Carl Vine on Concerto Copenhagen
It is easy to stupefy today’s youth. Just explain to them how, not much more than a decade ago, much of our music listening was conducted using small, flat, plastic boxes called ‘cassettes’. Each one contained two tiny reels, wrapped around which was a thin polyester tape coated in magnetic powder that inevitably got tangled in the shoebox-sized playing mechanism at some point or other, often resulting in piles of useless twisted ribbon spewing over the carpet. These ‘tapes’ couldn’t be indexed or searched, could only be copied from scratch start to finish, and if the verb ‘download’ had been invented, it would have required the use of a fork-lift truck.
You can just as easily amaze today’s music students by explaining that as recently as the 1950s, Baroque music was an arcane curiosity: the unique province of esoteric academics and private societies, and rarely heard on public concert platforms as it is now.
Concerto Copenhagen and its director Lars Ulrik Mortensen typify the return to prominence that this extraordinary period of music has enjoyed in the last few decades. The group’s landmark leap into Handel opera performed on period instruments and stylistically-informed voices has, a decade later, paid off handsomely. Today ‘CoCo’ is regarded as a leader in its field, its quality reflected in the uniformly high standard of its members’ playing.
All of the musicians involved with CoCo have at some point in their careers made a choice – which once would have been labelled foolhardy – to step away from the common pathway of music students, venturing instead into this rarefied historic speciality. Genevieve Lacey turned her back on a beckoning life as a modern oboist to specialise in Baroque recorder.
Most music-teaching institutions are streamlined to neatly convey musicians into a conventional role in a symphony orchestra or international soloist competition. Devoting one’s life to what we now call Early Music implies an acceptance of continuing research and scholarly endeavour alongside daily practice and rehearsal schedules: continuing to examine ancient manuscripts and treatises; arguing points of interpretation from historical precepts alone; and more often than not, wrestling with an instrument that hasn’t received the benefits of modern technology (like levers and plastic washers!) to make it easier to play. It’s a tough row to hoe, which helps explain the extraordinary level of dedication exhibited by its disciples.
In these concerts across Australia we hope you’ll enjoy the fruits of this tough-hoed ‘other’ row, including the now-accepted career of period instrument specialists, full of research, guesswork, experimentation, curiosity and improvisation, and not a cassette tape in sight.