‘Good music belongs to all good musicians’, says French harpsichordist and conductor Emmanuelle Haïm, ‘and Baroque music is there to be shared by everyone’.
It may seem strange for a conductor to be explaining why a forthcoming concert with the LSO contains music by major composers such as Purcell, Handel and Rameau, but for several decades now these names have been rarities on the programmes of modern symphony orchestras. Instead, they have largely been the preserve of specialist ‘period’ orchestras playing on instruments conforming to subtly different ways they were configured and played in the 17th and 18th centuries – ‘instruments that often tell you how a lot about how to play the music’, says Haïm, who has herself enjoyed great success with her own period ensemble, Le Concert d’Astrée. The result has been a major change in the way we listen to and appreciate Baroque music, but it has also rather shut out ‘modern’ orchestras who 50 years ago would not have thought twice about playing Bach or Handel. More recently, however, increasing numbers of them have been working with conductors such as Haïm to bring these composers back into their repertoires.
Haïm says of her concert with the LSO on 15 December that it will be ‘good to bring fresh air, to give an orchestra so used to preserving the great works of 19th and 20th centuries more freedom’. Of the attributes the orchestra will bring in turn, she looks forward to ‘the high quality of the players themselves – people who perform together so much, who have done so many different things together. Also the musicianship, individuality and engagement of every one of them.’ Just as well, for Haïm – who will lead the performances from the harpsichord – also promises an alternative way of working. ‘It’s very different from the 19th-century spirit. The role of the conductor is more inside the orchestra, playing an instrument and sharing with the other players, being part of the music yourself. It’s more like a mixture of orchestral music and chamber music.’
The works she has chosen to perform will show off the colours of Baroque orchestral music, but also reflect her own enthusiasms. ‘Purcell is such a genius. There are no barriers for listeners because his music is so direct, so I’m delighted to be opening with excerpts from the great Fairy Queen. Handel’s Water Music is gloriously written for the brass and winds, and the Rameau – songs and dances from the operas Castor et Pollux and Dardanus – is such brilliant music. The beauty in the way it’s written is obvious, but there are also unwritten beauties that you have to grab from the special language of the music. I can’t wait to share them with the players of the LSO.’
Article by Lindsay Kemp