Everybody, it seems, loves a music festival. Summer is full of them, from East Neuk to Cheltenham, Cambridge Folk to WOMAD, Latitude to Glastonbury. The rest of the year, too, offers plenty of opportunities for specialist occasions such as the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival or any number of Christmas and Easter celebrations. But what makes festivals different from normal concert-going? What rouses someone to try out a concert they might not otherwise have considered, just because it’s in a festival? Quality is one thing, of course, but for me there are two other factors scarcely less important in making a festival a real festival: distinctiveness, the idea that you are getting something you won’t get anywhere else; and community, the feeling that things have been planned for the pleasure of musicians and audience alike.
Earlier this year I stood down from the London Festival of Baroque Music after a decade as Artistic Director of it and its predecessor the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music. It had been one of the most enjoyable episodes in my professional life – a chance to share my lifelong enthusiasm for baroque music with an appreciative audience and some of the world’s very best musicians – but I had always thought that 10 years would be a sensible time-limit before things ran the risk of going stale. Yet even so, I still wanted to have a festival in my life, and for that I was going to have to found one of my own. The result is ‘Baroque at the Edge’.
As niches go, baroque music is identifiable and popular. The Lufthansa/London Festival had been going since 1984 without losing its focus or appeal. One of the things I loved most about programming it was the challenge of building around a specific theme, a real chance to test my knowledge and imagination. But I was always aware that this was only one way of approaching baroque music, and a fairly traditional one at that which relied heavily on the historical circumstances of the music’s composition. Now I wanted to create a festival which celebrates 17th- and 18th-century music for its essential content, treats it not as something ‘historic’ but as something new and now. And not only that, but as music that can provide material for imaginative musicians from any background, whether classical, jazz, world or contemporary. I wanted to provide a forum for these artists to take the music of the baroque and see where it leads them, to feel themselves free from worries about being ‘authentic’ or ‘correct’ and just treat it as music for anyone to play with. This, in a nutshell, is what ‘Baroque at the Edge’ sets out to do.
In its inaugural year, then, BatE will welcome pianist Joanna MacGregor in music ranging from Bach and Couperin to Birtwistle and Glass; viola da gamba genius Paolo Pandolfo merging Marais and Telemann with his own brilliant improvisations; lutenist-of-the-moment Thomas Dunford collaborating with Persian percussionist Keyvan Chemirani; and baroque violinist Bjarte Eike getting together with jazz pianist and composer Jon Balke. My hope is that these concerts will attract people who know their baroque music and admire many of these artists already, but also attract a new audience of curious-minded listeners for whom the starting-point is the way the music actually sounds and how it can feed the act of musical creation in front of their eyes. The atmosphere will be intimate and informal, and the setting – the brilliantly realised marriage of the architectural old and new that is LSO St Luke’s in London – is symbolically as well as acoustically perfect. So why not come and give it a try?
‘Baroque at the Edge’ runs from January 5-7, 2018, at LSO St Luke’s in London. For details, visit: baroqueattheedge.co.uk