Violinist Nicola Benedetti explores the baroque



Nicola Benedetti first rose to fame as a teenager, performing the great “war horse” concertos of the romantic repertoire and winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2004. This summer, however, her travel direction was markedly different: it plunged back into Italy at the start of the 18th century. His new album, simply titled Baroque, at the top of the ranking of classical artists in the United Kingdom, of the ranking of classical specialists and BillboardTable of traditional classic albums from.

Baroque with concertos by Vivaldi and ‘La Folia’

Baroque presents a selection of Vivaldi concertos as well as Geminiani’s arrangement of Corelli’s ‘La Folia’, one of the oldest Western classical themes that has been arranged by many composers. The album is filled with an irresistible musical sunshine, not only paying homage to Nicola Benedetti’s own Italian roots, but bringing her together with a group of baroque specialist musicians who are among the best in the business. With the distinctive shimmer of guitar, theorbo and harpsichord, the subtle and flexible sound of gut strings, and the sheer joy of making music together after a long drought caused by a pandemic, the ensemble takes flight with heart. and soul.

Baroque virtual sessions

The album follows a remarkable innovation from the Benedetti Foundation: an online summer school called Baroque virtual sessions, devoted to the practical discoveries of 17th and 18th century music and accessible to all, instrumentalist or not. Improvisation, dance, musical structure, masterclasses, pre-recorded lessons and more, it has catered for ages and levels ranging from beginners to conservatory students and above, as well as listeners who just want to enjoy it. Finally, Nicola Benedetti’s eight baroque concerts at the Battersea Arts Center in July are followed by a performance on August 14 at the Edinburgh Festival where she is artist in residence.

If you’re new to classical music, the Baroque era is, according to Nicola Benedetti, the best place to start exploring. “It is potentially the happiest, most welcoming, lively and open music there is,” she says. “Coupled with Italian lyrical traditions of drama, light, shadow and extremes, clear storytelling and rhetoric, rhythm engine and a bassline that carries everything you could possibly need, all of these come together to create a type of music that is powerful, but is, in the best sense of the word, very entertaining.

The Baroque recording sessions were organized at short notice

The requirements of baroque music in terms of playing style are radically different from those of more recent compositions; although she has accumulated a lot of experience in the field, Nicola Benedetti says she still struggles to switch from one to the other in the short term. And short notice was the only way his recording sessions could be organized in December amid the stop-start-stop deadlocks. “I went straight away from playing a whole series of solo recitals,” she says, “to having 24 hours to turn everything upside down, to get back into baroque mode and play those concertos that I had just learned or that I have just learned. ‘had played several years ago. It was quite a challenge. ”

“I think you learn the most by playing alongside people”

Nicola Benedetti began exploring the Baroque repertoire around the age of 18: “I asked for lessons from a number of people who had dedicated their lives to historically informed Baroque practice,” she says. “I think you learn the most by playing alongside people and being in a state of intense observation, trying to absorb exactly what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.”

The current celebrity status of “early” music is nonetheless hard earned: it was once the unlikely scene of a war of musical cultures. During the 1980s, a movement accelerated advocating the reconstruction of an original performance style through the study of treatises, instruments and methods of the time. It involved a radical change in aesthetics – reducing or eliminating vibrato, configuring the instruments in a different way, using baroque curved bows and gut strings instead of steel were just the start – and everyone was not too happy. Benedetti says the insults were traded back and forth, with inflammatory results.

“If you feel so passionate about something that is not being done to its highest potential and you are trying to create incredible, cataclysmic change,” she reflected, “and then there was so much absolute disrespect. and unequivocally to those who are developing this new style of playing – if there was a bit too harsh orthodoxy imposed by those who have engaged in historically informed performance practice, I can understand why. courage and a lot of fire to be able to identify this change. ”

Fortunately, this is all over. “We are in a different period of change, with more openness,” she says. “Much of this progress is now current, accepted and appreciated, and is neither looked down upon nor seen as a threat. A lot of societies are like that anyway: a melting pot, a mixing ground where there isn’t just one way to be. Now we’re open to the idea that there are actually a lot of different ways of doing it, a number of options, all of which are acceptable.

The challenge is to return to mass concerts

For the post-pandemic future, Nicola Benedetti has a lot of plans and hopes, again pointing to a sense of plurality and possibility. His video series, “With Nicky,” offering violin lessons online through his Benedetti Foundation, became extremely popular after its launch in 2019; since the start of the pandemic, harnessing the power of the internet to keep music alive has become a mission for her. The challenge, however, is to return to concerts with a mass audience. Deprived of live events, artists and listeners may have realized how much they need each other.

“What I’m hoping for is more of an open dialogue between the musicians and the audience,” says Benedetti, noting that previously she had felt a greater “formal barrier” between them. “In the performances I did recently with people in attendance, I felt more able to look at the audience and smile.”

He did not fail to smile at her Baroque concerts at the Battersea Arts Center in July. In a warmth worthy of Italy itself, Nicola Benedetti and her ensemble raised both the roof and the morale of their listeners in the born way. Registration, luckily, does exactly the same.

Nicola Benedetti’s album Baroque can be purchased here.

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