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Australia’s Period Instrument Orchestras Have Doubled in Five Years

Adelaide Baroque at Ukaria. Image Credit: Adelaide Baroque Facebook
Graham Strahle
| May 7, 2018

Until the 1990s Australia could claim no period instrument orchestra of its own, even though by then the early music movement in Europe was well in its stride and many of its celebrated Baroque orchestras familiar today were already well established – including Concentus Musicus Wien, La Petite Bande, Academy of Ancient Music and English Baroque Soloists, to name but a few. Now however, Australia can boast over half a dozen such orchestras, demonstrating how the appetite for Baroque music in this country continues to grow.

The first was the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, which gave its first concert in 1990. Under founder and artistic director Paul Dyer, it has used the Sydney City Recital Hall as its main venue since the latter opened in 2000. A decade later came Orchestra of the Antipodes. Led by artistic director Erin Helyard and founding artistic director Antony Walker, this is an occasional orchestra that assembles for productions by Sydney’s Pinchgut Opera.

Two further groups were formed in 2011. These were the Brisbane-based Queensland Baroque, a period instrument orchestra whose artistic director is John Foster, and the Sydney-based Australian Haydn Ensemble founded by its artistic director and principal violinist, Skye McIntosh. Variable in size according to the repertoire it takes on, the latter straddles the categories of orchestra and chamber group.

More recently, the Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra, formerly known as orchestra seventeen88, was established in 2013 by Richard Gill, its artistic director and principal conductor, Rachael Beesley, its concertmaster and director, and clarinettist Nicole van Bruggen. Describing itself as a chamber orchestra, Van Diemen’s Band is another group that varies in size from concert to concert: it was formed in 2016 by Baroque violinist and artistic director, Julia Fredersdorff.

Although it does not call itself an orchestra, the newly formed Bach Akademie Australia qualifies for that description in its performances of larger works by Bach including his cantatas and concertos. Under its artistic director Madeleine Easton it gave its first concerts in 2017.

Here we take a look at the newest addition to the fold, Adelaide Baroque Orchestra. Debuting in May, it is a creation of Adelaide Baroque, a longstanding organisation that has been presenting Baroque chamber concerts for over 30 years. Its current core musicians include recorder players Lynton Rivers and Jayne Varnish, Baroque violinist Simone Slattery, and harpsichordists Katrina Brown and Anne Whelan.

The orchestra they are assembling builds on the group’s recent larger projects, notably its annual Café Zimmermann concerts, in which they have expanded their body of instrumentalists to up to 15 to take on predominantly orchestral programs. Their annual Café Zimmermann concerts are most notable: these seek to recreate the atmosphere of the Leipzig cafés during the time Bach and Telemann were stationed in that city.

Adelaide Baroque says the idea of forming an orchestra began in 2017 and will develop over the years 2018-2020 via “a step by step approach with larger scale works and orchestra”. They see establishing a regular core of string players as fundamental to that aim.

“Building the passion and performance practice of the string players is a vital step in developing the Baroque Orchestra,” they say. “We believe we have the vision, the commitment and the musical talent to create this exciting development for the SA music scene.”

Adelaide Baroque Orchestra’s inaugural concert, ‘La Serenissima: Vivaldi & Venice’, is on May 19 at Elder Hall, and will be led by guest soloist and director, Davide Monti, a highly regarded Baroque violinist from Italy. Key string players will include Slattery and violone player Robert Nairn, both of whom are also current members of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra – they discuss the new orchestra in this video. Further concert details here.

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