John Eliot Gardiner's ORR Turns 30 This Season
This season marks not only the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, but also 30 years since the founding of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (ORR), one of the three ensembles that make up the trailblazing Monteverdi Choir and Orchestras (MCO). As MCO founder and artistic director John Eliot Gardiner recalls, he and the period-instrument orchestra made it their mission to "recover the world of Beethoven's sound" from the outset.
Fittingly then, to celebrate the present season's twin milestones, he looks forward to leading the ORR on "Beethoven 250": a major transatlantic tour presenting complete cycles of the composer's symphonies in residencies at London's Barbican Hall and Barcelona's Palau de la Música, where they will be joined by members of the MCO's innovative Monteverdi Apprentices Programme, and at Chicago's Harris Theater and New York's Carnegie Hall, where the conductor is a 2019-20 Perspectives artist. Their accounts of the incomparable Ninth Symphony will feature the Monteverdi Choir, which also joins Gardiner and the ORR next May and June, when they tour Italy, France and Austria with a program of French Romantic choral music in "Fauré | Berlioz | Brahms," and again next year, when they continue the "Beethoven 250" celebrations with a major European tour of Missa solemnis (details to be announced shortly). Click here to sample favorites from the ORR's substantial, Grammy-winning discography, as compiled by Gardiner; Dinis Sousa (assistant conductor); Peter Hanson (leader); Val Botwright, Marten Root, and Anneke Scott (principals); and Dr. Rosa Solinas (general director).
Hear more from the orchestra section leaders about what makes the ORR such a unique force in the classical world.
Beethoven, "Beethoven 250," and the 2019-20 Monteverdi Apprentices Programme
Looking back over the past three decades at the helm of the ORR, Gardiner, the winner of two Grammys and more Gramophone Awards than any other living artist, reflects:
"When we started the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique 30 years ago our aim was to provide bold new perspectives on the glorious orchestral works of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Over time, this repertoire has been in danger of becoming stale - uprooted from its period setting as though it had been transplanted into an unnatural soil made up of a composite, undifferentiated style characteristic of the 1930s. Since the ORR's inception we have used our time together productively and creatively to explore fresh approaches to this much-loved music, some of it familiar but also some of it neglected or undervalued. Through the use and mastery of period instruments, the ORR musicians bring out the subtle and pervasive differences in the palette of sounds that composers as different as Beethoven, Berlioz, Schumann, Debussy and Verdi were committed to revealing. Time and again the players have shown vision and tenacity in demonstrating the techniques and sounds required to recapture the true essence of this music. Every time we embark on a fresh project together I am amazed and touched by the way the players seem willing to put their necks on the block in order to bring this music back to intoxicating life once again."
See the conductor talk further about Beethoven and the ORR's distinctive sound.
Dedicated since its inception to bringing stylistic fidelity and intensity of expression to 19th- and early 20th-century repertoire, the period-instrument orchestra has long been celebrated as one of the foremost exponents of historically informed Beethoven. In the 1990s, it was with extensive live performances and Deutsche Grammophon recordings of the composer's principal choral works and his complete symphonies and piano concertos that the ORR first came to international attention. Fusing fiery urgency with spiritual depth, its Beethoven interpretations continue to stand apart. Whenever the orchestra revisits his music, whether on European and U.S. tours or on live recordings for the MCO's own Soli Deo Gloria (SDG) label, the critical response is nothing short of euphoric. In a five-star review by the Financial Times, Gardiner and the ORR's SDG recording of the Missa solemnis was pronounced "an incandescent performance driven by an intensity of phrasing, rapid-fire chorals and a radiant quartet of soloists."
According to the Washington Post, in a "galvanic, no-holds-barred performance" of Beethoven's Fifth and an "incandescent reading" of the "Eroica" at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., they proved themselves "peerless ... in Beethoven." Similarly, in the "Egmont" Overture at Carnegie Hall, the New York Times found that "the demonic energy and heroic mien we associate with the Beethoven of legend was present and possessive."
As the review continued:
"Fundamental to a gripping account of the Symphony No. 7 was Mr. Gardiner's taut rhythmic conception, brilliantly negotiated by players light-years advanced over their forebears in the period-instrument revival in terms of security and style. ... Mr. Gardiner wrought Beethoven fresh and strange, with gutsy, brash and rasping instrumental voices united in triumph."
Now international audiences once again have the opportunity to experience these interpretations for themselves when, to celebrate "Beethoven 250," Gardiner and the orchestra give five complete Beethoven symphonic cycles at high-profile destinations on both sides of the Atlantic: Barcelona's Palau de la Música (Feb 9-14), Chicago's Harris Theater (Feb 27-March 3), London's Barbican Hall (May 11-16), a major European festival, still to be announced (June 22-27), and New York's Carnegie Hall (Feb 19-24), where the conductor is currently being honored as a 2019-20 Perspectives artist. Spread over five concerts, each cycle features the Monteverdi Choir and a stellar quartet of vocal soloists in the monumental and uplifting "Choral" Symphony and presents the First Symphony alongside three relative Beethovenian rarities: excerpts from Leonore (the original version of Fidelio) and the scene and aria "Ah! Perfido," both featuring Lucy Crowe, a soprano blessed with "artistry beyond compare" (The Independent, UK), as well as excerpts from Beethoven's only full-length ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus.The ORR's Barcelona and London concerts also showcase the emergent young string players of the 2019-20 Monteverdi Apprentices Programme. Launched in 2007, this was the first of its kind in the UK. Designed to follow undergraduate or postgraduate study, and typically alternating by season between string players and singers, it enables outstanding young musicians to spend a full year working with Gardiner alongside some of the best and most experienced musicians in the business. The program's current edition enables twelve young string players to perform, tour and train throughout the season with the conductor and the ORR, performing alongside the orchestra in a wide range of repertoire, as well as receiving dedicated coaching, workshops and mentorship. The young apprentices take part in "Beethoven 250" as a primary focus of the yearlong program, before performing in major projects and a showcase recital early next fall. They will then be considered for further professional engagements with the ORR; of the program's 60-plus alumni, more than 70% have gone on to work as fully-fledged members of the MCO. Violinist Davina Clarke, who completed her apprenticeship in 2013 and is now a regular member of both the ORR and MCO's English Baroque Soloists, comments:
"I started my time with the group as an apprentice in 2012, resulting in one of the most exciting and rewarding years of my professional life to date. I learned so much, not only from John Eliot, through individual coaching and masterclasses, but also from my other colleagues. Working alongside such experienced period players was a wonderful, insightful opportunity. I was able to develop and refine my technique, learn touring tricks and also get a taste of professional orchestral life. The ORR is the most remarkable orchestra. It is not just the concerts that are filled with musical magic - during each rehearsal we are encouraged to play with imagination and commitment, resulting in the creation of a raw and authentic energy, which is so exciting to be a part of."
Berlioz and "Fauré | Berlioz | Brahms"
Beyond Beethoven, Gardiner and the ORR are also perhaps the preeminent period-instrument interpreters of music by all the major early Romantic composers. Over the past three decades, besides performing and recording operas by Verdi, Chabrier, Debussy, Weber and Bizet, whose Carmen had "never sounded more revolutionary, romantic or thrillingly vibrant" (Sunday Times, UK), they have devoted landmark projects to Schumann, Brahms and, most notably, Berlioz. Highlights of earlier initiatives dedicated to the French composer include performing and recording his Symphonie fantastique in the hall of the original Paris Conservatoire, where its world premiere took place in 1830; taking part in the first modern performances of the newly rediscovered Messe solennelle; and mounting the first complete staged production in Paris of his grand opera Les Troyens. In recent seasons the ORR has once again turned its focus to Berlioz, with extensive tours of his major symphonic works and, marking its first contemporary period-instrument performances, his first opera, Benvenuto Cellini. Culminating in this year's 150th anniversary commemorations of the composer's death, these tours included appearances at Carnegie Hall, France's Festival Berlioz, the Berliner Festspiele, the Edinburgh International Festival and London's BBC Proms, where the ORR gave five consecutive annual concerts of Berlioz's music. Once again, the critical response was unanimously rapturous. After their account of Harold in Italy at the Royal Albert Hall, the Financial Times marveled:
"With his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique on top form Gardiner was by turns thrillingly dynamic ..., poetic and kaleidoscopic in colour. Berlioz has no idea what he missed."
Likewise, after an all-Berlioz program at Carnegie Hall, the New York Classical Review marveled: "The orchestra played with tremendous energy and a sense of freedom that came out of an expressive joy in every note. ... The result was one spectacular moment after the next." As Australia's Limelight magazine put it,
"Gardiner remains one of the most vigorous and inspirational figures on the podium, driving his interpretations with a fiery intelligence and passion that speaks eloquently of the period. He's especially right for Berlioz ... . Over the last 30 years, the sound of the period orchestra has become more familiar ... but it still has the power to shock."
Later during their anniversary season, Gardiner and the MCO once again join forces with the Monteverdi Choir for a program of late-Romantic choral music. Pairing Berlioz's song cycle Les nuits d'été with Fauré's Requiem and Brahms's Four Songs and Alto Rhapsody, this takes them to Italy's Pavia and Udine, Austria's Salzburg Whitsun Festival, and a key French festival, yet to be announced (May 26-June 2).Click here to learn more about the ORR and its 30-year history.