The Brandenburg Concertos, The Celebration


Johann Sebastian Bach's Brandenburg Concertos exist in almost countless versions. Everybody, from Herbert von Karajan to Nikolaus Harnoncourt, works with this repertoire and some recordings are less convincing, others are wonderful. That does not stop music producer Stefan Winter to record the Six Concerts Avec plusieurs instruments in a new interpretation. Together with Die Freitagsakademie – an ensemble consisting of the best musicians of the Swiss baroque scene – he turns the piece into a special listening experience.

 

Stefan Winter is known for the creation of AudioFilms (cinema for closed eyes): "Wagner e Venezia", "The Sidewalks of New York" (with Uri Caine), "Orient Express", "Charmed with Verdi", "Schumann's Bar Music" (with Fumio Yasuda), "ˇTango Vivo!" and "Diaspora in Buenos Aires" (with Andrés Linetzky). Winter does not just want to document music, but is interested in creating fictitious sound stories with references to historic events and sometimes to personal experiences. The wish to realize a baroque AudioFilm exists since his youth. Winter is fascinated of the new, breathtaking European sounds, which develop in the most fantastic way after Prince Eugene of Savoy's liberation against the Ottoman empire. The occident is celebrating the new freedom and the baroque era is dawning. European architecture, art and music are changing fundamentally. Johann Sebastian Bach, born March 31st in 1685, two years after the decisive battle at Kahlenberg, is one of the protagonists of this era. From 1717 to 1723 Bach lives in Cöthen and composes outstanding works. Stefan Winter writes the fictional diary about Johann Sebastian Bach's happy years during his stay at Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen's court, his supporter and lifelong friend. The midsummer celebration, a special event on June 21st, 1721, is the core of "The Celebration, J. S. Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos". This double album tells the story of an exhilarating midsummer night's festival. The night offers everything, wonderful music, thrilling fireworks and great bonfires.

The idea to make an AudioFilm about a baroque celebration with the performance of the Brandenburg Concertos is an exception to the general rule of the music industry. The first concerto is not the opening track of the album, instead the driving in a horse-drawn carriage to Cöthen. The celebration takes place open air, the invited guests gather along in the garden of the castle which becomes a ballroom, and the locals join the party. Candles, torches and again and again flashing fireworks lit the castle's facade. The thunderous strokes of the clock mark the time. The midsummer fire illuminates the night scenery. Bach's music fulfills the whole place.

 

Without conductor the baroque ensemble Die Freitagsakademie plays the role of the Hofkapelle (court orchestra). The individual voices act jointly together with highest concentration and precision. An instrument presents a theme, another player takes this theme, develops it further and gives it to another musician. The voices of the instruments discuss and perform with each other and create dialogues. Concerts arise in the truest sense of the word and over and over again fugue-like euphoric sound cascades dive into the space. Sometimes the music resembles one of Vivaldi's compositions or French court music, nonetheless the whole piece originates unmistakably from one hand and turns out completely rounded. Bach gives us an exciting series of concerts consisting of six parts, which he composes at different times but combines as a whole in Cöthen. Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen advises him to dedicate the work to Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt, uncle of the Prussian King. In the last fifty years the historical performance practice is changing. Harnoncourt and his ensemble Concentus Musicus Wien lead the change. He makes history. Il Giardino Armonico and others follow. Barriers get broken down, borders disappear, the doors and gates open up. This development gives the young generation of musicians the freedom to take baroque music out of the museum and to blow the dust of hundreds of years away. Die Freitagsakademie, based in Switzerland, belongs to the young generation, who translates the old scores with sovereignity into their own new music. The respect for the work, the composer and the knowledge, that music, time and society are inextricably linked, are most important. Nevertheless, in the present time the translation of the score into sounds cannot be leaded by the attempt to imitate the performance style of Bach, Vivaldi or Lully and their contemporaries, but to risk new interpretations. The Freitagsakademie plays Bach's Brandenburg Concertos lively, young and fresh. No movement feels rushed or too fast, the work has a fine tempo. Every rhythm has a natural pulse, every note has its significance, every bar has a proper breathing. The voices of the very different sounding instruments develop their characteristic colours. The scores bloom and Bach's happy years in Cöthen can be experienced. Die Freitagsakademie translates the word »concerto« (disputation) into the original meaning. The music of Die Freitagsakademie is a true joy, this special ensemble enables the listeners to experience the well-known composition in a new way.

 

The Freitagsakademie does not use any digital multi-track technique. The natural ambient is recorded by two omnidirectional microphones direct live-to-analog-two-track. These omnidirectional microphones generate a quite simply unaltered musical sound. The real development of the sound waves are recorded without any limitation, that is the reason why every instrument keeps its authentic sound and location. Harpsichord, baroque trumpet, alto recorder, oboe, cello and piccolo violin keep their spectrum of sounds and power. Special attention is given to the high-fidelity sound by using the analogue technology, but working without digital recording equipment has also another advantage, the manipulation with thousands of digital edits is made impossible. The moment of the recording moves into the foreground. Like an author or composer who writes with a fountain pen and not with a computer program, the ensemble Die Freitagsakademie does it without the possibility of digital exchangeability. The music is created in the exhilaration and moments of highest concentration, like an outstanding concert under best conditions at a special place created for music.

 

Bach's Six Concerts Avec plusieurs instruments, the so-called Brandenburg Concertos, become a feature film for closed eyes about a midsummer celebration that happened almost 300 years ago at Cöthen. It is likely that this celebration has never really taken place, but that is another story.


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