Ave Cezary !

Early music... for dummies?

It's a pleasure every time I run into Cezary Zych who, through hell or high water, organizes a number of musical events every year in Poland (you know, that little European country where women are now demonstrating so that their right to abortion is not taken away from them...). Always a tease, he told me he reads with pleasure my "political" stands in certain Faenza newsletters. To tell the truth, these stands are very rare, and above all, not very political – as that is a notion that only occupies a tiny space in my life – but, seen from Poland, where speaking out in public doesn't have the same status as in France, they obviously seem both exotic and completely amusing.

So to again have the pleasure of making Cezary laugh at my expense, I will put aside once more the strict promotion of Faenza's activities – although everything can "sell" in these times: a physical advantage (unfortunately, I have passed the age), some philanthropic reflections, an original look (I am trying a beard in the style of Jean Rondeau), etc. – to toss out some ideas on our profession as musicians.

It comes at the right time because I read this a few days ago on a well known social network in reference to a festival publication, "Classical is for the elderly" (a well chosen title!):

« It also has to be "early music for dummies" when we see the public inspect the harpsichord after concerts... as if it were a flying saucer... and look to see if there isn't a green man inside before taking a photo... they think the viol is a cello... what can you do with such a public! »

What to do with such a public of ignoramuses, in effect? Well, stay home maybe and invite some Parisian friends over who can tell the difference between a viola da gamba and a cello, and maybe even a theorbo and an archilute (even if I don't know many professional musicians who are capable of it). These same Parisian friends would undoubtedly have trouble at their auto mechanic's, distinguishing their carburator from their gear-box, as I would, and yet, as ignorant as we are about mechanical things, we don't have less need of our cars than the public of our music.

So what to do, above all, to respond to the worried demand of this "friend" on Internet? Well, perhaps rejoice already that these people who don't know early music come to listen to our concerts and are sufficiently fascinated by our instruments to come look at them close up. Then speak to them, respond to them, show them, explain to them. In short, do our work as interpreter, a pretty name for the work we have in common with those who make it their profession to translate (hello, Aunt Lilli!) the incomprehensible language of our neighbors.

Oh, let's go for it, a little self-promotion because I cannot resist any longer and we have concerts to sell: Faenza has been performing for years outside the circumscribed circuits of early music, always with the same pleasure to meet the audience, see it and talk to it.

So much so, that I have trouble now working with artists who flee the public at the end of the performances, or who prefer that it not be too close or visible (they were practical, the "limelights" which permitted singing in front of a black vacuum.

So much so, that I arrange it so that the audience is close and won't hesitate to have a dialogue with us, being part of everything. So much so, that I only feel good when I have met them, these people who have come to see us, to listen to us and, why not - let's be crazy! - speak to us.

So much so, that we have created concerts made expressly to break the barrier, particularly inappropriate in making Baroque music live again, which is the ritual of the classic concert: a black hall, complete silence, the arrival of the artists, applause, a series of pieces written on the program interspersed with applause, bows, encores, more applause, then everyone's return home.

In the best of cases, the most courageous public or those most in the habit of going to concerts, will have dared to take the step of going to meet the Artist - this demi-God gifted with a big A - to shake his hand or ask him for the precious fetichist relic which is the autograph (as my mother adored doing).

My mother - let's evoke her face once more, she who rightly adored discovering all those exotic instruments that she had never known in her youth: the viola da gamba, the theorbe, the cornett (how she pleased herself repeating these names!). She particularly liked - I don't know why - to see and listen to the musicians tuning up. Wasn't it just because their fiddling with their instruments rendered them more human in her eyes?

So there it is, dear friend, a few of the things one can do with "such a public" who, I have to recognize, is right to look for a Martian inside the harpsichord since he has already had the surprise of seeing one in flesh and bones before the instrument: aren't we, ourselves, some very strange individuals, we who pass our time to examine manuscripts that should stay asleep for a long time instead of keeping us busy creating new things?

And then if, with all these good ideas that I graciously offer you, you still don't know what to do with « such a public, » well then go and create a new one as you would like it to be: cultivated, knowledgeable, knowing how to tell the difference between the two types of countertenor (contre-tenor and haute-contre) and a Mesotonic from a Pythagorean temperament. Go then into the schools and colleges to do cultural activity, make our dear blond heads marvel at the treasures of early music, show them the little green men who hide inside harpsichords to pluck the chords. In short, go before the France which lives far away from the culture of big cities and the great festivals (even when cities and festivals are next door) and see what you can bring, and above all... learn there.

And hugs and kisses from Chili, the country of my colleague and friend, Francisco Mañalich, where we are with Le Délire des Lyres, hoping that the audience won't come to ask us idiotic questions about our instruments at the end of the concerts...

Translation by Sally Gordon-Mark, submitted November 1, 2016


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