Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Bon Accordes

Thanks to www.theorbo.com

Roger Child has been talking to Keith Savage about the music he brings to the Fringe every year. This year Partita play on 15 July and Accordes on 22 July - both in St John's Church.

You’ve been bringing Partita and Accordes to Buxton for 15 years now – what changes have you noticed about the interest in, and reception to, the early music you play and sing?
We have greatly enjoyed our annual visits to Buxton – for the wonderful venue of St John’s Church and for the good lively atmosphere of the Festival and Fringe. Our audiences have varied in size as one would expect, but there has been a satisfying underlying trend of gradually increasing numbers.

‘Early music’ – are you happy with that label or would you prefer another (or none)?
I think 'early music' has become a widely accepted label which has probably largely outgrown a former phase when it carried, for some, a sort of derogatory ‘hey nonny no’ image. Although a minority interest within the general ‘classical’ music world, it has grown and there are now more and more superb ensembles springing up year by year.

Much of your repertoire is very rare – the product of your own research – how important is it to you to find ‘new’ pieces?
It’s a nice paradox that many who are attracted to ‘old’ music love to find ever more ‘new’ old music! Part of the attraction of making return visits is certainly the stimulation of the challenge to find new repertoire, but there is also a lot of pleasure to be had from blending the new with the well-known and well-loved classics of the repertoire. There can be dangers in too much focus on newness and rarity – I once went to a concert of a whole evening of Walter von der Vogleweide – which was a bit much even for me!

When you find a new piece what encourages you to try it out and bring it to your repertoire?
Some of the pieces which become new to our repertoire are ones that I or other group members have heard for the first time in concerts, cds, or radio and have caught our attention as standing out from the crowd in quality and character. It then becomes a process of seeing if the voices and instruments at our disposal could represent the music in a way which would result in a satisfying performance. Other new repertoire arises from research into published collections of composers or genres - with our earliest repertoire this may be in the form of facsimiles of hand-written manuscripts.

Is there going to be anything ‘new’ this year? If so do you want to tell us something about it?
A good proportion of both our Buxton concerts is 'new' this year - that’s a big part of the fun for us and, we hope, our audiences. This year will include some rearrangements for our forces of a previously un-researched cache of music from the court of Elizabeth I – music which would originally have been played by a slightly mysteriously named court ensemble referred to as 'the three lutes' (mysterious in the sense that we only know for certain who one of the the players was: John Johnson, Elizabeth’s principal lutenist). A lutenist friend - Stewart McCoy - has been reconstructing some of the music which is likely to have been in the repertoire of 'the three lutes' and is preparing a collection for publication later this year. With Stewart and another lutenist friend I’ve been involved in helping to 'test drive' these newly reconstructed pieces – a 21st century imitation of Elizabeth’s 'three lutes'.
We will also be celebrating the Purcell and Handel anniversaries with some 'new to us' repertoire – including music from Handel’s opera Flavio which we first performed on 14th May this year - which, by a happy coincidence, was the date when it received its very first performance.

You play a bewildering collection of stringed instruments. If you could only keep one, which would it be and why?
That’s an interesting nightmarish question which I do occasionally ask myself. I would really hate only being able to keep one, but if that was the only possible scenario I think it would have to be the theorbo (the kind of “turbo” long-necked lute) Why? - I love the sound of the extra low bass notes provided by the long set of strings and also I have come to specially love the particular instrument I play – it has the winning combination of a superb 'feel' and a distinctive tone quality. (Now I feel a complete heel for not nominating my renaissance lutes, baroque guitar, or bass viol!!)

Why do you think early music has enjoyed the relative success and popularity that it has in recent years?
There are many elements in different forms of early music which keep drawing me back into it – there can be clarity, immediacy, purity, austerity, simplicity, complexity, heart-breaking melancholy, exuberant energy and joy, the special timbres of early instruments and of early vocal styles, the buzz of being able to connect much of it to specifically known historical contexts, wonderful settings of poetic texts, and – placed in a context of some other forms of music – it’s often just so refreshingly tuneful !

Some contemporary jazz and world musics seem to me to borrow from the language of early music. Do you listen to such contemporary music – or what other music do you enjoy listening to?
I think many musicians enjoy experimenting with cross-overs from differing musical forms and certainly, in its original time early music was in effect a vast array of ‘world musics’ many of which also enjoyed seeking opportunities to blend different newly encountered styles. I do certainly enjoy some contemporary jazz and world musics and – going off at a tangent – one of my all time favourite Handel cds is a recording of harpsichord suites played on piano by Keith Jarrett – it's interesting to speculate: does he play these Handel suites so well because of his jazz background or is it simply that he’s as good at Handel as he is at jazz? I’ve also greatly enjoyed the collaborations of the Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Garbarek and of John Potter and John Surman – and I’ve just been enjoying a new Monteverdi cd by L’Arpeggiata which has one track treated to jazz styling to terrific effect.

by Keith Savage - Published 15/05/2009

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