Monday, March 07, 2011

NYT article on the early music performance movement

Nice NYT article on the early music performance movement in academia.

March 4, 2011
Early Music Is Enjoying Its Moment

ARTISTIC revolutions rarely happen overnight, and if they do happen quickly, they do not necessarily spread uniformly. In recent decades the early-music movement has provoked a radical shift in performance styles throughout much of the music world. As an eccentric, irrelevant outsider in cultural life, the movement has managed to transform attitudes toward tradition and has wrought major changes in orchestral practice. A movement that started in powerful opposition to modern conventions has become increasingly integrated with mainstream performance.

But New York, an early leader in the movement through the medieval and Renaissance explorations of Noah Greenberg and the New York Pro Musica Antiqua in the 1950s and ’60s, more recently lagged behind in crucial ways. Now, during the coming weeks, in a sort of serendipitous festival, the city plays host to some of today’s outstanding early-music ensembles and conductors and puts forward a leading period-instrument ensemble of its own being nurtured at the Juilliard School, Juilliard415.

Can there be any more telling indication that the worlds of period and modern performance are becoming ever more closely reconciled and intertwined than the entry of Juilliard, long a bastion of modern, machine-tooled virtuosity, onto the scene? Juilliard students are learning to perform on gut strings, wooden flutes and valveless horns in what now passes for proper period style.

William Christie, the American harpsichordist and conductor long resident in France, whose dazzling ensemble, Les Arts Florissants (some three decades old), presents music by Rameau at Alice Tully Hall on Friday and Saturday evening, has played a major role in the development of a historical performance program at the Juilliard School, now in its second year.

“We are so excited and so thrilled that we really cannot believe it is happening to us,” Mr. Christie said recently. “Here, after all the years when there was such a negative and unloving reaction to the whole idea of old instruments, we have a terrific commitment from the school and an enthusiasm that’s spreading through the students. I think everyone would say that it has created a real buzz, and the students are fascinated by the idea of what it can bring to their music-making.”

Ara Guzelimian, dean of the Juilliard School, agrees that the injection of energy has been remarkable. “One of the most surprising things about the program is how quickly and easily it has been integrated into the fabric of the school as a whole,” he said. “This year alone we are mounting two fully staged operas with the vocal arts department, and we have a waiting list of modern-instrument students who want to take period-instrument lessons.”

This wide-ranging fascination with the fruits of historical study may, as Mr. Christie surmises, be partly because “the kids see a new opportunity to earn a living.”

“But it goes much deeper than that,” he added. “They are much more sophisticated in their attitude. They show a recognition that this way of performing is now a central part of our musical lives.”

In that sense the early-music revolution, which began on the fringes, can claim to have triumphed. It has also evolved: the very term “early music,” which originally denoted a repertory (pre-Classical, later pre-Romantic) and the instruments appropriate to it, has come to stand more broadly for a performance aesthetic, an approach to music in the context of its time that has been carried into 19th- and even 20th-century repertory.

The movement’s spirit of inquiry and adventure is now completely embedded in our way of making music and thinking about it. With the added perspective of these latest gains, it may be useful to take a fresh look at how this all came about.

For the past generation pioneers of the early-music movement have worked with modern orchestras and have carried their insights into that area. At the beginning this was an occasional specialist event, a toe dipped briefly in the historical water. But the approach has become well established as part of an increasingly diverse musical mainstream. Great conductors are newly fascinated with the products of the historical performance movement.

Read the rest of the story HERE.

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