Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Spinal Chords in rehearsal

Fri 3 Feb 2012

Giving a world premiere of a new work is, understandably, a rareity for the OAE. It’s not totally unknown however, and we have performed new pieces by Mark Anthony Turnage, Jonathan Dove and Heiner Goebbels in the past. Indeed the Goebbels has become something of a signature piece for us and the London Sinfonietta, with us notching up several performances now, across Europe and the USA.

This Sunday sees us give our latest premiere, this time by Sally Beamish. It is part of Music 20×12, 20 new works commissioned by the PRS for Music Foundation for the Olympic Year. Scored for strings only, it is set to text by The Times columnist Melanie Reid, and we are very pleased to have secured actress Juliet Stevenson to narrate it.

Sally Describes the piece in her programme note:

“I have known Melanie Reid, and enjoyed her writing, ever since I moved to the Stirlingshire village where we both live, in 1996. When she had her devastating riding accident in 2010, and began writing ‘Spinal Column’ in The Times, I followed it every week.

The idea of working with her came to me when the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment asked me for suggestions for a PRS for Music Foundation New Music 20×12 Cultural Olympiad commission. To my delight, she agreed, and I received the text for Spinal Chords (her title) in May 2011.

It was hard to know how I could best serve the words, which I found deeply moving; but Melanie’s title gave me a good starting point: the idea of the chord as the backbone of the music. ‘Cords’ (without an ‘h’) also suggest strings, threads, linking and joining. I realised the role of the music should be as a backdrop for a very slow drama – that of Melanie’s ‘spinal journey’.

The decision to use an actor, rather than a singer, was to preserve the directness of the text, and of Melanie’s own voice.

I started with twelve chords, which are stated, very slowly, three times; each time in a different key. The chords themselves are closely linked to each other : each builds on the one before. The string orchestra is treated as a large chamber group, with 13 solo lines, and the chords are stated at first by broken-up groups of players, gradually consolidating into larger groups, and then with the addition of ornamentation, and later, scales. The music reflects the agonising slowness of recovery, and the gradual re-connecting as the body finds ways to heal.

The piece uses the distinctive techniques of Baroque string playing: expressive bowstrokes, with a minimum of vibrato. I also draw on the similarities between Scottish traditional ornamentation, and that of Baroque music.”

Today saw the first rehearsal of the piece, with composer Sally Beamish in attendance, and here are a few pictures of the rehearsal.

Sally will appear alongside violinist Matthew Truscott, who is directing the concert, on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune today from 5.45pm. If you miss it you can listen to it again here.

You can read more about the collaboration between Sally and Melanie in The Times here (subscribers only)

The World Premiere of Spinal Chords is at Southampton’s Turner Sims on Sunday 5 February, with the London Premiere at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 10 […]

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A Theorbo goes undercover to Warsaw

Mon 19 Sep 2011

Soho Factory outside

We’re all up early and ready for the fun and games that is check in at Heathrow. 3 staff narrow their eyes at the theorbo at once: “Have you ever travelled with it before?”  ummm…   I refrain from saying “only the last 20 years” and smile as they figure out the procedure about extra seats.  These days (and I hope no one from BAA is reading this) you can’t buy seats for “lute” or “theorbo” so I have to go under cover as “cello”.  And hope it fits. Which on the way back, it doesn’t.  Fortunately the stewardesses on the plane itself are very chilled, and we rig up an arrangement involving more than my fair share of seat in a prime place next to the loo…

This is the first outing of Heiner Goebbels Songs of Wars I have seen since we were in Modena in May.  One of the pleasures of this piece, aside from getting to catch up with the London Sinfonietta in glorious form, is checking out the audience reaction to the mixture of Gertrude Stein and old and new instruments.  When we did it in New York in March several friends and friends of friends said the weirdest thing was hearing us read the Stein with our apparently “cut glass” British accents (not sure my Mum would recognise the cut glass bit…). Reminded me that the texts already have a music of their own, before Heiner adds his definitive  mix of swing, last-post trumpet and ammunition effects and the odd bit of Matthew Locke, to Stein’s words.

The coach goes through gleaming sunshine and grand looking central town buildings. And then on some. And then on some more to a random-looking shed on an industrial estate. And stops.  Er…

It’s a dilapidated but very trendy-looking old factory, which has an unexpectedly resonant acoustic.  Good news, you might think, but not really for the combination of intricate rhythms and words, which are in danger of all melding together.  “It sounds terrible but you’re doing you’re best” smiles Goebbels, not altogether reassuringly.  But Ian the sound genius has it all under control, and gradually we can hear things we haven’t heard before in conventional halls. Picking your way in the dark to the other bit of concrete that is backstage is interesting: fog lights are set up which cast film noir kinds of shadows on the huge bare walls.  For this performance we have some “newbies” to this piece in OAE, who pick it all up amazingly quickly and with seeming ease and mix their own personalities into the brew, making us wonder why it took so long for us oldies to get the hang of it…

7.05pm and it’s more or less just us and the weeds outside the factory, and then taxis start to multiply and before long a crowd of the mixed new-old music scene turn the building into a happening place, we’re lucky to be here.

And it’s the only concert hall I’ve been to which has a row of hammocks outside to catch a lie down in.  Rachel Brown found them, and swung away happily for a while until the chill set in. It may be sunny but it is still September.

Elizabeth Kenny, Principal Theorbo

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An impromptu violin lesson in Modena

Wed 25 May 2011

Members of the Orchestra are currently in Modena, Italy – we’re there with the London Sinfonnietta, giving a performance of Heiner Goebbels’ Songs of Wars I have Seen. Principal Flute Lisa Beznosiuk tells us about their evening:

“We’re in elegant boiling hot Modena, arrived last night.

Last night four of us (Netty, Chi-chi and Shelagh Sutherland ..) walked to one of Pavlo’s (Lisa’s brother) recommended restaurants in Modena and it was excellent…Especially when the young curly haired waiter found out we were musicians. He became very excited, rushed off and came back with a Stentor violin in a big padded case (like the ones you see kids carrying). He’s desperate to learn the violin and had never had a lesson.

So, having finished our steaks, we got it out… all played him a tune. Netty – The Irish Washerwoman, Chi-chi played Campdown Races, I had a go at O Sole Mio and Shelagh achieved a high distinction with her rendition of Mason’s Apron.

Then, to his delight, Netty gave him his first lesson right there in the restaurant in front of us (most people were eating outside). He was SO thrilled and had a wonderful smile on his face as he began producing sounds on his violin. We’ve got photos. He asked if he and his friend could come to our rehearsal today – he can’t make the concert because of waiting in the restaurant.

I had an idea that we should tell musicians (especially violinists) to go and eat there when visiting Modena and give him the odd lesson!”

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Netty's tour diary. Part 2 (singing-bowls, lost keys and officious ladies)

Fri 25 Mar 2011

Viola player Annette Isserliss concludes her US tour diary:

Thurs 17th

Awoke wondering how on earth the OAE homeward travellers (the players who weren’t staying on for the Heiner Goebbel’s concert) had managed to rouse themselves to leave at 6.00 am! Took the subway (with viola in tow) to meet cousin Judy in Chelsea, and after a guided tour of some of the finer architectural sights, we climbed up onto the High Walk: converted from an old railway on an overpass to a garden walk with views of Chelsea Harbour with Hoboken,New Jersey beyond, on one side, and interesting city glimpses on the other. Although botanically at this time of year it was confined to almost-budding saplings and crocuses (crocii??) it was exceedingly pleasant in the mellow sunshine. As we approached a bench with a be-hatted native simultaneously basking and scribbling, it looked up, and turned out to be fello viola Nick Logie! He was staying in NY a bit longer, not only for the sponsors’ reception that evening, but because his eldest son Sascha is currently working in NY for the UN.

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US reviews: CPE Bach and Heiner Goebbels

Tue 22 Mar 2011

We’ll be posting the second part of Netty’s tour diary tomorrow, but in the meantime here are a selection of reviews from our trip across the pond.

Newspapers

New York Times on the period instrument movement

Boston Globe

New York Times (on CPE Bach)

New York Times (on Goebbels)

 

Blogs

The Boston Musical Intelligencer

SuperConductor

The Arty Semite

 

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Happy Birthday Sir Roger!

Thu 17 Mar 2011

Yesterday saw the Orchestra travel from Boston to New York for that evening’s concert at Lincoln Center – and it was also Sir Roger Norrington’s Birthday. At the Boston concert he was presented with this very appropriate T Shirt (we were playing the music of CPE Bach) which he proudly wore on the coach down to New York. A full report on the tour to follow soon, and if you’re in New York you can still catch the OAE when we combine with the London Sinfonietta tomorrow for a performance of Heiner Goebbel’s Songs of Wars I Have Seen tomorrow evening (18 March).

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Busy times…

Tue 31 Mar 2009

Having written a short while ago about a less busy period for the Orchestra, we are now currently in the midst of an incredibly busy few months.
Last week we started rehearsal for the St Matthew Passion with Mark Padmore, which had its first performance last night in Bristol. Prior to this project starting we had already started rehearsals for Dido & Aeneas and Acis & Galatea at the Royal Opera House. We had the dress rehearsal for that last Friday, and the first night is tonight. You can imagine that quite a lot of work goes into scheduling and dovetailing two projects like these!

The Passion is touring to Amsterdam, Spain, Paris and Berlin, and the double bill at the Royal Opera House is playing until 20 April. Then from 19 April we’re straight into our next two projects – Heiner Goebbel’s Songs of Wars I have seen and our Haydn concert with conductor Ed Gardner. Phew!

William, Marketing Director

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Twin cities: Ceri sums up

Mon 2 Feb 2009

Sorry to have cut short the end of my St Paul story. I’ve now been back a week and a half and it’s taken me this long to get over the jet lag. (Sorry I promised my colleagues at the end of last week that I would moan about jet lag no longer, but here I go again…)

The last few days of our visit in St Paul were the most exciting as after all the preparation the performances of Goebbels’ Songs of Wars I have seen were finally to take place.

For both the Friday and Saturday night concerts in the Ordway Center, the St Paul Chamber Orchestra led from the piano by Pierre-Laurent Aimard performed Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto. With insider knowledge on what was to come in the 2nd half of the concert I was intrigued to how the audience would react as the 2 pieces couldn’t have been more different.

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Twin cities: Reviews

Thu 22 Jan 2009

We’ve had the first few reviews from our two joint concerts with the London Sinfonietta over in St Paul:

New York Times (has a nice pic of the Orchestra and conductor Anu Tali)
Pioneer Press

There was a somewhat less charitable one from a St Paul based blogger but maybe we’ll leave you to find that one for yourselves…

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St Paul in pictures

Tue 20 Jan 2009

A few pics from our time in St Paul, Minnesota, courtesy of Ceri Jones. The players who were in the Heiner Goebbels concerts have now been joined by the rest of the Orchestra and Rachel Podger, and they’ll be performing 2 concerts there as well as 3 joint concerts with the St Paul Chamber Orchestra. We hope to post more news soon.

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The twin cities : a night at the movies

Sat 17 Jan 2009

With the first concert ahead this evening, last night was the last free evening for the OAE players in the Goebbels concerts.  After an afternoon of rehearsing contemporary music (which I’m sure you are aware is not the OAE’s usual style…) a few of us decided to head to the cinema for a bit of a change of culture.  You may be thinking that going to the cinema was something you could easily do at home in the UK, but actually it gave me a whole new Minnesotan experience!

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The twin cities, day 2

Fri 16 Jan 2009

We had our first Goebbels rehearsal yesterday evening.  Here is the orchestra rehearsing on the vast stage at the Ordway Center. It seems

Americans do everything on a much vaster scale than us Brits. Not only breakfast (which today included muffins, bagels, waffles, fruit, omelette, French toast, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, yoghurt, cereal, coffee, fruit juice…..) but weather, and now concert halls too!

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