Cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras (Kay-ras) plays Haydn Cello Concerto in C major with LACO in October. Queyras hails from the Provence region of southern France where he is an artistic director of the music festival, Rencontres Musicales de Haute Provence, founded by his family in 1983. The festival’s founding objective was to challenge the formality of classical concerts and to present high quality musical performances to local people in their backyards. These priorities remain in place today.
The Queyras family’s approach to breaking the formal ‘rules’ of classical music is a rather lovely one: bringing world-class music to the masses on a modest, rural-town scale in venues where the audience feel right at home. They know where to park and where the bathroom is and they know some of the people performing on stage, just as they know those sitting to their right and left. Jean-Guihen talks about the festival in short video below (around 4:28) but do watch it in full if you have time – he gives a fascinating insight into his musical life from first starting out on the cello to when he found ‘his voice’ in an instrument made by Goffredo Cappa in 1696.
Formal, highbrow, elitist – these are some of the perceptions that classical music ensembles and their marketing teams work to counter on a daily basis and advances have certainly been made. Ticket promotions and social media interaction are popular ways to engage with new and younger audiences. Some organizations are taking bigger and bolder steps to distance themselves from the dress-up and quiet down tradition of concert going. TheLondon Contemporary Orchestra, for example, recently performed Stockhausen’s KLANG in outfits designed byDame Vivienne Westwood – you can read about their sartorial rebellion here. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE), another London based group, performs on period instruments but their concerts are far from old fashioned. The Night Shift is their popular concert series where drinking is permitted and cheering or booing are encouraged, though resting your scruffy Converse on the back of the chair in front might be taking it too far. The OAE also takes its music-making to pubs, creating intimate and boozy musical events. I managed to catch their gig at The Paradise in North London last year, which was apt as Purcell and Peroni* make for a heavenly mix. Best of all I talked a few non-concert going friends into coming too.
LACO subscribers are no longer surprised when Jeffrey spontaneously spends a few minutes introducing a work from the stage, as he did again at the September concerts before Lutosławski’s Chain 2, and of course, personal introductions of the music and Q&A with the audience are now as much part of LACO’s Baroque Conversationsand Westside Connections brand as the music itself. But what we accept as “normal” in the LACO setting is still unusual fare for most orchestral presentations. Closer to home, LACO educational artists-in-residence PROJECTTrio and LACO colleagues wild Up are doing their part to break out of the stereotypical classical music box.
With his technical and musical brilliance, coupled with a shared passion for the personal touch, Jean-Guihen andLACO are a match made in music-making heaven. If it were on the same continent I’d suggest we do a third performance in that same north London pub!