Friday, 29 September 2017

Brighton Early Music Festival 2017 - Preview

The theme for this year’s Brighton Early Music Festival is ‘Roots’, with the aim of discovering the tangled origins of what today we call classical music.  To that end, and building on the success a couple of years ago of their first major foray into opera, this year includes new productions of not one but two operas.  Monteverdi’s Orfeo was among the earliest of operas as we know the form today, and BREMF’s production, directed by Thomas Guthrie, with musical direction from BREMF Co-Director Deborah Roberts, will include a wonderful young cast of emerging soloists, together with the Monteverdi String Band and the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble (8, 11 & 12 November, The Old Market). 

The second opera, Rameau’s Pygmalion comes from the other end of the Baroque period, and has been brought to life by BREMF Early Music Live scheme alumni, the Ensemble Molière.  Karolina Sofulak’s staging uses animated film and simplified texts, taking the action into the streets of 21st century Paris (28, 29 October, Sallis Benney Theatre).  The Ensemble Molière also manage to squeeze in a concert of ‘Dance Sweets’, examples of French baroque dance music, between two performances of the opera (29 October, Sallis Benney Theatre).
Musica Poetica
Alongside opera, the other developing form explored this year is the oratorio, with Carissimi’s Jephte, often seen as the first great example, receiving a performance by Musica Poetica, alongside motets and cantatas by de Wert, Cozzolani, Caccini and Frescobaldi (4 November, St George’s Church).  Then concluding the festival is an early Christmas present, Bach’s wonderful Christmas Oratorio, perfo rmed by the festival’s own BREMF Singers & Players, directed by John Hancorn (12 November, St Martin’s Church, Lewes Rd).

Taking the ‘Roots’ theme further afield, the Ensemble Tempus Fugit present an intriguing evening, ‘Calcutta’, which explores the collision of English music by Purcell and Locke with Indian song and dance in late 18th century Calcutta.  With music performed by both Indian and western classical singers and instrumentalists, this promises to be a fascinating mix of musical worlds (5 November, St Bartholomew’s).

Musica Secreta & Celestial Sirens
The BREMF Consort of Voices, together with the Laycock Scholars, explore the journey from plainsong and ancient chant melodies to the masterpieces of polyphony, including a performance of Tallis’ wonderful 40-part motet, Spem in alium (28 October, St Bartholomew’s).  And following on from their groundbreaking recording earlier this year (check out my review in March’s GScene), Musica Secreta and the Celestial Sirens bring us music from the great convent choirs of Ferrara, with music by Josquin, Gombert and works probably composed by Lucretia Borgia’s daughter, Leonora d’Este (3 November, St Paul’s Church).

L'Avventura London & Old Blind Dogs
The Consone Quartet explore the roots of the classical string quartet (28 October, St Paul’s), whilst the acclaimed English folk duo, The Askew Sisters investigate the links between expressions of nature in folk and early music (2 November, Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham-by-Sea).  Two ensembles, L’Avventura London & Old Blind Dogs bring Orpheus Caledonius, the first publication of traditional Scottish songs and their melodies, to life, joined by the BREMF Community Choir (27 October, St George’s).  And it’s back to Scotland, as Ensemble Hesperi delve into the world of Scottish baroque music and the connections with folk music (4 November, Friends' Meeting House).  Then the Chelys Viol Consort unravel the origins of renaissance melodies, re-used and borrowed by composers through history (10 November, St George’s). 

The Telling
So where to next?  Well, retiring BREMF Co-Director, Clare Norburn’s ensemble The Telling are in Spain, looking at the collaboration of Christian, Muslim and Jewish musicians at the 13th century court of Alfonso el Sabio, followed by the later exiling of Jews (9 November, St Paul’s).  Back to Italy, there’s more Monteverdi, and music from contemporaries, exploring the vocal and instrumental sonata, with Gawain Glenton (cornetto), Oliver Webber (violin) and Claire Williams (harpsichord) (11 November, The Old Market).  And for younger audiences (and others) the Little Baroque Company tell the tale of The Pigeon and the Albatross, with music by Telemann, Handel, Vivaldi and Biber (11 November, Komedia and South Portslade Community Centre). 

The Gesualdo Six
BREMF Live! showcases this year’s crop of Early Music Live scheme ensembles.  The Gesualdo Six male vocal ensemble has already begun to attract widespread attention, and are not to be missed.  They are joined by recorder duo Flauti d’echo, chamber ensembles Istante and Improviso, and Rumorum, who perform songs from medieval Germany.  These showcases offer a great opportunity to these young ensembles, and give audiences the chance to catch them at the start of their careers (4 November, St Paul’s).  And at the BREMF Clubnight, you can hear highlights from the showcase in a more informal setting (4 November, The RoseHill Arts Hub).

OAE Tots
And if you’re quick of the mark, there are a few pre-festival events worth checking out.  The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment bring one of their innovate interactive ‘ OAE Tots’ concerts, ‘The Apple Tree’ to Brighton – ideal for 2-5 year olds but younger children also welcome (7 October, Friends’ Meeting House).  With choral workshops on Monteverdi (14 October, St Martin’s Church) and the Chorales from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (15 October, St Paul’s), and a Lute workshop led by Toby Carr (22 October, The Rose Hill Arts Hub), there are lots of opportunities for you to join in too.  And if you want to hear more, with talks, performance tasters and discussion on the Roots theme, don’t miss the BREMF introduction and preview Day, ‘Exploring the Roots of Western Music’ (21 October, Brighton Unitarian Church).

As ever, BREMF have managed to pack an awful lot into just a few weeks, and have managed to present a programme of incredible variety, whilst also giving the festival a coherent theme throughout.  With such an eclectic mix, there is surely something here for everyone.

For details, times and tickets, visit  Tickets are also available from the Brighton Dome Ticket Office (01273 709709).