It simply was not my day. But nevertheless, I had managed to obtain tickets for two fringe concerts at Sonnenborgh. This is a small venue at the edge of Utrecht and graduated from being a fort to being an observatory and now being used for small concerts.
One might presume that the acoustics are a problem. They are fine. Especially, when the air starts to warm up by the presence of musicians and audience. The audience does sit quite close to whoever are performing in the old battlement.
When I filed in to find a seat, I had already been handed a program and a voting form. On each seat members of the public found a sheet of double-sided printed texts. They were the song texts of works of several composers listed on the program.
Many in the public were already as miffed as I was, about something which had happened between 09:00 and 10:00. Finding song-texts on our seats made us presume the concert would be a mix of voice(s) and instrumental pieces. This turned out not to be the case. Or as a fellow concert visitor mentioned to me afterwards: “Why hand out song texts, when these are not going to be sung?”
After two works, or rather arrangements of improvisations on cantus firmus composed for more than one voice by Adrian Willaert, Barbara Holzhofer announced there were changes in the program.
As the fellow concert visitor later remarked: “It is difficult enough to follow medieval and renaissance songs and their texts. When musicians change around the program and do not explain anything, or not enough, the public is totally at a loss”. I was not totally lost, but after Willaert, I think Giovanni Bassano’s two pieces were played and the concert ended with works by Cipriano de Rore. On the other hand: I may have gotten totally lost in the song-woods after Adrian Willaert, as most of the public was.
The majority of works had been composed as songs, many for more than one voice. Les Voices Fleuries played them as arrangements for violins and doublebas. According to the program, Sayaka Shinoda was going to play two different violins. I did not notice her changing instrument.
In front of me, a man was taking copious notes during the whole concert. I never need copious notes; just indicate which pieces are exceptionally well performed, or what is changed in the program. If anything is changed in the program. Then a few words to jog my memory for interesting things like a special looking theorbo or the interaction between musicians or musicians and their public etc. The man was making notes on the front and back of the program. No idea if this should be interpreted as good or bad. I sincerely hope this was not a talent scout.
According to me, this concert was okay but certainly not mind-blowing, impressive, or whatever. The venue was not sold out and the public did not treat Les Voies Fleuries to a standing ovation. It may have been the first time Les Voies Fleuries took part or qualified for the fringe circuit of the Early Music Festival.
Perhaps Les Voies Fleuries will return next year. From what I gleaned from visitors who had been at another fringe concert, the Lagrime concert which was all about Willaert, this fringe concert was even less impressive than my morning’s choice. There the stage presence and presentation had been even worse and the public totally lost in the woods of medieval and renaissance songs.
Musicians pay attention: you may totally understand the music you are playing and know all about the composers and developments and more. The average audience, even at the Utrecht Early Music Festival, may not.
If you are on the fringe circuit, your public does judge you. Not just on how you perform and how good you execute your concert and selected pieces. The public also judges your stage presence and how you act on stage and interact with your audience. You may think this unfair, but this is the reality. So far, the best example of how to win over your audience has been the ensemble Aerodynamic’s concert. It is one of the reasons they were awarded the public’s prize in 2015 and are now part of the fabulous fringe.
You find this a critical post? Les Voies Fleuries have another chance during this 35th edition of this Early Music Festival. They play again Thusday 1st of September, at the beautiful Utrecht University Museum, at 11:00.
As this venue is small with limited seats, tickets need to be collected at the fringe ticket booth on the day, between 09:00 and well before 11:00.
Les Voies Fleuries:
Sayaka Shinoda violin;
Angelina holzhofer violin;
Barbara Hünninger doublebas