Thursday, 22 February 2018

Oriental Miscellany

"We're very lucky to get to see something of this quality, aren't we?" said the lady sitting next to me in the audience for the Oriental Miscellany concert at Booth Books on Tuesday evening. It was close to being a full house, in seats set out down the middle of the room upstairs, with the stage by the stairs. They'd managed to get a rather fine harpsichord up there.
The player of the harpsichord was Jane Chapman, professor of harpsichord at the Royal College of Music, accompanied by Yu-Wei Hu on a baroque flute and, for a piece called The Bird-Fancyer's Delight, a much smaller flute to mimic the songs of the sky lark, canary bird, East India nightingale and bullfinch. Yu-Wei Hu has performed all over Europe, with many period chamber ensembles and orchestras - and here they both were, performing in Hay. They've also worked with musicians from Afghanistan, who could recognise some of the original Indian songs the pieces were based on.

It was a fascinating evening. Around 1789, there was a small colony of British people living in India, mostly working for the East India Company. Some of them were keen musicians, who had begun to collect the music of the Indians they lived amongst and adapt it for Western instruments.
Between the pieces, Jane Chapman read extracts from letters and diaries of women who were living in India - one of whom lamented the effect of the local climate on the tuning of her harpsichord, which sounded as if someone had thrown water all over it in one particularly damp period. Margaret Fowke wrote about persuading Indian musicians to retune their instruments so that she could join in with her harpsichord, and Sophia Plowden also collected music. Songs in various Indian languages were also translated into Persian for the benefit of the Western listeners who could understand it.
In 1789, William Hamilton Bird went to India, collected music which he called the Oriental Miscellany, and arranged it into a sonata - for harpsichord and flute.
They also played popular pieces from Europe which had reached India, including some Old Scots Tunes and some Handel, and they finished of the evening with Bird's Sonata. They really brought to life the social scene in India, where ladies like Sophia and Margaret organised musical parties (some in Indian costume), and gentlemen came home from their work in the offices of the East India Company to play the flute while a young lady played harpsichord. Yu-Wei Hu commented that the flute was usually a gentleman's instrument, because it involved the player pulling faces, which a young lady with marriageable prospects wouldn't have wanted to do!

So now I'm really looking forward to their next concert The Man Hurdy-Gurdy and Me, which will be on Friday 23th March at 7pm in St Mary's Church. As well as a hurdy-gurdy, performers will be playing lute, medieval harp, keyboards, percussion, accordion, oboe, flutes and recorders, combining folk, early music and modern music. Tickets are £14.00 from Booths Bookshop or the Bookshop Cinema.

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