girl playing on an Irish harp. She was not playing Italian 18th century music, but the music finally restored my good humour.

Ensemble Arcata:
Amy Shen violin;
Anthony Abouhamad harpsichord;
Ester Domingo Sancho viooncello

For information on Sonnenborgh: Sonnenborgh

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