German born composer Max Richter is about re-imagining the music of the great composers for the new age. Taking something old and making it all brand new. His own musical education embraced both disciplines; formal classical training from the Royal Academy of Music at London and modern technology via composer Luciano Berio.
While safeguarding its tenets of harmony and expression, Max Richter endeavours to ensure that classical and contemporary converge with his re-imagining of Vivaldi’s Four Season in a powerhouse sound of such intensity you may want to dance forever for the joy of it all. Especially as played by the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (ABO) who champion acoustic performance on period instruments, exploring the wonderful layering of textures that is the hallmark of music of the Baroque.
Under artistic director Paul Dyer’s direction in the time-honoured Australian tradition of ‘having a go’ since it was established, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra has always explored new ways to approach the sounds we know and love, keeping them alive, young and fresh as each generation ages.
Perhaps none more brilliantly than here. I loved their latest concert. For me the intelligence of it all was very alluring – sounds that have their basis in the rhythms of the universe; worked out mathematically by giant thinkers and marvelous musicians of the past to ensure they remain appealing to the senses of humankind in the present.
To start Vivaldi Unwired the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra playing on their final night at Sydney on the first half of its program, infused a terrific trio of Baroque delights with all-new freshness and energy.
First up German composer JS Bach’s Concerto No. 3 BWV 1048 was entirely joyous. It was the perfect way to start any evening of music, ensuring that their audience relaxed and were brilliantly prepared for the first of the two contrasting Vivaldi works to follow. The small select youthful team of players performing with great vigor and elan.
The Red Priest Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto op. 3 no. 8 RV 522 from L’estro armonico with a greater number of players on stage was heavenly music, suitably full of ‘harmonic inspiration’ and virtuosity.
Playing with spirit two soloists, both bold boys on Baroque violins, Brendan Joyce and Ben Dollman, were outstanding.
The audience loved this, cheering the Brandenburg on with sheer delight; its gentler moments brimming over with beauty.
CPE Bach’s Concerto flute Wq 166 also re-imagined for the solo soprano saxophone of Christina Leonard followed. She had many grand moments, particularly when like a singer she flawlessly embraced ‘coloratura’ moments of the score so sincerely, sending her saxophone soaring on high.
A formidable talent, Christina Leonard created a unique tension between herself and the orchestral team, each beginning and finishing each other’s musical conversations with expressive dramatic intensity.
This was a powerhouse performance. Her renowned lyricism shone superbly with nothing short of an iridescent lustre.
It was if she was sending her notes into a glowing golden dome on a great Baroque inspired cathedral, so that their sweet sounds would linger long in lofty places.
Then after a buzzy intermission fuelled by a ‘death by chocolate’ ice cream and full of anticipation, we surged back inside to encounter Max Richter’s version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
With even only a 1/4 of the original notes retained, this work is entirely recognisable despite its often challenging additions.
Not an easy ask, Richter’s Vivaldi was a world premiere on period instruments brilliantly achieved.
The wonderful thing about it is that we listen to it through an atmosphere of familiarity, one that makes us want to embrace an old friend we haven’t perhaps seen for years in order to learn all about their new life in our own time.
Following on from his superlative performance at Brisbane Baroque just over a month ago, violinist Brendan Joyce revealed that he is more than on fire these days.
He seems to have found a unique centre of the musical universe to operate within, especially when showcasing this re-working of Vivaldi’s musical masterpiece.
He was clearly in his element as together with ABO artistic director Paul Dyer who had swapped his harpsichord for an Apple Mac and synthesiser, they melded the marvels of the music across the ages.
They successfully embraced both tradition and today’s sounds contemporaneously, assisted by some stand out performances from various members of the orchestra.
This included Jamie Hey on Baroque Cello, Joanna Tondys on Harpsichord and Matt Bruce, Ben Dollman and Matt Greco on Baroque violin.
Since Richter premiered this work in London in 2012 it has achieved amazing success.
At Sydney on the final evening’s performance the standing ovation it received from the sold out audience was well deserved.
Descending and ascending, pausing and exploring the passion of it all, Vivaldi Unwired for me was like being allowed to share a moment of great intimacy that at times was emotionally overpowering in the extreme.
Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, this is not an easy work for any violinist hardwired in the classics to take to his heart, especially when he has the original four seasons of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) as an important aspect of his repertoire.
Brendan Joyce embraced Richter’s re-imagining as he would an entirely new work, all the while resisting the temptation of met morphing from one to the other in concert. His virtuosic playing full of passionate harmony was long and extremely elegant; as if the bow was an extension of his arm and the violin an extremely beautiful extension of his soul. It was gob smacking stuff.
Why re-invent Vivaldi at all many will ask? Especially those who do not like their rich and enduring traditions tampered with. Perhaps that is the point. We tend to believe the music we love personally will always be around to tempt and entice future generations.
It’s what we want when we champion it so passionately, for someone else to share in the joy of knowing even if only for a moment, its beauty, its grace and intelligence.
How can we ever appreciate what we don’t know if we don’t ever encounter it first hand; a rare eighteenth century antique, a masterpiece of fine art by Rembrandt, a wonderful glass of richly resonating Pinot Noir from an Australian boutique winery, a sublime work of architectural beauty by a much admired architect, or the glories of music of the Baroque.
It is all about going on a journey in style and unless we step outside the box and open our minds and hearts and both eye and the ear to embrace optimism, how will we allow ourselves to be ‘… educated to distinguish the rare from the ordinary, the exquisite from the mundane’?
Richter was reported as saying about his recomposed work Vivaldi Unwired. “Vivaldi’s music is made of regular patterns, and that connects with post-minimalism, which is one strand in the music that I write. That felt like a natural link, but even so it was surprisingly difficult to navigate my way through it. At every point I had to work out how much is Vivaldi and how much is me. It was difficult but also rewarding because the raw material is so fascinating.” said Max Richter.
You see Richter could not have completed his work if Vivaldi hadn’t imagined it in the first place.
So where does the genius lie?
Or is this collaboration of marvelous musical minds crossing the gap and divides of time to engage at such a deep level at times it seems almost impossible to fathom the connection?
And, where do we go from here?
Choosing to feel it at every moment and allowing yourself to be swept along on the beauty, grace and expansive nature of it all is more than rewarding.
The connection was certainly real; between Max Richter and Antonio Vivaldi across the centuries and between Brendan Joyce, Paul Dyer and their colleagues in our age.
The quiet simple moments where the sweetness of the collective sounds assaulted and seduced your senses all over again were compelling.
Max Richter’s Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is all set to become an integral aspect of the musical language of our age, taking Baroque music forward into the new age.
The colour, the textures, the light and shade are all integral to the experience; contributing to the broad sweeping scale of it all.
But will it last… well only time will tell.
In the meantime the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra under Paul Dyer’s adventurous leadership continues to prove it is capable of rising to any challenge musically, while retaining and surpassing their own sublime level of excellence in performance.
This concert was a 10/10 for me.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015.
Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 BWV 1048
Vivaldi Concerto op. 3 no. 8 RV 522 from L’estro armonico
C.P.E. Bach Concerto for flute Wq 166 (arr. soprano saxophone)
Richter Recomposed – Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
Brendan Joyce (Australia) baroque violin
Paul Dyer (Australia) Synthesiser
Christina Leonard (Australia) soprano saxophone
Ben Dollman, baroque violin
Resident Concertmaster Matt Bruce
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
Artistic Director and Conductor Paul Dyer