Carnegie Hall Presents a Fresh Look at Early Music

Classic Arts Features   Carnegie Hall Presents a Fresh Look at Early Music
 
By exploring historical instruments and techniques to play them, pioneers of the early music revival have opened up new worlds of sound. A new series of concerts kicks off at Weill Recital Hall on December 12.
Amandine Beyer
Amandine Beyer François Sechet

Amandine Beyer grew up in the ancient city of Aix-en-Provence and began her musical studies in the foothills of Mont Sainte-Victoire, made famous by Cézanne’s brush. Though her first instrument was the recorder, she would later take up violin at “a local music school that was in a wonderful hôtel particulier—the house of a noble person in the 17th century. It was an amazing place,” she says, “but not at all convenient for studying!”

Since her days playing in palaces as a student, Beyer has become recognized as one of the foremost period-performance violinists of our time. In fact, she’s become a teacher at Switzerland’s Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, one of the most established and prestigious early music academies. Her historical expertise helps her create artistic possibilities rather than limit them. “I have a feeling that what we call ‘historically informed practice’ is perhaps not as historically correct as we think,” she says. “But as artists, we can still convey a personal vision of the pieces we play, while also having the deepest awareness about what we are doing and how and why.”

In Weill Recital Hall this month, she plays an all-Bach program of sonatas for violin and harpsichord with her longtime collaborator, Pierre Hantaï. While the sonatas are for two instrumentalists, Bach composed them as trio sonatas. Beyer explains that as a violinist, “you have to take extra care since it is all about three voices having a conversation: the left hand of the harpsichord, the right hand of the harpsichord, and the violin part. Trying to enter into Pierre’s sound is a beautiful challenge: I have to match his amazing sense of rhythm and his musical rhetoric. It is all about creating a single sound that’s so fleeting, so delicate.”

Jakub Józef Orliński
Jakub Józef Orliński Jiyang Chen

Like Beyer, acclaimed singer Jakub Józef Orliński grew up performing early music as a child. When he was in second grade, he joined an amateur choir in his native Warsaw that performed primarily Renaissance music. In nearly a dozen years with the ensemble, he went from singing alto to bass-baritone when his voice matured, and then back to alto.

“I was just singing high, trying to figure out how to sing my part in the best possible way,” he says. “One day, during a workshop, a professional solo singer called me a countertenor—that was the first time I learned that this is an actual voice type—at first, I thought the word countertenor was an insult!”

Orliński has become one of the most in-demand countertenors today. He also happens to be a break dancer. “I find a lot of similarities between dancing and singing. In breakin,’ you have so much freedom: It’s you, the floor, and your creativity and musicality. I love that feeling and try to get that same sensation when I sing.” He also finds freedom in early music because there is so much music still waiting to be explored. “There is something really exciting about finding an old composition and then bringing it back to life,” he says.

In his Carnegie Hall recital debut next month, Orliński will sing arias by Fago, Schiassi, and Hasse that were just rediscovered. Performing and recording their modern premieres, he says, has been “unforgettable—incomparable to anything else I have ever experienced. Even though the process was extremely difficult and stressful, it has been worth the struggle!”

Also performing in Weill Recital Hall in the spring is harpsichordist Jean Rondeau, “one of the most natural performers one is likely to hear on a classical music stage these days” (The Washington Post).

Jean Rondeau
Jean Rondeau Edouard Bressy

When Rondeau first encountered the harpsichord, it was love at first sound. “I was five years old at the time. I have a precise and striking memory of the very specific moment,” he recalls. “The radio was turned on, and all of a sudden I heard the sound of a harpsichord. I didn’t know who was playing, who the composer was, or what kind of music it was. I didn’t even know what a harpsichord looked like. But from that moment on, I wanted to play the harpsichord, and I did.”

His enthusiasm for the instrument is contagious. Rondeau has dazzled critics and concertgoers with his effortless performances of some of the most difficult keyboard music ever composed. He’s also a composer himself and plays piano with the jazz ensemble Note Forget. “Improvisation gives me new perspectives and ways of thinking,” he says, “especially when I have fundamental questions about how to interpret a piece.”

Rondeau offers a program of virtuosic works he’s collectively titled Italian Recycling, the centerpiece of which is Bach’s beloved Italian Concerto. In addition to Italian-inspired masterworks, he also performs works that have been “recycled,” as composers often quoted or borrowed from each other or themselves to create new works.

Early music today is more than a historical curiosity. With a treasure trove of works waiting to be rediscovered, artists and audiences are just beginning to reap the riches of the early music revival.

For more information on Carnegie Hall’s upcoming Early Music Concerts, visit carnegiehall.org/EarlyMusic.


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