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Destined for the top

Sarah Saunders
of Phoenix Rising


Every now and then a talented young group emerges whose performers look -- and sound -- destined for the top.

It may take a time to get there. There may be disappointments along the way. The logistics of keeping a group together and finding sufficiently stretching high-quality work may pose a threat to its very existence. But where real talent is involved -- and the Amsterdam Conservatoire-trained musicians of the Early Music ensemble Phoenix Rising are prodigiously talented -- you can bet your bottom dollar each of the young performers will make the mark somehow, both individually and collectively, amid intense competition, within their chosen music genre.

Mastering the Baroque violin, or cello, or oboe, is a fiendishly difficult undertaking. To study, there are places to go, and some places probably not to go.

High on the 'plus' side one might place Vienna -- pioneering home to Harnoncourt's Concentus Musicus; New York's Juillard School; Boston; the Schola Cantarum of Paris or Basle; and London's Royal Academy of Music, where Douglas Cummings's input, and before him the late John Toll's, has turned out performer after performer of real quality and high personal playing standards.

Yet arguably the optimum place to study is Holland: the Early Music Festival in Utrecht -- home to top Baroque oboist Frank de Bruine -- is like a Walsingham to Baroque players; Dutch Radio in nearby Hilversum is attuned to the audience potential of Early Music; while in Amsterdam, with the likes of Ton Koopman, clavichordist Menno van Delft, Baroque violinists Lucy van Dael and Johannes Leertouwer and harpsichordist Bob van Asperen, Early Music hopefuls gather like bees round a honeypot.

That's where Phoenix Rising began life -- performing in the Dutch city's gaunt Baroque churches and making music together in the teeming practice rooms of the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam, whence many of the world's young hopefuls and future musical stars have emerged.

The four principals who make up Phoenix Rising came there from Spain, from Sweden, and (via Vienna) from the United Kingdom, where the group's artistic leader and one of its moving spirits, Baroque oboist and recorder player Sarah Saunders, has her family home which serves as a UK base and Midlands starting point for the ensemble's British appearances.

Phoenix Rising
Phoenix Rising

Who they are matters. Of that, more later. But it's on the music they perform, and the way they perform it, that Phoenix Rising's terrific potential hinges.

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Copyright © 22 March 2005 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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