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Good programming -- be the repertoire Spanish, French, Italian or the High German Baroque of Bach and Telemann -- is the essence of making Baroque and Early Music good entertainment. So is delivery. So is engaging your audience. So is having the nerve to carry it off, in a large or small venue alike.

Entertainment? Since when was the elevated art of Baroque and Classical Music to be seen in those terms?

'You have to bear in mind,' says Sarah Saunders, 'the history of the Early Music revival over the past half century. There was a time, at the outset, when Early Music had this really strange image: 30/40 years ago, when Gustav Leonhardt, David Munrow and even Nikolaus Harnoncourt were pioneering, there were people who saw it as a 'fringe' activity: just groups of musicologically-minded people playing on old instruments.

'That perception, as everything that's followed has proved, wasn't fair. Yet the perception led a lot of people -- potential audiences -- to become quite fearful of what the Early Music revival actually meant. Audiences then weren't so sophisticated about this kind of presentation, or at least were differently attuned. As soon as some saw the words "authentic performance" or "played on early instruments" on a concert programme, they -- well, I think it turned quite a lot of people off.

'Although all four of us specialise in Baroque and Early Music, I see us as a chamber music group. We play Baroque repertoire in much the same way a string quartet treats Classical repertoire. You wouldn't call them, and they wouldn't call themselves, because they play Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, a "Classical" music group.

'The problem hasn't totally disappeared. There are still promoters who, when you write and say "We'd very much like to come to your festival, and we play on copies of original instruments", will answer "I'm terribly sorry, but we don't have anything to do with Early Music groups like yours." It might sound surprising, but there's still quite a lot of that around.

'You have to remember that we're not always playing to "specialist" audiences. It's essential to pitch the programme to whatever audience you're actually playing to. If you appear at, say, the Brighton Early Music Festival (where Phoenix Rising performed in 2004), that's great: you've got lots of people there who are really in to Early Music, and utterly attuned to the period, possibly to the exclusion of others.

Sarah Saunders
Sarah Saunders

'But when we're invited to, say, the Stratford-upon-Avon Festival, we have to accept people don't necessarily want that. Audiences are broader. Although they're perfectly well-informed, they want first and foremost to sit down and listen to music for the sake of listening and enjoying. That applies whatever the period.

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Copyright © 22 March 2005 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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