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Ian Watson – Director/harpsichord
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By David Schrader:
Where it was that the idea of England’s being a “land without music” originated is a mystery to this writer—since the middle ages, when the country was known as “Our Lady’s Dower,” England has contributed mightily to the world’s treasury of art in sound. Toward the end of the fifteenth century, when music on the continent was generally satisfied to be composed in four voices, the collection of English devotional music called “The Eton Choirbook” contained pieces written in up to fifteen voices. England has continued to give the world such composers as William Byrd, Matthew Locke, Henry Purcell, Sir Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, and the likes of Brian Ferneyhough and Thomas Ades, just to name a few.
Perhaps the impression that England became dependent upon foreign models obtains during the eighteenth century, beginning with the legacy of Handel, a transplanted, but naturalized German. It must be pointed out, though, that Handel had many of his own influences to deal with, most notably that of the greatest of Italian composers, especially Archangelo Corelli. To assume that the English had nothing original to say in the field of music during the age of enlightenment would be a gross misapprehension. Nevertheless, the Italian form of the concerto was ubiquitous in English musical composition in the eighteenth century, and our first selection heard this evening bears this up handsomely. Charles Avison was a composer, organist, writer on music, and a conductor as well. He probably learned the rudiments of music at home from his father, a musical town wait for the city of Newcastle on Tyne (the place to which one is not supposed to bring coals). There is no evidence that he ever studied in Italy, but Charles Burney, the musical historian, wrote that he had had instruction from Geminiani in London. The first news that we have of Avison’s music-making in public is that of a benefit concert given by him in March of 1734 in Hickford’s Room in London. He then returned to Newcastle (presumably without coals) to become the organist at St. John’s Church—a short time later, he also became the organist at St. Nicholas’ Church (now a cathedral). He served as director of music for the Newcastle Musical Society from 1738 until his death in 1770. The concerto heard tonight dates from 1769 and was a part of Avison’s set of six concertos, opus 10.
Pietro Antonio Locatelli was one of the best-known virtuosi of the violin during the first half of the eighteenth century. He became celebrated enough to make extensive tours that were also financially successful, especially in Venice in 1725 (this is always good news for a touring musician). He also undertook a concert in company with the great French violinist, Jean-Marie LeClair the elder in 1728. Opinions vary as to Locatelli’s employment of his chosen instrument—a writer named DeBlainville claimed that his performance of the opening movement of Corelli’s fourth sonata from op. 5 would “make a canary fall from its perch in a swoon of pleasure.” Another critic, however, found Locatelli’s playing “unbearable for delicate ears,” and still another felt that he “played with such fury as to wear out dozens of violins in the same year!” Burney (our friend, the English musical historian) felt that his compositions reflected “more surprise than pleasure.” After 1729, Locatelli made his home in Amsterdam, which he left only for occasional concert tours. He occupied himself at home with teaching and with directing an amateur ensemble.
Francesco Durante hailed from Frattamaggiore, in Aversa and died in Naples. While we hear a concerto this evening, Durante was particularly well-known for his church music and for his teaching, which commanded an international reputation. His father sang in his parish church’s choir, where Francesco and all his other ten children were baptized. An uncle, Don Angelo, was a priest and musician—a setting of “Dies irae” by him is still extant. In 1728, he was appointed “primo maestro” of the conservatory called “Poveri di Gesu Cristo.” This appoinment attested to his well-established reputation—from this point on, he joined his younger contemporaries, Mancini, Hasse, Porpora, Vinci, and Leo in writing choruses for the tragedy, Flavio Valente, a work by Duke Annibale Marchesi. He also composed music for keyboard and additional works for the church. He married three times, the first wife being a “maledetta vecchia” (mean old woman), but his two succeeding marriages were successful. He was known to be a man of simple manners as well as a respected arbiter with regard to matters of counterpoint. Of interest is that he was probably known the best for his sacred compositions.
Francesco Geminiani is best known for his treatise, The Art of Playing Upon the Violin, written in 1751. This is an important source of information for the gleaning of historical data regarding performance practice of string music from the standpoint of a successful Italian musician working in London. He also composed concertos, sonatas and other works as well as a treatise on the art of accompaniment, which appeared in 1754. Some of his works include his own embellishments and fingerings, thus giving posterity a closer view of his performance practices.
Born in Lucca, he obtained his earliest instruction from his father, but his further study with Alessandro Scarlatti and Archangelo Corelli probably marked his style and helped him greatly in his career. In any event, he left Italy in 1714 to go to London, where his success was immediate, and where he was supported by several influential people. One of his students, the Earl of Essex, managed to get him out of debtor’s prison, where he had landed because of his great love of acquiring and dealing in paintings!
This love of the plastic arts went with him on two extended visits to Ireland in the 1730′s, when he appeared as a musician and art dealer.
Geminiani must be remembered as a significant figure in the musical world of eighteenth-century London—he was a celebrated virtuoso, a theorist, teacher, and (notably for a foreigner) a master of elegant English prose. He is an important link in the history of the Italian school of violinists, beginning with Corelli and ending with Tartini (of “Devil’s Trill fame).
On a vinyl record made many years ago by Peter Schikele, “PDQ Bach on the Air,” a contest is held, for which the grand prize is: “the complete recorded works of Antonio Vivaldi, sent to you, one record per week, on convenient 45 rpm discs, for the next thirty-five years of your life.” Perhaps this is a good indication of the prolificity of Vivaldi, outdone only by Georg Philipp Telemann! No consideration of the art of composing concertos would be complete without Vivaldi’s lavish contribution to the genre. Johann Sebastian Bach, among others, felt that Vivaldi’s music formed his own sense of musical development, which we hear in Bach’s works, especially those of the Weimar years (1709-1717).
Having said this, the program does not give us an out and out concerto by Vivaldi this evening, but two representative works: a sinfonia entitled “Il coro delle muse,” or, the chorus of the muses, and Vivaldi’s own take on an ancient bass pattern called the follies of Spain, or, La Folia. This harmonic pattern has been treated by many composers of the baroque and of other periods (most notably in the last century in a series of variations by Rachmaninoff). Vivaldi’s “Folia” is influenced by the seminal work by Corelli, but, as is the way with Vivaldi, is less conservative and given to all of the magical caprices that have come to be associated with the Venetian master. Suffice it to say that the cloistered ensembles that performed under his direction comprised some masterly young players—in this case, young people were better heard and not seen!
Ian Watson has been described by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as “a conductor of fomidable ability”, and by The Times in London as a keyboard performer with “virtuosic panache and brilliantly articulated playing” and “a world-class soloist.” His versatility is revealed in the equal ease with which he performs the roles of orchestral conductor, choral director, organist, harpsichordist, pianist, teacher and public speaker. Ian Watson has appeared as soloist or conductor with the London Symphony, London Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras, Scottish Chamber, English Chamber, Polish Chamber, Irish Chamber and Stuttgart Chamber Orchestras, Bremen Philharmonic, Rhein-Main Symphony Orchestra, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Handel and Haydn Society, English Baroque Soloists, and The Sixteen amongst many others. He has also been featured on more than 200 recordings and film soundtracks including Amadeus, Polanski’s Death and the Maiden, Restoration, Cry the Beloved Country, Voices from a Locked Room, and BBC‘s David Copperfield. Ian’s conducting engagements include Monteverdi’s Vespers at St. James’s Palace in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen; Bach’s B Minor Mass at the Rheingau Festival with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Orchestra and Chorus; the opening concerts of the newly renovated Châtelet Theater in Paris with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and tours with Nigel Kennedy and the English Chamber Orchestra of Bruch and Mozart concerti. He was invited to be the assistant conductor, organ and harpsichord soloist and continuo player for Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, performing all Bach’s Cantatas on the correct liturgical day in places where Bach lived and worked. An important part of Ian’s work is devoted to Arcadia Players period-instrument ensemble of which he is Artistic Director. Arcadia have a wide-ranging repertoire from viol consort to their recent exploration of all nine Beethoven Symphonies. Recent triumphs have included fully-staged performances of Handel’s Serse featured in the New York Times and compared very favorably with the legendary production by New York City Opera in the 90’s. The 2013/14 season is Arcadia Players’ 25th and Ian’s 10th as Artistic Director. Performances include Bach’s St John Passion, Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and performances and recordings of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto and Ninth Symphony all on period-instruments.. Ian Watson has a distinguished career as both a solo and collaborative pianist. He is in demand as a chamber music partner, and has appeared in recital with Nigel Kennedy, Iona Brown, Julian Lloyd Webber, QX Boston and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble amongst many others,. He is featured as a pianist on a number of films and recordings including an award-winning CD with Renee Fleming. As soloist, he has played and directed piano concerti with, notably, the English Chamber Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia and London Mozart Players as well as orchestras in Europe and Scandinavia. Ian has had a career-long passion for opera, working first as a vocal coach and conductor at Glyndebourne, and subsequently conducting countless performances of over fifty operas throughout England, and internationally at Sadler’s Wells, The Royal Festival Hall, Bremen Opera, Giessen Opera, the Komische Opera, Berlin, houses in France and Scandinavia, and as a Principal Conductor with the Darmstadt State Opera in Germany in repertoire ranging from Monteverdi and Handel to Richard Strauss’s Elektra and Janacek’s Macropoulos Case. Born in England in the Buckinghamshire village of Wooburn Common, Ian won a scholarship to the Junior School of the Royal Academy of Music in London, at the age of 14. He later won all the prizes for organ performance and others for piano accompaniment including the coveted Recital Diploma, the highest award for performance excellence. He completed his studies with Flor Peeters in Belgium. As a distinguished graduate, he was honored in 1993, with an Associateship of the Royal Academy of Music, in recognition of his services to music and he is also a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists. Ian’s first major appointment was as Organist at St. Margaret’s, Westminster Abbey, at the age of 19, a position he held for ten years, and has also held a number of important positions in London including Organist of St. Marylebone Parish Church, and Music Director of the historic Christopher Wren Church, St. James’s Piccadilly.