Musician of the Month: Aidan Phillips
I have always been drawn to the harpsichord – its unique sound, its aesthetic and its repertoire. In playing the harpsichord one gains access to a unique sound-scape which conjures up an older almost Cytherian world, full of imagination. From an early age, I seized every opportunity I had to immerse myself in the repertoire, and slowly began to build a recordings collection. In this way I discovered some of the great players: Leonhardt, Ross, Gilbert, Rousset. I loved all that the harpsichord represented with its rich cultural heritage. My first experience of playing the harpsichord came almost by accident. I had been studying the piano, violin and viola for a number of years and was actively involved in choral singing and orchestral playing. Through piano lessons I stumbled upon the harpsichord. But what a happy accident! I haven’t looked back since.
When did you first start playing?
My first experience of playing the harpsichord occurred whilst I was studying the piano with Philip Robinson. In the course of our lessons we had access to a harpsichord, and one day I asked if I could try a few pieces on it instead of the piano. I was hooked. Immediately I began to study the harpsichord full-time, going on to take BA hons and MA degrees at the Royal College of Music in harpsichord and historically-informed performance practice.
What Baroque repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
The harpsichord repertoire is astonishing and extensive, encompassing some of the most sublime music ever composed, in particular that of Bach and Handel. I’ve always felt a particular affinity for the French school, however, and that’s the music I’ve cultivated the greatest knowledge of. I’ve been heavily influenced by the playing of Christophe Rousset, and the achievements of William Christie’s Les Arts Florrisant have been a particular inspiration. The French repertoire is vast and there is still much for me to discover and explore. I find in my playing however that I’m constantly drawn back to works of Couperin and Rameau, whose works demonstrate their great understanding of the expressive power of the harpsichord. Their music, imbued with poetry, drama and touching lyricism, is harpsichord music for harpsichordists, idiosyncratic, but never unidiomatic. These favourites aside, there is still much for me to discover and I embrace the challenge of performing lesser-known and unknown works alongside core repertoire.
What do you enjoy most about Handel’s compositional style?
Presently I am immersed in the English repertoire, in particular Handel. This well known corpus is endlessly fascinating, and I love finding novel and surprising features Handel so deftly weaves into everything he does. I feel when I play Handel – and in particular his 1720 suites – that I am embodying a complete orchestra – the violins, the oboes and bassoons – this music is brimming with orchestral colour and is full of remarkable contrasts. My work is to bring out this melange, and to present it in a coherent, unified way.
Considering your concert will feature music from several different composers (JS Bach, Couperin, Duphly, Handel, Rameau and Telemann), what makes your interpretation unique?
I play a diverse range of composers’ music and this in itself poses certain interpretational challenges concerning touch, articulation, phrasing and tempi. Ultimately, in any piece, my goal is to find a unique character or atmosphere to create a mood or narrative that guides my interpretation. I endeavour to express what seems to me to be the true voice of each piece.
How have other modern Baroque artists influenced you?
In my work I am continually absorbing new ideas and approaches which enrich my interpretation. In particular, I take great inspiration from the achievements of the Academy of Ancient Music, Les Arts Florissants and by the playing of Laurence Cummings, Terence Charlston and Carole Cerasi.