Showing posts with label Baroque on the Edge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baroque on the Edge. Show all posts

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Baroque and roll: a guest post by Lindsay Kemp

It's sometimes crossed my mind that if we took even half the energy and resources that went on researching offbeat baroque repertoire and "authentic" presentation and put it into new music instead, some rather exciting, up-to-the-minute music-making might result. And at last, here comes something that mingles the two: Baroque on the Edge, which takes place at LSO St Luke's in early January, under the direction of Lindsay Kemp and Lucy Bending. Lindsay, formerly artistic director of the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music and the London Festival of Baroque Music, has written a thought-provoking guest post for us about what they're attempting, and how, and why. Enjoy! JD


Lindsay Kemp wonders if there has to be 

only one way to programme baroque music 

Is baroque music about composers or performers? Is what counts the notes as written down or what an inspired musician can make of them? And is it about context – by which I mean  historical context – or about 200-300-year-old music serving as raw material for anyone to play with and make contemporary, as if it were a folk song or a jazz standard?

Well of course there are no rules in this matter, though you could be forgiven for thinking so from the way some people talk. But while all of the above are certainly valid, I think it’s fair to say that most festivals that set out to devote themselves to baroque music tend to start out from the composers/written notes/historical point of view. I know that’s true of the ones I’ve been involved in over the years, principally the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music and its successor the London Festival of Baroque Music, in which for ten years I had enormous fun building around themes which, however widely they might have ranged and however virtuosic and/or imaginative the musicians I found to realise them, emerged in the first instance from a historical understanding of the music they contained.

Joanna MacGregor
Nothing wrong with that. Few would deny that it is the ‘historically informed’ approach to baroque music that has brought so much of it back into the light with such vitality and understanding over the last fifty years. But as I was preparing to step down from LFBM last May, I got to wondering how it would be if one were to plan a baroque music festival from the other direction, as it were. What if instead of concentrating on being historically aware and obsessing on when a piece of music was written, or who or what it was written for, I could find a way of celebrating what it actually is, what its inner lights are, shining unfiltered through the centuries to illuminate any musician of talent and imagination? What if we were to have a ‘no-rules’ baroque music festival? Thus was Baroque at the Edge born.

If it sounds like a dismissal of everything the early music movement stands for, it certainly isn’t intended to be. I’ve been a ‘believer’ in it ever since my teens, and my own experience of the kind of performer who tends to be drawn to it has taught me that there are plenty of them with the open minds, requisite skills in improvisation and flair for intimate communication with an audience that make them natural and free interpreters of baroque music. I’ve invited some of them to the inaugural Baroque at the Edge: Paolo Pandolfo, the gamba genius who can compel you to silence with a piece of Marais but also deliver an entire programme of gripping improvisations that effortlessly blend the baroque with the whatever else comes into his head, be it jazz or The Beatles; Thomas Dunford, who plays Dowland with heart-melting beauty while also merging minds and styles with Persian percussion-master Keyvan Chemirani; and violinist Bjarte Eike, who can play a Biber Sonata with the best of them and yet channel his upbringing in rural Norway into folk-fiddling mixes and atmospheric contemporary creations in the company of jazz pianist and composer Jon Balke.  

'Breaking the Rules', Gerald Kyd (centre) as Gersualdo with the Marian Consort
Photo: Robin Mitchell for the Lammermuir Festival

In addition, however, I wanted to find a context for baroque masterpieces among the music of our own time, which is why the festival opens with a recital by one of the most adventurous of all today’s pianists, Joanna MacGregor, who will set pieces by Rameau, Daquin, Couperin, Pachelbel, Byrd and Purcell among works by Messiaen, Birtwistle, Gubaidulina and Glass. Another concert will see young recorder virtuoso Tabea Debus and lute-player Alex MacCartney putting music by Telemann alongside companion pieces specially commissioned from Colin Matthews, Laura Bowler and Fumiko Miyachi. And finally, the festival seemed a perfect setting for the London premiere of Clare Norburn’s highly acclaimed concert-drama Breaking the Rules, which visits Carlo Gesualdo (played by actor Gerald Kyd) on the last dark night of his life, with music from The Marian Consort ramping up the tension.

I think Baroque at the Edge may well be the first festival to set out specifically to explore this approach, and my hope is that it will appeal to people who know their baroque music and admire many of these artists already, as well as attract a new audience of curious-minded listeners for whom genres and conventions are less important than the way the music actually sounds, and how it can feed the act of musical creation in front of their eyes. That’s got to be worth a go hasn’t it?  

‘Baroque at the Edge’ runs from 5-7 January 2018 at LSO St Luke’s in London.