Arts & Events

Farallon Recorder Quartet Performs at St. Alban’s Church

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday July 09, 2009 - 10:06:00 AM

The Farallon Recorder Quartet—Annette Bauer, Letitia Berlin, Frances Blaker and Louise Carslake—will perform at 8 p.m. tonight (Thursday) at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Albany, featuring works from the 14th century to the present. 

Letitia Berlin spoke about the founding of the Quartet, as well as about the musical pieces they’ll play—and of their instrument. 

Farallon started out in 1996, “with slightly different personnel. Frances and I were living in Georgia at the time, and got together with Louise and another recorder player. The next year, we moved out here and decided to find a local player.” 

To find “the distinct aim for our own, individual group sound,” Berlin said the Quartet realized “there were not that many professional recorder groups in the world” and that they wanted to “work towards something that was not just on a project basis, but a mix of Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and modern music, written for recorder quartet.” 

Both halves of the concert will move chronologically, from the 14th century to modern times, though the second half will jump from the 14th to 17th century, then to the 20th. A piece by Blaker, “Southern Nights,” will be played. “Frances is from here, but living in Atlanta was struck by the evocative sounds—sitting on a porch at night, the noise is tremendous! A combination of crickets and bugs ...” 

The program focuses on English music—“We’re getting ready for an English recording”—including Henry Purcell; a dance, an estampie, from the Robertsbridge Codex, dating from 14th century Sussex; two from the Henry VIII manuscript—“in keyboard format ... for an organist? We added two voices”—which may include songs by the King; works by John Lloyd, William Cornish and William Byrd, plus Blaker’s own arrangement of Vivaldi; Thomas Lupo; “a little bit of [J. S.] Bach—and Mattias Maute, of Montreal. 

All four players are freelance musicians in the Early Music community; the Quartet is affiliated with the San Francisco Early Music Society. “We have a really good time together.” Berlin and Baker both direct Early Music workshops around the country; Berlin also teaches in her studio. “Louise teaches after school at Cornell School in Albany and at Oxford and Thousand Oaks in Berkeley, sponsored by the San Francisco Early Music Society and a grant from the City of Berkeley. It’s free to the kids. And Annette Bauer—who came to the Bay Area to study sarode at the Ali Akhbar School of Music, was trained in Orff Method, a great pedagogical method for teaching children movement and music; she’s taught in the Orff teacher training school.” 

Berlin and Blaker have worked together for 18 years. “Louise is also a Baroque flute player in Music’s Recreation, a group with her viol player husband, John Dornenberg.” Berlin also runs “my own private travels, taking recorder players to study music ... wherever!” 

Berlin and Blaker also make up the Tibia Duo, so named because that bone was used to make early flutes. 

“The earliest recorders were in the flute family, though not flutes, although in other languages often called a flute,” Berlin commented. “They date from the 14th century—and have been found in peat bogs and in the bottom of a latrine.” 

To be a recorder, the instrument has to have a thumbhole and seven holes on top for fingers, and direct blow, like a whistle, not across, like a flute.  

“It really is the perfect modern instrument,” said Berlin, “so flexible; it makes all kinds of sounds. In the early 20th century, Arnold Dolmetsch, an Englishman, found recorders from the 17th century, and said let’s get back to real period instruments. Recorders almost disappeared at the end of the Baroque as the symphony orchestra developed; they weren’t loud—so they were played at home by amateurs.” 

Berlin mentioned Franz Bruggen, considered the father of modern virtuoso playing. “He read the old treatises. There’s a lineage of teachers that come after Bruggen, to America. Frances studied with one of his students.” 

Berlin also spoke about the different types of recorders and their adaptation to modern music. “A recorder I own has a wide range dynamically. Normally, it’s quite small. It has a spring-loaded chin rest you can push up and down for loud or soft.” 

“I have a mission to educate about the instrument,” Berlin concluded, “To show it’s more than a kid’s plastic recorder in fourth grade, before going into band class.”  



8 p.m. Thursday, July 9 at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, 1501 Washington Ave., Albany. $15-$20. 559-4670.