The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Circa’s third collaboration, English Baroque with Circa, opens the Canberra International Music Festival tonight before visiting Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Anders Furze talks to artistic directors Paul Dyer and Yaron Lifschitz.
Recently, Paul Dyer, the irrepressible artistic director and co-founder of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, found himself hanging upside down on a trapeze.
“There I was hanging upside down and thinking, ‘Oh, right’,” he says, his voice a mixture of excitement and uncertainty. “But you’ve got to push it, right? You’ve got to keep on pushing it.”
The trapeze came via the Brisbane-based contemporary circus company Circa, who are collaborating with the Brandenburg Orchestra on new show English Baroque with Circa.
“I went around to all the arts companies in Australia and did a bit of a look-see at who was doing what,” Dyer says of how their relationship started. “And, really, the finest person who I instantly connected with, was Yaron [Lifschitz].”
For Lifschitz, Circa’s artistic director and CEO, the feeling was mutual: “I said, ‘That’s great, let’s play!’ ”
So they have. This is the third collaboration between both organisations, following well-received performances of French Baroque (music with a “very elegant and refined” vibe, per Lifschitz) and Spanish (“really earthy and sensual”). This time around, Lifschitz says the result is “vibrant, it’s playful, it’s diverse.”
Baroque – European music of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries – and Circa might seem like strange bedfellows. But both the Brandenburg Orchestra, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and Circa share a similar underlying ethos about what, as arts organisations, they’re trying to do.
“When I put together a program of music to take people through all sorts of emotions over a period of time, it’s exactly what they do too,” Dyer says. “Whether it be fast and vigorous or slow and sumptuous. It’s creating that magic together.”
Adds Lifschitz: “We’re in the business of relationships, yeah? You have to figure out what wavelength you’re on. And what Paul is on, is essentially, ‘Let’s take this thing that we’re really great at – virtuosic Baroque performance practice – but let’s not play it like it’s a stuffy old art form. Let’s try and add some energy, some zest, and an Australian flavour to it’.”
That Australian flavour, Lifschitz explains, can be sensed in how the Brandenburg refuses to be hidebound to programming conventions. It’s a sensibility that Circa also shares.
“At Circa, we work in really refined, high-level acrobatics, but we do all sorts of things that wouldn’t normally be done. So, these two things come together, and we then work through ideas, textures, flavours and concepts, and try to get them to really accord with that inner energy that we have together.”
The collaboration has not been without its challenges. “For this one I had to string together 27 pieces of music, and that was a nightmare in a way,” Dyer concedes. “The period offers very small pieces of music. They were entertainments, very much worked around people’s daily activities.”
“We’re in the business of relationships, yeah? You have to figure out what wavelength you’re on.”
British Baroque music pieces often have briefer running times than their Spanish and French companions. “They were all one to three minutes long … It meant Yaron couldn’t choreograph moods and activities for the acrobats around much longer spaces of time.”
Some seven drafts later, Dyer and Lifschitz have settled on a program, which is divided into an overture and four sections, each of which offers a particular glimpse into various aspects of the world: the bedroom, the chapel, the fairground and the court.
“I was super keen to have Purcell, and so was Paul,” Lifschitz says. “He’s a composer of emotional depth. And then we kind of worked backwards and forwards from there.”
Adds Dyer: “Handel was born in Germany, but he migrated to England and is perhaps the greatest of the 18th century English composers. So, he had to be represented. I decided to take this piece of music De torrente in via from Dixit Dominus. It’s very slow, it’s very internal; it might steal the show this one.”
Pic: Steven Godbee
Accompanying the musicians on stage will be Circa’s artists, performing feats including acrobatics, towers, tumbling and work on ropes and trapezes.
“I couldn’t tell you about how a court dances, or what the liturgical basis of the Anglican church in the 17th century is,” Lifschitz explains. “That’s not my style.
“But what I can do is infuse it with a flavour of how I understand it. I can get acrobats to embody emotions and textures of it, and we can be a bit more eclectic and freer.”
Joining the performers is soprano Jane Sheldon, who has had a long association with the Brandenburg. “The wonderful thing about her is she’s quite fearless,” Dyer says. “I brought her up to Brisbane with the acrobats a few weeks ago … and she was really up for it, you know! ‘Oh, you want me to sing upside down on a trapeze? Sure!’ ”
He’s also brought back a Baroque harpist who recently relocated to Italy (“There are only two in the country and the other one’s not that active at the moment.”) and Dyer himself will be playing a Harmonium. “It’s a wonderful English instrument that’s adding to my keyboard skills.”
The end result of this playful collaboration debuts tonight at the Canberra International Music Festival. Who knows what the audience’s response will be, but it’s hard not to agree with the particularly resonant direction from Lifschitz. Simply put: “Let’s be alive!”
English Baroque with Circa opens the Canberra International Music Festival tonight, before playing Sydney May 8-17, Melbourne May 18-19 and Brisbane on May 21.