Academy of Ancient Music is one of the most remarkable orchestras playing on historical instruments. It is also an institution that deals with early music as a musicological discipline, conducts studies in search for yet unknown works, develops their editions, carries education. Soon, on Friday 21.06, AAM will perform in the NOSPR Concert Hall in Katowice. About the concert and its repertoire, about early music and the AAM mission, about plans, Presto talks with Richard Egar, the music director of the orchestra.
Igulajda Dąbrowska, Władysław Rokiciński: In the second half of June, you and your orchestra will visit Poland: the famous Academy of Ancient Music will play in the Concert Hall of NOSPR in Katowice. Will it be the first your and AAM’s stay in this city?
Richard Egarr: I think it is my first visit to Katowice. I am not sure if the AAM has been to Katowice or not. I have been to Poland on a number of occasions in the last 25 years, and have always had a wonderful time!
The repertoire includes seven works by Georg Friedrich Händel. And although Georg Friedrich Händel is a powerful personality in the history of music, I will ask you: why is it so? Such a kind of program selection does not happen often.
I very often perform programmes of only Händel. He is a giant in musical history. Like Mozart, his music contains all that is encompassed in human experience. His music speaks directly to us as emotional creatures which is why people love it so much.
Is it true that in Katowice, you will be conducting the orchestra - from the harpsichord? What is the difference: to conduct the orchestra from the maestro’s desktop and from the instrument on which one plays?
The ‘conductor’ we see today was an invention of the second half of the nineteenth century. Most ensembles and orchestras before that were directed from either the keyboard or by the leader of the orchestra. It is very different psychologically for an orchestra to be led from a keyboard or violin by ‘a player’ rather than being dictated to by a ‘maestro’ with a stick.
The New York Times called AAM ‘an excellent team of historical instruments’. How do you define the mission of playing the old music in the old way? In my home library, I have a book ‘Everyday Life of the Etruscans’, the author is Jacques Heurgon, a French historian. Does AAM want to show what music and in what way, the people of Baroque and Classicism played? And what music the music lovers of that time listened to? Could it be called - in the full positive meaning of it - musical archeology?
Archeology it IS NOT. This deals with a dead past. We are making this ‘old’ music live now by playing it passionately on the instruments that the composers had at their disposal. By investigating how people felt about music, what colours the old instruments bring to the music, and how they played these instruments we can hopefully understand the music better in order to bring it to life as music for the “here and now”.
The concert is an event that lasts several dozen - several hundred – minutes. Normally, simply many days of trials precedes it. But in the case of AAM, it probably is not enough, right? What is the work system in AAM to enable such musical events to take place?
We always rehearse a programme thoroughly. This Händel programme is something we played a lot in the past, particularly in 2012 during Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee celebrations. Music making and concert giving must never be routine and rehearsal and re-engagement with the music is essential.
AAM is more than an orchestra, it is an institution. What activities of AAM as an institution would you like to tell Presto readers about?
We at the AAM have a commitment to investigating old music both in performance and as a musicological discipline. This means that we are constantly searching for ‘new’ old repertoire which is unknown or under-performed, and will make scholarly new editions of such music. We are also involved in educational work bringing this music to the younger generation.
If I am a musician but I do not have any access to a baroque instrument, does it mean that I cannot play the music of the Baroque epoch? What could you advise aspiring musicians who just begin their adventure with the early music?
The most important thing for any serious musician is to ask questions and investigate. It is stupid to accept ‘received’ wisdom without question. Just because your teachers tell you something does not mean that it is true. If you are playing a Mozart or Beethoven sonata on the modern piano, you should ask a series of questions: what instruments did they have? What kind of sound-world do they create? Is the score I play from accurate? What do we know about performance traits of the music from the time? All of these questions have answers if you think and look. You MUST want to find out things.
You took over the leadership of AAM after its founder - Maestro Christopher Hogwood handed it over to you in 2006. It was 13 years ago, it is quite a time. What would you consider to be your – the closest to you - contribution to the artistic venture, which AAM undoubtedly is? Can one talk about anything single?
I have simply brought my own musical personality and performance style to the AAM. Every Music Director/Conductor should do that with any orchestra. It is absolutely ‘authentic’ in any music from the sixteenth century to the twentieth that a performer or conductor brings their own subjective take into the music being performed.
It is no secret that you intend – quite soon - to hand over the leadership of AAM to a successor, of course it is not known yet, who it will be. Where does such a decision come from? And what will Richard Egarr do after AAM?
The AAM will make the decision about my successor. I will be Music Director of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale in San Francisco from 2021 – a new adventure in the New World.
Thank you very much for your time. We wish you good luck.
Polish version you can find HERE
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