Musician of the Month: Ballo Baroque
When did The Ballo Baroque Ensemble form?
We’re relatively new. We’ve been doing concerts since 2012, so a little over a year, but in that time we have been busy! We’ve presented nine different programmes at several venues around London and we’ve actually just returned from our first appearance abroad; we did a concert last week in Goettingen, Germany in the Historical Music Series there that is affiliated with the Handel Festival. It explored the theme of the Hanoverian Kings in England and was a big hit. So things are developing quickly and we are keeping very active, which is wonderful!
You have performed in some historical spaces, What do you think is so special about performing in Handel’s Rehearsal and Performance room?
It may sound strange, but performing in Handel’s house you really have a sense that he is there and it connects you on a deeper level to the music you are making. When you are performing pieces that were written by Handel, and you are doing it in his living room, it’s impossible not to feel like you take on just a bit of his spirit. It’s very special. I love that about all of the wonderful historic venues in London, you feel the past is somehow alive in these places in a way that it just can’t be anywhere else. The historical connections really do their part to help bring the music to life.
Handel spent four cut-throat years from 1733-1737 fighting to secure dominance over the rival company the ‘Opera of the Nobility’, do you think “rivalry” is needed for composing good music?
It can’t hurt to have a bit of ‘healthy’ rivalry (if it can be called that); sometimes we need a little fire under us that keeps everything moving forward. From Handel’s roster of incredibly talented singers, Senesino is the one with which I most connect. Handel wrote some of his best tunes for this singer! From Giulio Cesare, Orlando, Radamisto, and roughly a dozen more, and the behind-the-scenes truth is there was a healthy rivalry going on there between these two men. From the very early days when Senesino arrived in London to work with Handel, in 1720, these two were at odds with each other, and yet, they worked together for 10 years! It seems they never really got along and Handel called Senesino a ‘damn fool’ from the outset—they were often quarrelling—and yet, somehow, this bit of personal tension between them didn’t interfere with Handel’s ability to write some amazing music for Senesino’s distinctive talents. Perhaps the personal conflict was even fuel for Handel’s composing. I would say that is really rivalry at its best!
What does Handel’s music mean to you?
As an ensemble, Handel’s is the music to which we keep returning. It is the core of our repertoire and the lens through which we can explore other lesser known composers. For us, he is the key to understanding someone like Giovanni Antonio Giaj, whose music we presented in a concert in December; or G.B. Bononcini who was represented on a concert we did last month, and so many others. His chamber music shows up a lot on our programmes, as do selections from his operas.
Questions for Randall Scotting:
What made you want to learn to sing? When did you first start singing?
I started out playing cello when I was young (oddly, I know a few other countertenors who have said the same!) and that was my introduction to music. Then when I was about 15 I was drawn to musical theatre and choral singing—I liked the way the words could add another layer to the communication. Then once I was on stage, actually portraying characters in opera, I found that to be magical. I really began to enjoy the challenge of presenting characters, understanding their arc through-out an evening in a whole opera, and then trying to connect that with my own experience and voice to find the way to best be that character.
What does Handel’s music mean to you?
As a countertenor, Handel is my bread and butter. I love singing his music and some of the most important performances I have done have been singing Handel’s music. There is such drama and depth, the musical challenges are substantial but wonderful to tackle, it’s all there. Handel was truly a genius and his music, for me, combines all the elements of skill and passion perfectly. I work a lot with the music of Handel’s colleagues and I absolutely love the discovery that comes with singing something ‘new’ that hasn’t been done in a very long time and that nobody knows in our modern day, but I also love returning to my musical home and roots with Handel. I once heard someone say that as a singer there are probably only about five roles that you will sing that will absolutely fit you like a glove and you will feel are a natural extension of your thoughts and abilities… if that’s true, I would say that for me four of those five have to be by Handel!
Question for Marie Van Rhijn:
What made you want to learn to play the harpsichord? When did you first start playing?
I discovered the harpsichord at an early age; my mother was learning recorder and sometimes had to bring my twin sister and I along to her lessons. Her teacher was playing the harpsichord to accompany the students and I was fascinated with both the sound and the appearance of this instrument. For a little girl, with interest in stories and History, it easily connects with sort of princess dreams, and with the imagery of “Castle time”. I also listened to quite a lot of early music repertoire during my childhood and was attracted by this spontaneous style and most of all, by its strong link to dance. I started playing harpsichord at seven years old and I was lucky that my parents got me a little spinet during my second year of practice. Later, at the age of 16, I was really enjoying playing and researching—discovering more and more from early music composers—so I naturally went further in the study of baroque music. I even took up organ, clavichord, baroque violin, and viola da gamba as well…then singing…and finally I decided to make my professional debut with the harpsichord.
Question for Magdalena Loth-Hill:
What made you want to learn to play the violin? When did you first start playing?
Growing up in a household of music lovers I was surrounded by music as a small child, whether on the radio or my father playing the piano. I first asked my parents for a violin at the age of two and a half… and I kept asking until I finally convinced them I was serious at age of four and a half. I immediately loved the sound of the instrument and enjoyed playing duets with my father. Baroque violin was a more recent discovery for me. As a student at the Royal College of Music, I borrowed a baroque bow to try it out playing some solo Bach. The experience piqued my curiosity and I was keen to explore further, playing at baroque pitch and on gut strings. Investigating this repertoire from a historically informed perspective is incredibly satisfying and has really opened my mind (and ears!). I just love the sound of the baroque violin and the repertoire from this period is so huge and so varied that I could never tire of it!