Last night, I had arranged to meet Bill Goodwin at First Church principally to sort out details (and blow Blue Shamrock for maybe an hour) Peter Bloom had offered (more than once) to play through The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword for me ahead of the recital; so I rang him yesterday morning to see if he could pop by.
It was the first I’ve played in that space in some few years, and its beauty is both architectural (in a chaste, New England way) and sonic.
It was something of a change in plan I had pulled on our worthy Bill, by having Peter appear . . . and Bill was ready to move some plywood, when, seeing that Peter had already assembled his alto flute, he said (in a friendly and gracious way), “You do your thing first, before we do the physical tasks.” Peter said (and I thought it sounded a bit like a question, “It’s twelve minutes.” “Yes,” I replied. “I timed it,” he enlarged. “So that is more or less what you were expecting?” (Aye, exactly what I was expecting.) I sat about six rows away from Peter (and Bill sat maybe ten rows behind me), and I just relaxed and enjoyed the experience of The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword inhabiting that great space.
Now, Bill had been quite sufficiently friendly when I had first arrived at the church yesterday, everything gas & gaiters, both of us pleased to be working together again after the long hiatus. As a result of Peter’s playing my piece last night, though, the warmth in Bill’s manner notched up—I might even say, it upticked bullishly. Necessarily, he gets caught up in the mundane week-to-week happenings at the church . . . And then to hear a performer of Peter’s calibre play this wild, new piece, and to hear that in the space where he (Bill) works all the time—I think it ‘opened his ears again’. Knowing Bill all these years, I am sure that part of it was gratitude for the reminder that it is these ‘flashes of culture’ that really count, that it clearly inhabits a higher realm than the sometimes tedious goings-on in the workplace (even when that workplace is a church), and that it is those flashes which perhaps ‘redeem’ the tedium.
Peter wanted critique from me, but I was simply pleased with it all. “Any demands?” he asked. “All my demands are there on the page, and you are complying with them all nicely.” His wife Becky listened to him run the piece earlier yesterday, and made very flute-specific comments— “even though she’s not a flute-player,” qualified Peter. “And that is a talent, too,” says I.
From rehearsal as a quartet in Mary Jane’s home in Cambridge, we had a specific grouping of the four of us in mind for tonight’s concert. I had forgotten, though, how strangely cramped the space in the church is, in the spot where (acoustically) we shall want to be situated. Between the front-most pew-wall, and a raised daïs for the communion table, the space is a bit too narrow to accommodate our configuration ‘perfectly’; but with piano not quite square to the daïs, there is room for the harp in the crook (important to have eye contact between Paul and Mary Jane in Radiant Maples) and I should still be able to fit myself between the harp and the pew wall. Bill and I moved the piano, and then laid two sheets of plywood down on the floor to cover the bands of carpeting. We shall find out this afternoon if we need to make any adjustment, but it feels reasonable; and there is open space in the center, to the pianist’s back, for the solo wind pieces.
All that done, I put the clarinet together and practiced Blue Shamrock. I don’t feel that I have it all quite ‘locked down’ (so, yes, I ought to have started practicing a week earlier, as I had originally planned). Yet, it all felt reasonably comfortable. I had been playing it at home, seated (because the stand I have at home doesn’t rise high enough to play from, standing), and just two sheets at a time (as I have only the one stand . . . and, for that matter, only the practical space for the one stand). At the church, standing, and with the music splayed out over three stands, it all feels much more comfortable. So I practiced the ‘trouble spots’—which are two pages whole at a stretch—several times. Then, I borrowed Bill’s nifty electronic metronome (better in many respects than the wobbly plectrum number I have). (“I'm not sure I really want to do this,” I said to Bill, of the metronome.) It would require significant effort, still, to get a grip on the ‘ideal’ metronome markings imprinted in the score; pity I shan’t be able to, for this recording. But the bright side is, that I even think it possible. I am bringing the piece up into the soberer “range” of tempo which I want to incorporate into future Lux Nova imprints of the piece. The ‘woodshedding’ done, I then ran the piece twice; tolerably, though I still hope to better it for tonight. Strangely, I may be less tense about it, playing it at the start of the recital, than striving to rehearse it.
In all events, after I was done with the final run-through, Bill casually remarked, “Tape was running.”