“a table, four chairs, and the river of the human voice” (Zwicky)
Bach takes a brief melody as his plaything, pulling and pummelling it every which way to create a kaleidoscope of iterations. Written towards the end of his life and left unfinished, possibly as an instruction manual for how to write fugue, The Art of Fugue is a tour de force of counterpoint, delighting in the sheer virtuosity of the inventive possibilities he can conjure from a single theme. No performance instrument is specified and assigning it to a string quartet allows each strand to be embodied by an individual player, four voices weaving in and around each other – alternately arguing, agreeing, cajoling, conversing. Contemporary Canadian poet-violinist Jan Zwicky has written a poem describing such a performance, which works as the perfect companion piece. We play in the round, using instruments that Bach would have recognised, interspersing his music with Zwicky’s words, celebrating the intricacies of musical and human connection, across the room and across the centuries. Intimate seventeenth-century consort music by Scheidt and Purcell paves the way perfectly.
The original MUSICAL AND AMICABLE SOCIETY was founded in 1762 by James Kempson, who directed the choir at St Bartholomew’s Chapel, Birmingham. Together with fellow musicians from St Philip’s Church (now Birmingham Cathedral), Kempson and his singers gathered on a regular basis at Cooke’s tavern in the Cherry Orchard “for practice and recreation”! In 2003, Kate Fawcett and Martin Perkins decided to revive this historic society as a collective of professional period-instrument specialists, performing in combinations ranging from small ensembles to full orchestra. Our presiding ethos is one of chamber music – however large or small the formation – where each and every performer has a significant role to play.