Music and Vision homepage Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller


<<  -- 3 --  Jennifer Paull    REMINISCENT RETROSPECTIVES


Musical customs vary. In England, it is usual for the musician playing the solo instrument obligato to stay seated in the orchestra. Here, in Switzerland, it is equally usual to invite that player to the front to stand beside the singer.

As in all the Cantatas and Passions, each oboist is called upon to play several different oboes. I was also playing oboe, and Bach knew that before an important solo, the player would wish to warm up his oboe d'amore. The recitative immediately prior to this obligato was the moment I changed instruments. I started to play, and nothing happened! I nudged my colleague with my left knee. Notes changed and the long note I was now holding sounded! I had to repeat the previous note and this time, there was a gurgle and spluttering; a general underwater tone quality!

Water has one of the toughest membranes. Sometimes, the humidity of the warm air going through a wind instrument from one's mouth, and the cold of the atmosphere can make condensation into a frightening danger. The first thing after playing is to mop through the bore of an instrument with one of several special devices that prevent the build up of humidity. Of course, even with the best of care, which my instruments certainly know, an omnipresent danger exists. There I was, both feet in the quicksand!

My colleague realised that water was blocking one of the instrument's tone holes. There is a Murphy's Law about this sort of thing. Water will never block just one when it can fill two. But which two ? The answer is to slide a piece of cigarette paper under the right piece of mechanism, and hope that the water will simply flood the paper leaving the hole clear and dry. That is the plan. In the reality of that moment, there were several tone hole possibilities and fewer seconds before I had to walk through the orchestra to the front of the stage. He tried to slide the paper under a key as I tried to keep on playing; total failure on both counts.

I walked through the orchestra to the soloist, shaking the instrument with each step, praying that the water film would be dislodged and the key freed.

This was another of those panicky moments one never forgets. I had no idea when I started, whether anything would come out remotely resembling music and less a diving submarine, than had been the case during the recent recitative.

It worked! I got through the obligato without a hitch and to this day, I can't imagine how. When I returned to my place, I had to deal with the situation properly. There was enough water to fill 3 pieces of cigarette paper! How had I possibly been able to play?

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Copyright © 1 February 2002 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland





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