Musician of the Month: The Akenside Players
We had all previously worked together in various combinations, and in January 2012 we decided to come together to explore the Baroque Trio Sonata repertoire. The Broadwood Ensemble Competition provided us with a good incentive to really work intensively very early on and helped us to quickly establish that this genre of music was something we all wanted to perform more of. We took our name from the 18th Century poet and physician Mark Akenside whose essay on ‘The Pleasures of the Imagination’ was influential in shaping contemporary composers’ ideas about the perception of beauty.
You recently won the Broadwood Ensemble Competition. What was it like participating in and winning that?
It was great fun for all of us to participate in the competition. The time we spent in preparation really drew us together, and the opportunity to perform to such a friendly and supportive audience in the lovely surroundings of Fenton House (and with the use of their historic instrument collection!) was very special. Winning the competition was unexpected, but a massive bonus, and we’re now very excited to have the chance to perform at other historical instrument collections around the UK and to share our love of this repertoire with a wider audience.
What do you enjoy most about performing Handel?
Handel is an enormously creative composer. The interplay he writes, not only between the two violins, but also with the cello & harpsichord, provides endless possibilities for interpretation. The cello and the harpsichord are very independent form the melody lines which allows us to really explore the contrapuntal nature of the music. Also, as he so often ‘recycles’ his material, we are constantly being drawn to other sources of inspiration when studying and rehearsing, especially to his operas. His capacity for lyricism and drama challenges us constantly in the best and most enjoyable of ways.
Explain your approach to English Trio Sonatas. What makes The Akenside Players’ interpretation unique?
We decided to focus on the English sonatas while working towards the Broadwood Competition, for which we had chosen to perform a sonata by William Boyce. The more we delved into this particular niche of the repertoire, the more music we discovered that we wanted to explore, and so we had the idea to spend some time building programmes around these works. We also realised we could include works by composers, such as Geminiani, who had spent time in the British Isles and whose output reflected the influence of local folk music or other British composers. Our interpretation is formed from the input of four strong musical personalities from very different backgrounds (one Japanese, one Danish, and two English!), and we like to think that it is this very particular mix of personalities which makes our interpretations unique. Each of us brings our own ‘take’ on the music to any rehearsal, and we all recognise the value of being able to work so closely together in such a small ensemble in order to see past our individualities, without losing anything important, in order to find our own voice for this music.
Do you think performing at Handel House brings out another dimension of the music?
Definitely! It’s always a pleasure to play at Handel House, and to think we are in the same rooms where Handel rehearsed and composed. To play such intimate music in such a place is to really play ‘chamber music’, and we always feel in this venue that we can truly enjoy the smaller detail of the music because nothing ever gets lost in the acoustic as it would in a larger room. To be able to interact with our audience on such a personal level is immensely rewarding for us and, we hope, them!