“Three decades ago, a group of inquisitive London musicians took a long, hard look at that curious institution we call the Orchestra, and decided to start again from scratch. They began by throwing out the rulebook. Put a single conductor in charge? No way. Specialize in repertoire of a particular era? Too restricting. Perfect a work and then move on? Too lazy. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was born.” These words introduce the official curriculum of the orchestra which, since its founding in 1986, has deliberately turned away from the well-trodden paths for the interpretation or presentation of classical music. To everything they do, they bring both artistic excellence and perfection of style. This is the case whether they are performing Mahler’s monumental Second Symphony (with Vladimir Jurowski during this past season) or interpreting Baroque music, for which the orchestra is in the highest demand. They have become a phenomenon that never ceases to inspire and enchant the musical public and experts all over the world.
Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries would be one way to summarize the content of their Prague Spring concert. This orchestra of period instruments, the members of which include leading experts on early music, is among the world’s top ensembles in its field, as can be seen from their sold-out halls, the critical acclaim they receive, and their extensive, prize-winning discography. At Prague Spring, together with their Emeritus Conductor William Christie, an expert on the music of the French Baroque, they will present a selection of orchestral suites by Johann Sebastian Bach, André Campra, Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer, and Jean-Philippe Rameau.
The orchestral suite – also often called the overture – was a very popular genre in Germany, especially during the second quarter of the eighteenth century. In comparison with Telemann, Fachs, or Graupner, the output of orchestral suites by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) was very modest, probably because of the composer’s employment as the church music director at the St Thomas Church in Leipzig, which forced him at the time to concentrate mainly on writing sacred works. He composed his four orchestra suites approximately between 1729 and 1741 for the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, which Bach was then leading. The semiprofessional ensemble of students and music enthusiasts met regularly on the premises of the Café Zimmermann, and it was extraordinarily popular in its day. The Suite No. 3 in D major BWV 1068 and the Suite No. 4 in D major BWV 1069 are among the masterpieces of the genre, and they have been enchanting audiences for centuries because of their perfection of proportions and their ingenious instrumentation. Suite No. 3, which contains the famous Air – one of Bach’s best known melodies – is especially popular.
The Suite No. 7 (“Le Journal du Printemps”) by Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer (1656–1746) is a work for which the composer took inspiration from the music of French composers. The latter are represented on the programme by André Campra (1660–1744), whose name is most frequently associated with the opéra-ballet genre and with Jean-Phillippe Rameau (1683–1764), one of the great European Baroque composers, who owes his place in music history not only to his compositions, but also to his theoretical works.
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is one of the best known British orchestras devoted to the authentic interpretation of early music. The range of its repertoire spans from Henry Purcell and Johann Sebastian Bach to the works of Johannes Brahms and Richard Wagner. Many of today’s leading conductors have collaborated with the orchestra (Sir Simon Rattle, Iván Fischer, Paavo Järvi), including important period instrument specialists (Frans Brüggen, Ton Koopman, Gustav Leonhardt). The orchestra also plays operas and oratorios (Idomeneo, Cosi fan tutte, Elijah), performing them at several prestigious international festivals including the Glyndenbourne Festival, the Salzburg Festival, and the Edinburgh Festival.
The American conductor William Christie is a recognized expert in the area of Baroque music. The founder of the ensemble Les Arts Florissants is a long-time resident of France, and closely related to this is his interest in the music of French Baroque composers, which he has long been rediscovering and promoting. He first drew major attention with a performance of Lully’s opera Atys at the Opéra Comique in Paris in 1987, and since then, he has been regularly realizing works of the tragédie-lyrique and opéra-ballet genre all over the world. He has guest conducted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Zurich Opernhaus, and the Opéra National de Lyon. Between 2002 and 2007 he collaborated with the Berlin Philharmonic. He has earned several honors from the French state. In January of 2016 he was appointed as Emeritus Conductor of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Concerning his appointment, Christie commented: “The orchestra has a strong personality; one of the first things any guest conductor recognizes is the extraordinary individuality of members both old and new, and the considered, intelligent thinking. It’s always at the forefront of what’s new in old music and that’s very important.”
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