Musician of the Month: Le Jardin Secret
David Blunden (harpsichord), Sofie Vanden Eynde (theorbo) and I performed a concert together in Basel, Switzerland in 2006. We enjoyed the experience and music-making so much that we formed our ensemble, calling it Le Jardin Secret. In French, the term “jardin secret” is a metaphor for the heart, a secret, private, intimate place where one can pursue one’s heart’s desire. The baroque ideal for composers of the 17th century was to move the passions, and we hope that we can also achieve this ideal for our audiences, transporting them also to their own secret garden.
What drew you to baroque music?
Taste in music is like taste in everything – very personal. For some it will be a childhood memory of hearing ‘Messiah’ or ‘St Matthew Passion’ for the first time that marks their turning-point towards baroque style. For others it will be a natural extension of their curiosity about experimenting and making the leap from modern instrument to an ancient one (piano to harpsichord, for example). For me, it stemmed from hearing a baroque trumpet played when I was 8 years old and a recording of Emma Kirkby and James Bowman singing Pergolesi’s ‘Stabat Mater’. None of this music is music that I perform now, and I certainly do not play baroque trumpet. However, these were definite turning-points. Speaking for the group, we all studied at conservatoria with a huge emphasis on and reputation for baroque music (Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, The Royal Conservatory of the Hague, The Royal Conservatory in Brussels). Surrounded by world-class performers as your teachers, it is hard not to be further inspired.
What do you find particularly interesting about the combination of Italian and French music?
Seventeenth century French vocal music is beautiful and fascinating for many reasons and one of the most interesting reasons is the often tense musical relationship that French music had with its transalpine counterpart. For Italian music was at the very heart and core of the development of what we have come to think of today as French baroque style, as epitomised by the Italian-born Jean Baptiste Lully. Without the machinations of the unpopular Cardinal Mazarin in his importation of Italian musicians and the Italian music of Luigi Rossi and Cavalli and others, there would have been no frisson between the two styles and without this level of sparring and vying for supremacy, the French style would not have developed as it did.
What are your favourite pieces or styles to perform as an ensemble?
My favourite style as a singer would have to be French vocal music from the great Lully operas of the seventeenth century. How we arrange these pieces down from the orchestral settings to fit the instruments of the group is another question. Rameau is another huge favourite. With Le Jardin Secret, we are equally at home with the seventeenth century Italian idiom – it is always refreshing to turn from the elegant refinement of French music back to the chromatic passions and exuberance of the Italian style.
Why do you think Handel House is such a special place to perform?
Handel House is a very special place to perform. It is very special to play in the space that was once inhabited by one of the greatest composers of all time and it is also always a huge treat to play in such a small, intimate room. This is how chamber music works best – in a chamber and a couple of feet away from the people you are playing for. In this way, you get to gauge their reactions and work off those reactions and when you’ve done a good job you see their appreciation and emotion up close.