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'So to succeed, we have to pitch our programmes at the audiences we're dealing with; and ensure, as best we can, that -- without any special pleading for the Baroque -- we're accessible and entertaining as a chamber music group.'

The benefits, Sarah points out, are obvious: 'It means there are a lot more events that we're actually able to play at. Otherwise it would just become too limited a field.

'We want to offer something suitably challenging to early music festivals, and I think, or hope, we've done that. But realistically, a group like ours simply can't afford to confine ourselves, with the climate as it is at the moment, to playing only to the already converted. We have to make ourselves accessible to, and our presentation enjoyable by, many different audiences.'

Phoenix Rising are by no means the first Early Music group to design fascinating programmes centring on a particular country or region (one might compare Florilegium's Bolivian Baroque, the Ex Cathedra Choir's similar South American focus, Charivari Agréable's concentration on Seicento Italy plus 'Telemann and His Godsons', or the imaginative English and Venetian programmes of, say, the UK's QuintEssential Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble).

But the fact that they do is a measure of Phoenix Rising's well-focused musical and historical thinking.

Their mainly French programme (Charles II: Music, from Versailles to Windsor) focused in 2004 on the tercentenary of the death of Marc-Antoine Charpentier (c1645-1704); the singer there was the gifted young French countertenor, Dorian Astor. Likewise for their dramatic English programme they teamed up with Sophia Brumfitt, an expert in English theatre music.

They have an Italian programme ('Casanova') -- timely, given British TV's current obsession with the young and elderly roué. There are plans for not just a Spanish but an all-Catalan programme, which is being prepared by the group's beautifully poised Barcelona-born cellist, Ingrid Viñals Vilarnau.

Given two Swedes in the ensemble -- the eloquent Baroque violinist Lina Söderholtz and the group's gifted keyboard player, Joakim Olsson Kruse (now assistant organist at Kristianstad Cathedral) -- perhaps even some Scandinavian Baroque may emerge onto the Phoenix Rising schedules.

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Copyright © 22 March 2005 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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