My very photogenic gamba was photographed myriad times during Nuit Blanche, late Saturday night, as it contributed its voice to the general sound vibrating through the lobbies, corridors, atrium and concert hall of the stunning new facility at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music.

The piece was James Tenney’s 1994 creation,  In a large open space, which is, essentially, a gigantic chord that swallows and digests its individual elements, floating them out again in a shimmering rainbow of sound colours that mutates continuously throughout its duration (which in this case was 12 hours).

Amidst the many instruments around (erhu, muted tuba, contrabassoon, bowed marimba, violins, electronica and other leviathans) I don’t think my viol was heard much, being the dulcet-voiced creature that it is. But it did contribute something, in its way.

And it got me thinking: this piece would work beautifully in a much smaller “large open space” with the more pastel sound palate of early instruments – viols and recorders, lutes, dulcimers, shawms, organs would sound absolutely gorgeous radiating this chord through a church or a gallery.

And that has got me thinking about musical cross-over in general, and about a role that the performer of early instruments could play in the modern world of music: There is so much music – new and not-so-new  - out there that might be explored within the “early music” community with fascinating results, for both early music lovers and those with more contemporary tastes. I think not only of new pieces for viol consorts being written in 2009; I also hear in my inner ear transcriptions for early instruments of Barbara Pentland, Liszt, Michael Jackson. The possibilities are endless.

Why not? Along with our work on the thousands of fantasias, motets, ricercares, in nomines, and other forms so familiar to early music ears, let’s be adventurous! There’s a lot more to explore if we reach out a little.

And I don’t think James Tenney would mind one bit …

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