Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Getting to grips with G&S

Tue Apr 16 2019

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"One thing that is always surprising to me is how beautifully the softest sounds carry." @houghhough talks preparat… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…

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This week’s Trial by Jury is our first ever concert of music by Gilbert and Sullivan. It’s not something period instrument orchestras such as ourselves are really known for doing. So how did we approach it? Leader Margaret Faultless discusses her meeting with conductor John Wilson.

John Wilson

“I met John Wilson over lunch in a week when he was preparing for a programme of Walton and Shostakovich and I was elsewhere playing Bach – but we were soon pouring over the G&S scores and gesticulating extravagantly to describe the sound world of this wonderfully joyful music. John is looking forward to the  natural balance created by our 19th century instruments. The wind and brass instruments have a more mellow tone than their modern counterparts and with gut strings rather than steel the whole sound world will be more transparent. What we’ll be aiming for in our playing style is a really crisp articulation (something the Orchestra is used to finding for earlier repertoire). This will match the patter of the G&S text and the importance of the both the sound and meaning of the words. What I found fascinating to discuss with John was to find ways of describing the string sound and how we’d produce it, in order for us all to know how to prepare in advance for the project. This is always really useful.  In his own orchestra, John has developed a sound world that looks back to the virtuosic studio orchestras of the US film industry and creates a sound that works now. In this project, we are looking back to the 1860’s and the world of the West End Theatre orchestra.  For the string sound and techniques will are going to work on producing  a focused, concentrated, expressive, even tone, with slow bow speed that should be incredibly exciting to listen to. We’ll explore a variety of vibratos for added expression in key places but we won’t be using many portamenti (sliding between notes). As John said to me over our lunch, this music needs ‘glitter and dash’ – we hope that’s what you’ll experience at the concert.”

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