Musician of the Month: Ensemble LUX
Our first concert as a group was at the Handel House Museum almost exactly two years ago but we had already been working together through various partnerships quite a few years earlier. We initially met as students; Merlin and Asako at Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Stephen and Nikolay at the Royal Academy of Music. Stephen and Merlin also played together in a couple of projects for the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme in 2007. Add to that the fact that Asako and Nikolay are married and you have quite a complex tree of associations.
What do you as an ensemble bring to the works of JS Bach?
In the case of the organ trio sonata, Merlin has arranged what was originally an organ piece for our ensemble of recorder, violin, cello, and harpsichord. This offers a new perspective on the work, first with the added dynamic of having four separate players as opposed to just one, but also given the individual timbral palettes, range of articulations, note shapes and so on that our instruments offer. We are also performing a sonata for violin and obbligato harpsichord, essentially a trio sonata for two players (the three voices being violin, harpsichord right hand and harpsichord left hand) as well as the trio sonata BWV1038 for a typical trio-sonata scoring and for a long time attributed to Bach, but more likely an exercise set for one of his pupils or sons on his own bass line. We hope that this offers an interesting exploration of Bach’s trio sonatas in that we are playing all but a conventional ‘Bach trio sonata’!
What do you feel is the relationship between the music of Bach and Handel?
Our initial reaction draws us more toward the differences between the music of these two composers. Handel was an extremely well-travelled musician who assimilated an enormous array of musical styles through meeting many of his musical contemporaries and learning directly through his contact with them. By comparison Bach’s parochial engagements restricted him to a much smaller geographical area and yet many of the styles and forms of musical architecture that you find within Handel’s music are also prevalent in his, such as the fugue or the French operatic Ouverture. Bach developed his own thorough understanding of these styles through the rigorous study, copying and arranging of the music of other composers such as Telemann, Vivaldi and indeed Handel, all of whose music were performed during his tenure as director of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig. Although the two never met, it is clear that they held each other in very high regard.
You’re performing a concert on Thursday 21 March to celebrate Bach’s 328th Birthday, why do you think that celebration is important?
Well, the number symbolists amongst us could not resist pointing out that celebrating Bach’s 328th birthday on 21/3/13 would seem particularly appropriate since the numbers 2, 1, 3, and 8 represent B, A, C and H respectively! Aside from this, time and cyclicity, as well as festivity and celebration, are very important notions when engaging with Bach’s music. In Leipzig, for example, Bach is thought to have composed five complete annual cantata cycles centred around the liturgical calendar, for religious feasts as well as weddings, birthdays, and secular celebrations. Schumann said that “music owes as much to Bach as religion to its founder” and so perhaps, for musicians, celebrating Bach is even a quasi-religious experience in some sense since, as time progresses, his music continues to possess an eternal validity.
What comes to mind when you hear the word Handel?
A man with a great feeling for the world and its people. His is the ultimate success story; that of an outsider who made it good on these shores to the point that he is now fêted almost as a national treasure.
Why do you think Handel House is such an enjoyable space in which to perform?
We love the intimacy of the space. Larger halls can often feel anonymous, like the performers are in a frame looked upon by the audience, whereas here the closeness of the audience lends itself to a shared experience and a reciprocal relationship between performers and audience; we give to them and they give to us. We also enjoy the lively acoustics of the room with its wooden floors and panels. And of course, as historically informed performers, our imaginations are fired by the history of the place and the paintings and other artifacts from the Handel’s time.