VDB brings back baroque
Baroque music and Tasmania have had a tumultuous relationship: two years of acclaimed festivals in 2013-14; a stormy departure by impresario Leo Schofield; two years of silence; and now a triumphant return.
The Van Diemen's Band has struck up, almost magically, in 2017 to bring world-class baroque back to the State.
The artfully named ensemble was founded by one of Australia's finest violinists, Julia Fredersdorff.
She told Limelight magazine: "After two amazing years of Hobart Baroque and the subsequent departure of that festival, I found it increasingly frustrating that I had absolutely no opportunity to perform in my home State, despite an obvious enthusiasm for period performance.
"Hobart Baroque had proven that there was a real appetite for baroque music here, but there seemed to be a big gap in the market.
"So one day I was driving along Sandy Bay Road and suddenly the name ‘Van Diemen’s Band’ popped into my head, like some kind of epiphany.
"I thought to myself: ‘It’s a sign! I have to do this!'
The first performances more than justified her decision.
“The first concert was at a level of excellence that almost exceeded my expectations," Ms Fredersdorff said.
Critic Martyn Goddard wrote: "Perhaps to their slight surprise, given that this was a new orchestra nobody had heard of, listeners found a performance of world class.
"The Van Diemen’s Band is bloody good!"
Ms Fredersdorff said: "Apart from nourishing Tasmania with this wonderful and varied style of music, I feel that the exotic location and the frontier-like landscape are the perfect backdrop for an orchestra such as this.
"I am taking inspiration from this incredibly wild and largely untouched island to discover and explore little-known repertoire, and in turn introduce it to our audiences.
"My idea is to bring colleagues from overseas and from mainland Australia to come and inspire the local audiences, and to have a team of musicians who can rotate their responsibilities so everybody feels equally involved.
"After all, a small orchestra is still a chamber music ensemble!
"In addition to this, each time we bring a guest artist from overseas or interstate, our plan is to hold education workshops concurrently, so that local musicians can benefit from their expertise."
VDB’s (it's almost a shame to use an acronym) staged its first concerts in Hobart and Launceston as part of the 10 Days on the Island festival.
Cello Napoletano featured music by 18th-century composer, Nicola Fiorenza, whose works are rarely heard.
The ensemble's next engagement, Tin Shed Baroque, was performed in the former Gunns Ltd woodchip plant at Triabunna.
"It is a wonderful juxtaposition, to have the grand and formal structure of baroque music juxtaposed against a tin shed!" Ms Fredersdorff said.
"Not only that, but a tin shed on a wood chip plant looking out on the beautiful Tasmanian wilderness, including Maria Island.
"I love this kind of concert, playing baroque music in new and poignant buildings, which have their own very special history and atmosphere.
"The relaxed atmosphere of a shed has the added bonus of breaking down the audience/performer barrier, and I feel that the less formal the concert is, the more we can communicate and draw the audience in."
Melbourne-born Ms Fredersdorff studied early music at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague, Netherlands, with the soloists in the group's first concerts, cellist Catherine Jones and baritone David Greco.
Following the success of the initial performances, Ms Fredersdorff is aspiring to "lots of discovery, collaboration, education, and bringing audiences the best baroque music we can find."
She wants to continue to involve her favourite performers from around Australia and the world.
"Eventually I would love to find a way for us to tour, but for the moment, we are concentrating on getting ourselves established in our home State and building our own identity."
The exciting chamber orchestra has completed its first recording Cello Napoletano, a CD under the ABC Classics label, which is scheduled for release in October 2017.
Music of the baroque ‒ roughly, the period between 1600 and 1750 ‒ is the only classical music that is displaying growth in the age of the internet.
Goddard wrote: "Although symphony orchestras playing the 19th century repertoire dominate the airwaves and government Arts funding, worldwide audiences are [declining] both for live performance and for sales of recordings.
"For baroque music, it is the opposite.
"Ever since the revival of authentic performances in the 1960s and 1970s, the classical music world has seen the same trends: a decline in big symphony orchestras and a constant growth in the much smaller baroque ensembles."
Baroque music developed in Europe before the construction of major concert halls.
By necessity it was performed by smaller groups of musicians than modern orchestras, so it is relatively affordable.
It is more improvised in style, being sometimes compared with jazz.
Leo Schofield saw a likely match in the genre and Hobart's timeless Theatre Royal.
He initiated Hobart Baroque which won many plaudits before it was shifted to Brisbane following a falling out over State funding, but the festival has now wound up.
Hopefully, VDB will have a future more closely aligned to the genre's increasing global popularity.
VDB's next concert will be at a chamber music festival at Evandale in October.
Image courtesy of Van Diemen's Band
6 June 2017, Edition 184