The study tour I embarked upon April/May of 2014 was most illuminating and invaluable, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to undertake such a project. It has certainly redoubled my desire to continue my involvement in, contribution to, and development in this special field of music. A follow up trip to further consolidate my learning in the near future is certainly on the cards.
I had an intensive program of lessons with a number of top mentors in the field, each with their own unique take technically and interpretively on the performance of period music of the 17th and 18th centuries in contemporary times.
Arriving in Amsterdam, I spent the better part of a week working on repertoire with Marc Destrube, interspersed with lessons from Shunske Sato and Enrico Gatti (Den Haag).
Marc offered helpful advice and instruction on subtle adjustments to violin posture and bow approach to maximize the resonance and nuance from the instrument, as well as more overarching ideas regarding the architecture of phrasing. Our work on Couperin was especially illuminating in this regard. As well as pointing me in the direction of some quality period bow makers, he had sage advice regarding his take on leading a period ensemble, an area in which he has decades of great experience.
My time with Shunske was equally invigorating, albeit in a different way. We spent a great deal of our time playing together, trading ideas, improvising, and experimenting with interpretation of repertoire from Vivaldi to Telemann. I very much hope we can see him come to perform in Australia in the near future.
Enrico Gatti provided a whole different slant on interpreting Telemann and Vivaldi. His approach to and interpretation of the Telemann and Vivaldi provided insight into the flexibility of musical interpretation, when approached in a critical and well structured way. He was also instrumental (no pun intended) in advising me on fine Luthiers to visit in Europe in my quest to look for fiddles and further my knowledge regarding period instrument set-ups.
In Verona I spent several sessions with Stefano Montenari, as well as watching him conduct Teatro Filarmonico. His harmonic approach to the repertoire Albinoni and Vivaldi in our sessions was very insightful, as was his take on the dance suite movements of Solo Bach, and it provided another welcome dimension to the instruction I had received to date on my travels.
My time with Riccardo Minasi in Zurich was very intensive. I last met Riccardo when he came to work with ABO a couple of years ago, and immediately recognized a kindred spirit, certainly at least in terms of his approach to on stage performance. The depth of his reading and research into period performance practices – including instrumental set-up and applications – is as uncompromising as his approach to playing. He was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge, and showed me new directions in which to find further insights into this field, particularly in regards to improvisation and tempi. Of specific note was his interpretations regarding the often debated topics of vibrato and instrumental projection. Riccardo’s approach was probably the most unique and particular out of all the mentors I worked with; I certainly intend to follow up for further consultation with him as a priority in the foreseeable future.
My time in London was split between Pavlo Besnosiuk, Matthew Truscott, Alison Bury, and Cat Mackintosh. Each offered further subtleties in their approach – Pavlo was quite technical, Alison and Matthew more instinctual – but the most appreciable factor in this final leg in my course of study was the consolidation and reinforcement of basic core ideas and principles through these additional mentors.
I attended a number of performances and rehearsals of baroque and classical music.
There was a fascinating variety of styles and approaches on show, and it really drove home the importance and validity of period performance practice.
I travelled with Marc Destrube to Rotterdam to hear the Orchestra of the 18th century perform St John’s Passion. Whilst the acoustic in the hall was less than ideal, the performance really drove home the effectiveness of using period instruments and style for such a work. The orchestra achieved a sensitivity, transparency, and luminosity of sound that allowed the choir and vocal soloists to express the text with clarity and great impact.
Similarly, I saw the Orchestra of the Age of enlightenment’s semi-staged production of Ramaeu’s Zais in Queen Elizabeth Hall on period instruments. Again despite a less than ideal acoustic, the soundscape of the orchestra was a beautiful match for the subtle and thoughtful stylings of the vocalists, and the expressivity of the music really shone through.
In contrast, I saw and heard the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra rehearse and perform St Mathew’s Passion with highly reputed Bach expert Phillipe Herreweghe. I have the greatest respect and admiration for this outstanding orchestra and they performed with typical precision. However, on modern instruments with a modern approach, and employing traditionally modern vocal techniques in the choir, much of the nuance of the work was not allowed to shine through effectively.
A concert I found most engaging was Les Talon Lyrique performing a program including Broschi, JCBach, Porpora, and Hasse with messo Ann Hallenberg at London’s Wigmore Hall. The band (on period gut strung instruments and directed by Christophe Rousset) played with what I would describe as a more ‘Italianate’ approach, fitting for the repertoire at hand. They displayed a great sense of precision and articulated the music with much verve and great projection.
Last but not least I consulted with various instrument and bow makers across Europe on the recommendation of several of my mentors. Residing in Australia, it is a rare opportunity to get access to such a quantity of fine instruments and bows in the one place. Not only did I get the opportunity to play and appreciate a number of quality instruments, but also in the process had the good fortune of acquiring of a new period appropriate violin and bow, which have already been put to good use in my performances with the ABO.
In regards to furthering my expertise in current performance practice and my ongoing contribution to the ABO in my role as core member, Concertmaster, and Soloist, this study project has been an invaluable experience. I have gained so much in regards to instrumental understanding, technical application, interpretive approach, and advice on further investigative reading, not to mention the unquantifiable value of working with such leading exponents in the field. I look forward not only to putting the experience gained into my immediate work with the ABO, but also to continuing and consolidating this learning with a repeat visit in the near future.