O brave new world,

That has such music in’t!

Last night I went to a concert given by Andrew Manze and the Academy of Ancient Music. I barely know how to begin describing how beautiful it was.

There were sixteen musicians, five first violins, four second violins, two violas, two cellos, bass, harpsichord and theorbo. The upper strings all stood to play. Andrew Manze was the director, the concertmaster and the soloist, and he moved from rôle to rôle fluidly and unobtrusively. My first impression of the ensemble was that here were people filled with joy. As they played, you could see the interconnection and collegiality between them, the happiness at creating such beautiful music.

The musicianship was astounding. Manze improvised extensively in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and every note was perfectly right. For Biber’s sonata The peasants’ church procession, half the ensemble remained on stage, and the other half functioned as a distant echo, coming on stage slowly during the piece (amazing to watch the cello played while walking!). The effect was perfect.

While soloing, Manze played for the audience as if he loved them. While directing, he turned to the ensemble, the expression on his face seemingly expressing amazement at the music that was being created around him. Alison McGillivray and Joseph Crouch on cello played off each other visually and musically, jamming in a fashion that isn’t usually associated with baroque music.

What a rare and perfect experience! The program:

Concerto grosso in G Minor, Op. 6, No. 6, George Frederic Handel
Sonata: The peasants’ church procession, Heinirch I. F. Biber
Violin Concerto in E Major, Op. 8, No. 1, La Primavera (Spring), Antonio Vivaldo
Violin Concerto in E Major, Op. 8, No. 2, L’Estate (Summer), Antonio Vivaldo
Concerto grosso, Il Pianto d’Arianna (Ariadne’s Lament), Op. 7, No. 6, Pietro Locatelli
Violin Concerto in E Major, Op. 8, No. 3, LAutonno (Fall), Antonio Vivaldo
Violin Concerto in E Major, Op. 8, No. 4, L’Inverno (Winter), Antonio Vivaldo

Suite ‘The Nations’ TWV55, Georg Philipp Telemann

Excerpts from Manze’s program notes on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons:

Indeed, the Seasons’ recent, popular ‘success,’ on the radio, in shopping arcades and (horrible dictu!) as a cell phone jingle, has nothing to do with Vivaldi’s skill at creating sound effects …

In the world of period instruments, performers nowadays appear to be facing a dilemna: to reproduce tried and tested formulæ, which are so conducive to carefree shopping, or to reinterpret the music … The latter option has resulted in tempos becoming ever faster, gestures bigger, storms stormier, dogs more dogger. The danger is that Vivaldi’s Olympian achivement sounds merely Olympic. In the process, one of the ingredients on which Vivaldi and his contemporaries counted is sacrificed: improvisation. … Few Vivaldi manuscripts or early editions have any performance markings, because the original performers remained open to the variables which make every concert unique, and therefore valuable: the acoustic, which differs in every venue, and depends even on how many listeners are present; the climate, which affects the insturments; the musicians’ state of mind; and, above all, the collective character of the audience. Forget about wobbly Venetian sonnets, the classical hit parade and elevator muzak: the Seasons can bring performer, audience and live music-making together like no other piece.


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