Making ancient music modern

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Now that the movement for authentic performance of early music is some 40 years old, ensembles must find their own special niche to survive.

The highly successful L’Arpeggiata ensemble, making its Israeli debut Tuesday and Wednesday at the Felicja Blumental International Music Festival at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, is a prime example.

“The idea of the ensemble was to use all the rich colours of the early plucked instruments. The members of our ensemble have been working in this field for about 15-20 years,” says Christina Pluhar, the artistic director and founder of the international ensemble, speaking by phone from France.

“Our teachers were the pioneers of performance [authentic] practice, and we’ve profited from it. We’ve made this language our own. We’re continuing with our own research, spending a lot of time in libraries searching for great music by unknown composers.”

“Improvisation was an essential element of 17th-century music. All our players are excellent improvisers. For example, 20 years ago only a few people in the world could play old cornetto, while our cornetto player Doron Sherwin improvises on it as a real jazz musician. Through learning many early music styles, we have made them our own. And we put a lot of ourselves into the music-making, which makes this music absolutely alive – it is a creation of the moment,” she says.

Pluhar, who studied classic guitar in her childhood and switched to the early instruments (she now plays five totally different early instrumants) compares L’Arpeggiata’s music with ancient Greek:

“Imagine, you decide to learn ancient Greek. First you learn the words, then you read Homer and finally you try to write like Homer. This is our aspiration,” – she laughs – “to try and create music like the composers of the past.”

“This is not about pushing or not pushing the limits, because we receive a great response from the audience. The question is how far you push them. And again, it is like if you ask a Chinese artist to paint like Caravaggio without learning deeply the culture of the epoch – the result will be terrible. But as I said, we made this language ours, and harmonically, this music is very modern.”

As for the ensemble’s future plans, Pluhar smiles: “As usual, we’re working two totally different crossover projects at the same time. One is the music of Luiggi Rossi, for which we have invited The King’s Singers ensemble. The other is dedicated to music from Portugal, Spain and South America, and here we collaborate with a flamenco player.”

In Tel Aviv, L’Arpeggiata will present two different programs. Tuesday it’s Al’Improvviso – improvisations on traditional 16th to 17th century “dance-songs” from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Latin America with flamenco dance, folksongs and Baroque music.

On Wednesday, the group perform ‘Si dolce el tormento’ (‘Sweet Suffering’), a concert of works by Monteverdi, Sances, Merula, Mazzocchi, Stozzi, Uccelini and others. Well-known European alto singer Phillipe Jaroussky (France) will make his Israeli debut.

All concerts of the Felicja Blumantal Festival take place at the Tel Aviv Museum of Arts. For a full festival schedule – including many free events – see Billboard’s Events listings under Classical Music, click on info@fbmc.co.il or call (03) 607-7020.

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