Rameau is yet to be discovered by local audience. Seldom does one hear an orchestral suite in a concert – and that's about it. In your opinion, why is that?
First of all, Rameau is French, and French music is subtle, elusive, understated, intricate, elegant, demanding a lot from the listener as well as from the player.
Of course, all passions are present there, but in a much subtler way than in the overstated Italian music, which conquered the world with its flamboyant qualities already during the Baroque period.
In addition, there is always some formal equilibrium in it, and some abiding by organization rules (like you see in French gardens) – and the art of the composers is precisely how to brake all this while keeping it! In such a perfect and equilibrated world, when rules are broken, a deep feeling takes over in the most sweeping manner.
But no doubt, all this is much more demanding from public and listener, and therefore people run from it. I love it, and my biggest musical dream is to conduct Rameau’s opera Dardanus.
I recall you have mentioned Dardanus on our previous talk; and producing a full scale baroque opera is also a dream of your colleagues from JBO and Barrocade. It seems that a colaboration is in place.
I agree totally.
Back to the coming concerts: What is the unique quality of Rameau's chamber music?
The word “unique” is really the correct word to describe Rameau’s chamber music, which is comprised by the 5 Concerts (written as trios) which we are going to perform, the work of the composer’s maturity.
Their texture is pretty amazing, especially if one considers when those pieces were written: 1741.
The ensemble gravitates around the harpsichord, which has the lion’s share. But differently from any trio written during Rameau's time, and also from the classical trios of Haydn, the bass instrument (the 7 string viola da gamba) is not restricted to double the harpsichord’s left hand. It has a fully independent part, virtuosic, which sometimes goes extremely high, emulating a second violin, or very low (to the bottom A string of the viol). Such texture is found nowhere before the 19th century!
The effect is therefore rich, varied and surprising, and Rameau plays with texture in an extreme way, at least one century ahead his time.
Given that, why did you choose to dedicate the whole program to Rameau rather than playing one or two of these concerts alongside works by his more popular contemporaries (or followers) and thus maybe attracting more audience?
Well, the Concerts are absolutely fabulous! They are first class music, and people tend to misjudge the public’s capacities to appreciate them.
I remember having played my first Rameau Concert long ago in Brazil, together with some “public-appealing” pieces, and the comments after the concert were :”Why didn’t you play more Rameau? “ I could never forget that.
For a long time I have been dreaming to perform all the 5 concerts together. They are so different one from the other, and so gorgeous!
Regarding "attracting more audience”: I believe that in life one must take risks. Rameau’s full chamber music is worthwhile to take risks for!
What challenges lie in the process of preparing and rehearsing the pieces?
In the Preface to the work, Rameau himself describes some of our musical challenges. First of all we need to “seize well the spirit of each pièce”. That is, to grasp and convey the special atmosphere of each piece.
Then we need to be able to understand each other, to blend, and actively "distinguish what is accompaniment from what is part of the subject”. This kind of “conversation”, of listening and answering to each other in an unspoken communication, is for me the real pleasure of playing chamber music.
There are also technical challenges, especially for the harpsichordist and for the viol player. The difference between them is that the harpsichord part is well written (Rameau being a harpsichordist), while the viol part is non-idiomatic for the gamba, and quite daring (with huge jumps, and using all the viol range, from the low A (below cello C) to the high f’ (a twelfth above the top open string).
Under such circumstances, it is significant to be in the right company. Who are your colleagues for this mission?
They are all early music veterans: The harpsichord is in the able hands of Marina Minkin, one of our most distinguished names; and the top voice is shared by violin and flute, respectively played by Noam Schuss (well-known to the public as JBO's principal baroque violinist) and Geneviève Blanchard, who in addition to being an excellent baroque flutist, is Canadian and Francophone. Her help has been invaluable in elucidating some of the clues in the French titles.
As her, I was raised in French (a language I truly love, possibly for this reason :), what is always of help in this kind of program, because we can read all the original literature on music directly from the sources.
You have mentioned the titles, some of which are quite peculiar. Can you elaborate?
The titles of the Concerts are fascinating: Some are character titles, such as The Timid, the Annoying, The Indiscreet, The Pantomime, Tambourin.
Other refer to friends and acquaintances of the composer, “persons of taste and of the musical profession”, "who have given the honor to give their names to the some pieces" (Forqueray, La Poplinière, Boucon, Marais, etc). La Livri is a tombeau, a funeral homage to the Comte de Livry who died in July 1741.
The most interesting title, in my opinion, is La Coulicam, referring to the hero of a book published in 1741: Thamas Kouli Khan, King of Persia or the history of the last revolution in Persia happened in 1732 by Jean-Antoine Ducerceau. The piece portrays well the pomp and circumstance adequate to such a ruler. It is great fun to play.
The book was published on the 12th of August 1741. I would like to point out that I will be performing this program on an original French viol, made in Paris three years later, in 1744 by André Castagnery, considered one of the three top French builders of the time.
The notion might seem as blasphemy, but regarding antique instruments – if we link the local obscurity of Rameau's chamber works to the size and popularity of Israeli early music scene (in its turn compared to the general classical one) – how agreeable would it be to play this music on modern instruments?
No, the notion is not a blasphemy to me. Lately I have in fact been teaching early music to modern musicians. Last July I gave workshops to string players and conducting students in S. Paulo at the International Campos de Jordão Festival , and in October I will give a workshop to the conducting students at the Royal Academy of Music and Dance in London, at the invitation of the Academy’s Head of conducting, Sian Edwards.
Answering to your question, it would be impossible to play it on modern instruments, unless we use one of Rameau’s possibilities, which is to have the gamba part played on a second violin (he made a special part for this, changing the range, of course). While the original gamba part goes very high, to g nearly two octaves above the cello first string, it cannot be played by a cello, because it goes down to A and B below cello C.
The problem is actually not the playability, but how the composer, himself an excellent harpsichordist, how he handled the colors of this subtle palette, how he transformed pieces originally composed for harpsichord into full Concerts, creating a delicate sound equilibrium. This cannot be reproduced with a modern piano, and two violins.
But it is possible that a good arranger/composer could transpose it to modern instruments, changing the notes but preserving Rameau’s idea. For that, his arranger/composer will need first of all to know and understand the original.
This special program is to be played only twice for now. Are you planning this as sort of a pilot and afterwards decide upon public response whether to replay it elsewhere?
There will be another concert at Bar Ilan University (Nov. 3rd), and I hope to be able to play this program many more times. The audience in general loves those pieces.
As I teach the viola da gamba at the ICM, where I presently have four students; and as the conservatory holds a department of early music which is unique in the country, where several of our members teach, I thought that it was significant to move the concerts from the Felicja Blumental Center (to whom PHOENIX’s belong, by the way, and to whom we are greatly indebted) to the conservatory, giving the chance of the early music student to be closer to our activities.
We cannot finish our chat without a few words about your next and very exciting project: Falvetti's flood!
Yes, indeed, it is an exciting project! Michelangelo Falvetti is a wonderful composer, and the recent discovery of his two masterpieces, Il Diluvio Universale and Nabucco (our project for 21016) are doubtless of the utmost importance. Whoever doubts this, please, go to youtube, hear and see the first modern renditions of his works. PHOENIX’s performances, as usual, will be the first Israeli renditions.
The music is terrific: an incredible sense of theatre and drama, together with humor, melodies of an amazing beauty, a great sense of proportion, all this makes for an unforgettable entertainment.
PHOENIX will comprise 17 musicians for this adventure, 5 of them an excellent team of singers: Claire Meghnagi – Rad (Noah's wife), Einat Aronstein – (Natura Humana), Alon Harari – (Giustizia Divina & Morte), Oshri Segev – (Noah & Fuoco), Guy Pelc – (Dio). And as this is Sicilian music, I have also ordered a special percussion for those projects, a tamburello Siciliano, which has a distinctive sound. The premiere will be as usual at the Abu Gosh Festival, on October 5th.
"Rameau: Tradition & Innovation" – Pièces de Clavecin en Concert. Geneviève Blanchard (baroque flute); Noam Schuss (baroque violin); Marina Minkin (harpsichord); Myrna Herzog (viola da gamba & musical direction).
Sat. 5 September at 20:30 at The Studio, Beit Hecht, Haifa, HaNassi 142, Carmel Center. Tickets: 04 836-3804
Tue. 8 September at 20:30 at The Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv, 25 Louis Marshall street. Tickets: www.phoenixearlymusic.com