Day Five: Bach by iPhone, not Bach by Candlelight

The festival highlight last night (Monday 4 Feb) was the “Bach by Candelight” concert in the Nelson cathedral. Playing continuo was our friend Erin Helyard, Lecturer in Period Performance at the NZ School of Music, who Mojo-goers will remember from his spectacular recital in Wellington last year. He also plays harpsichord in the group “Barocca”, touring for CMNZ’s Encompass series in July.


Monday 4 Feb – From Erin Helyard

The anti-cyclonic high pressure system that brought New Zealanders such pleasure over last week finally abated yesterday morning. And of course, the rain coincided with a 9am harpsichord move! Armed with curtains and sheets, we managed to swaddle and protect the instrument over the short distances out in the open. Once in place, I set about one of the first of many tunings that would occur in the cathedral, thanks to the newfound humidity. Jenny Wollerman and I rehearsed our Bach arias in the morning, as electricians and safety officers worked around us to ensure that there would be no repeat of the dramatic fire that disrupted events earlier in the Festival. We had no power or lighting for a while, so Jenny and I improvised with iPhone torches (“Bach by iPhone, not Bach by Candlelight!”) until the ever-helpful Bob Bickerton and Brendyn Montgomery lit our music stands as power was restored.

Erin Helyard performing at Adam Chamber Music Festival - Bach by Candlelight (Photo from Nelson Mail)

Erin Helyard performing at Adam Chamber Music Festival – Bach by Candlelight (Photo from Nelson Mail)

For last night’s all-Bach concert, Jenny Wollerman (soprano), Bridget Douglas (flute), Hiroshi Ikematsu (double bass), and I (harpsichord) joined the members of both the New Zealand String Quartet as well as the Penderecki String Quartet. We rehearsed for most of the afternoon and I think I ended up tuning the harpsichord five times in total, thanks to the muggy heat. A particular pleasure for me was listening to Jerzy Kaplanek (violin) and Christine Vlajk (viola) rehearse arrangements of the Two-Part Inventions, originally written for keyboard. So stylish!

A hurried dinner, yet another tuning, and the concert began in the ambience promised by the title: candlelight! It was an absolute delight to play the E-major sonata with phenomenal Canadian violinist Jeremy Bell, who played the sonata on a violin with a modern set-up but with a baroque bow. I’ve played this sonata many times but this was the most affecting, sensitive, and moving performance I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of. Jenny, Bridget, Rolf, and I performed some choice selections of Bach’s cantatas and the highlight of the second half of the concert was the B-minor orchestral suite with Bridget as soloist. This was an audience favourite and featured both quartets with Hiroshi on double-bass. This is the orchestral suite whose last movement (the “Badinerie”; from the French for “jesting”) is a popular ringtone on mobile phones, and some of the volunteers later said that they were delighted to hear the acoustic version! Bridget did a beautiful job and was encored by an appreciative audience (she is sitting opposite me now helping me write this before we board a flight back to Wellington).

As it was Rolf Gjelsten’s birthday yesterday, so we all repaired to a local cafe for drinks. It was great to chat with Euan Murdoch, who joined us afterwards (one of the topics was New Zealand beer!). Bridget and I talked and laughed well into the night until the rain finally forced us home. 

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