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about the program

sitional skills. The two works, separated by around 130 years, thrive on the tension between old and new. Interestingly both composers use ancient Gregorian canti firmi as a binding thread—going back to the very foundations of Christian music making—and then adorning them with the most up-to-date styles and ornate textures of stupendous variety. Traces of the individual performing styles of both composers are there to be found in the very notation. Details of ornamentation and instrumentation that their contemporaries were apparently content to leave to the improvisatory skills of performers, Bach and Monteverdi define (though with variable precision), weaving them into the very fabric of their compositions. Returning with the Vespers tonight, I realize that this work is a touchstone of all that I find most valuable in exploring and reviving music of the past. It does not matter how much more recent music one conducts, the revelations and delights of this great music stay undimmed. The Vespers sum up so many of the best aspects of music of the past that I cherish—how important it is in any music to identify with Monteverdi in his urgent desire to communicate in music, to convey the widest possible range of colour and emotion, and how to relish fantasy and freedom of invention. The challenges one faces in preparing the music for performance are not quite the same as the ones I faced back in 1964—new generations of singers and far greater expertise in period instrument playing make things easier, yet harder now that everyone has become an expert! First comes the need to put in all the hard yards of research and wrestle with all the uncertainties and ambiguities, address the new thinking, the different theories and hypotheses—anything in fact that can throw new light on the music. Choices have to be made, but there are the same fundamental obligations— to establish a clear text, to ensure a unified stylistic approach to vocal declamation and an idiomatic participation of all those exotic obbligato instruments that play such a crucial role. Demystification and practice are, as usual, the


main needs. When all is said and done, one still has to bear in mind that the music is to be performed—not as part of the liturgy, not to demonstrate a pet theory, but in concert—and to many, many listeners. (As Tim Carter says, “This music does not just look good on the page; it can be made to sound wonderful indeed.”) For that to happen it needs to be new-minted in the very instant it is sung and played. Given its potential to bring architectural space into play as a musical dimension one needs to consider how best to deploy the performers. That is one huge challenge. Another being how to maintain a purposeful overall control of the sequence of those fourteen mesmerising movements as it unfolds, making room for the complexity of its musical thought to register with the listener—the subtlety of its form and the staggering variety and beauty of its expression. —Sir John Eliot Gardiner

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Vespers of 1610 Program  

Vespers of 1610 Program  

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