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Culture news, 14.09.2007 16:06

Early rising

solists_Gleb_and_Riusha By Galina Stolyarova

Staff Writer

Now in its tenth year, the city’s groundbreaking Early Music Festival returns this week. Every fall, vibrant performances of its refined ensembles evoke, embody and revive the long-lost noble spirit of St. Petersburg.

The event, subtitled this year “Earth And Sky” kicks off on Sunday with a concert by the French ensemble “Le Poeme Harmonique.” The performance at the Glinka Philharmonic — showcasing old French romances — is titled “Aux Marches du Palais” (On the way to the Palace).

Established in 1997 by Vincent Dumestre, this ensemble specializes in 17th century music with an interest in reviving the early 17th-century French and Italian madrigal. The musicians perform on rare instruments, including the theorbo, the lirone, the tiorbino and the arpa tripla.

Early music, embracing everything created between the medieval era through to early classicism, long remained a missing link in repertoires of Russian orchestras. The brainchild of local enthusiasts Marc de Mauny and Andrei Reshetin, the Early Music Festival was originally designed for a narrow circle of the initiated. But interest was instantly sparked, news traveled fast, and the event is now in full blossom.

The festival — which has no equivalents in Russia — has, over the decade of its history, attracted some of the biggest names in early music to St. Petersburg. This year is no exception.

During the more than two weeks of the festival, which ends on Oct. 8 in Moscow with a concert by Italian-Dutch ensemble Concerto Palatino, audiences will be treated to performances by Dutch early music patriarch, harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt, Italy’s Musica Antiqua Roma, France’s Le Poeme Harmonique and Organum Ensemble and Spain’s violinist and conductor Jordi Savall with his ensemble, Hesperion XXI.

The Catherine the Great Orchestra — the first ensemble dedicated to performing early music and baroque works in contemporary Russia — will also be featured in the program.

“Earth And Sky” will be explored simultaneously in three cities — St. Petersburg, Moscow and Yekaterinburg — with some of the guests traveling to all three places.

“This festival is something more sophisticated than a string of decent concerts; we perceive it rather as a musical instrument,” said violinist Andrei Reshetin, artistic director of the Catherine the Great Orchestra, and the festival’s co-organizer. “When in good hands, a musical instrument can produce magical sounds that touch your heart and get under your skin.”

It is the policy of the festival’s godfathers to introduce the ensembles that once formed their own musical tastes and influenced their preferences.

Jordi Savall, one of the biggest names in the field of early music worldwide, whose repertoire spans from Medieval to Baroque music, gained international praise and credit for rescuing the early musical instrument the viola da gamba from undeserved oblivion.

Savall, who has performed at the festival before, appears at the State Academic Cappella on Oct. 4 with a program devoted to early world music, featuring traditional Afghan, Jewish, Breton, Catalan, Greek and Turkish music.

Festival founder de Mauny emphasized he is especially thrilled to welcome Organum Ensemble to St. Petersburg. Organum will give a recital on Sept.18 at the Chapel of the Knights of Malta of the Suvorov Military Academy. The program, “Incarnated Word,” comprises Aquitanian liturgy from the 16th-17th centuries.

“The ensemble represents the spiritual vocal tradition that greatly influenced me personally and I long wanted to share it with the St. Petersburg audiences,” de Mauny said. “The performance may perhaps serve as a bridge between the spiritual traditions of the Catholic and the Orthodox worlds.”

The Organum Ensemble was founded in 1982 in France’s Sénanque Abbay. The musicians focus on “pre- and para-Gregorian” chant, meaning the chants that preceded, grew from or existed in parallel with Gregorian chant. According to its website, the ensemble “has studied and developed most of the influential European repertoires since the 6th century, with the field of investigation stretching to the last three centuries and highlighting the existence of enduring medieval aesthetics in certain circles until the last decades of the 20th century.”

De Mauny said the festival’s mission has been to break down the stereotypes, which have built up around the early music repertoire and musicians who perform it.

“Then, we aim to position Earlymusic as being not within the field of classical music at all, but as an alternative to classical music, just as jazz and rock are alternatives,” De Mauny explains.

“Music as it was composed, played, and performed up to the end of the 18th century has a lot more in common with both jazz and rock than it does with music of the 19th and 20th centuries. I mean this both in terms of the musical material itself, the way the notes are written, the approach it demands, what is required from the musician, and in terms of its place and role in society.”

Despite the festival’s impressive geographical coverage, the selection of local venues this year has slightly shrunk — being limited to Glinka Philharmonic Hall, the State Academic Capella and the Chapel of the Knights of Malta.

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