A harpist, a harpsichordist and a pianist walk into a bar...
There is always something a little bit quirky, a little bit left of centre in Frank Martin's music. It is seldom avant garde enough harmonically to offend the ear, but there will always be a little curiosity, whether it be in the technique used by the solo instrument, or, more commonly, the collection of instruments used.
I mean, seriously, who would consider having a harp, a piano and a harpsichord as their three solo instruments? Martin seemed to have a soft spot for the harpsichord as it features in quite a lot of his output. Not bad going for an instrument that is generally confined to period instrument ensembles and the sound of which the famously acid-tongued conductor Sir Thomas Beecham likened to two skeletons copulating on a tin roof in a thunder storm.
The combination of the three solo instruments is certainly an original sound - I quite like it. The work itself is quite a fun play, but it is quite tricky for ensemble; the orchestra is split in two, meaning we are very spread out, exacerbated by the large physical size of the solo instruments and it is quite difficult to hear each other!
Sadly, the Martin is the only work I am needed for in this Friday's concert. I'm a bit gutted not to be in the Stravinsky Concerto in D as I haven't played it since the heady days of Irish Youth Orchestra. There is a brief, but brilliant, viola solo in the first movement that to me sounds like some sort of crazy jazz goblin. I think you can still hear echoes of his earlier string work, Apollon Musagète (1928), another true masterpiece of the string orchestra repertory, in this Concerto from the 1940s.
I'm actually quite looking forward to listening to the rest of the concert on Friday evening. I've always struggled a bit with Lutosławski's music. I think Gwen (1st Violin) put it well yesterday when she said that you get a sense of achievement from getting from the beginning to the end and knowing you're in the right place, but I've just never really 'clicked' with his music. Friday will be a good opportunity for me to sit down and listen to his Double Concerto for Harp and Oboe (with soloists Catrin Finch, harp, and Lucas Macias Navarro, oboe) - perhaps I will enjoy the music more as a listener than as a player.
Of course, the most important note from the studio this week is that I have found a bow! It's all very exciting, a bit like having a new toy, but better. I am now officially poor, but very pleased. It is a Dodd bow from the 1800s and is very elegant and classy. Next on my list of things to buy is a new viola case as my regular case is falling apart and my old-style case weighs a ton. My new bow deserves to travel in style you know!
The Orchestra performs music by Martin, Lutosławski, Stravinsky and Honegger tonight at 7pm, at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay. Tickets are available by calling 0800 052 1812. The concert will also be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.