Ensemble Galante: Memento Mori Reviews

 

Adelaide Fringe 2015- Memento Mori by Ensemble Galante

You probably haven’t heard yet, but live chamber music is IN. That’s right. It’s hip. It’s the next phase in retro. And Ensemble Galante are among the vanguard.You can find much in the media at the moment about the death of classical music as a recorded art form and as large format production – with many an opera company and symphony orchestra hitting the wall.

So maybe with Adelaide’s explosion of small bars, small dining, the timing is exquisite to forgo the ostentatious, and return to small format performance, in small places, with small audiences where one can have a glass of decent wine and take in music more osmotically. Immediately, accessibility increases and up-and-coming performers have more options to hone their craft, collaborate and experiment in delivering centuries old material to new audiences in new ways.

Memento Mori – Remember You Are Mortal is a gothic & boutique performance by this accomplished troupe of period instrumentalists in the contained and acoustically suited Jade Monkey, adjoining the old St Paul’s Church complex. Upon entry into the performance space a heavy ambience was immediately conveyed through candle light and a glorious Memento Mori altar dedicated to the impermanence of existence – skulls, flowers and overturned cups. The ensemble, bare foot and adorned in appropriate stygian hue take to the stage to deliver a wonderful program of harpsichord, string & wind baroque music ranging from Jean-Marie Leclair, Bach, Vivaldi & Haydn staged over three acts.

Still life paintings & woodcuts from the mid to late Renaissance, studies on mortality and death, were projected behind them to create a meditative multimedia experience of both period sounds and sights. While the pieces of music selected themselves were not specifically themed on death, the paintings projected often themselves reflect the instrumentation featured – themselves being reminders of the fleeting vitality when the final breath can no longer evoke the charms of the flute, when age has reduced the viol to a mute string less monument to happier times. Even my ever-draining glass of Sauvignon Blanc should serve as a reminder that such pleasures are but passing moments.

We need more chamber music staged in such a manner such that we feel we are the fortunate few. Where a little forethought on the performance connecting to our senses in ways other than aurally can deliver a truly magnificent experience.

While Memento Mori was a limited performance run for Adelaide Fringe, I recommend you following them on Facebook for future performances.

Jonathan Carfax, absinthe.com.au

 

Ensemble Galante is a very classy outfit specialising in the music of the high baroque, galante, and early classical periods. Their Fringe Festival concert Memento Mori featured selections from Leclair, CPE Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn and JS Bach, and it was perfect respite from the freneticism of Adelaide’s Mad March.

The Latin phrase ‘memento mori’ roughly translates as ‘remember death’ and relates to the activity of reflecting on one’s own mortality in order to remind one that earthly life, with all its paraphernalia and pursuits, occupies but a brief moment in time and is transient, unlike our souls (if you choose to believe that).

Tim Nott, flautist and founder of Ensemble Galante, informed the near-capacity audience that the phrase is believed to have originated from the ancient Roman tradition where a victorious general parading in front of adoring crowds would be flanked by a servant who would whisper into the general’s ear “Remember that you are but a man. Remember that you will die!”

In art, ‘memento mori’ are figurative reminders of mortality: think of paintings which feature human skulls juxtaposed with the trappings of human existence (including musical instruments!).

So, what’s this got to do with Ensemble Galante’s concert? Apart from naming the concert as such, carefully placing the musicians around an ‘alter’ to humanity and death and projecting a backdrop of lush memento mori art, not much. The selection of music certainly had nothing obvious to do with our transience in this world – at least as far as I could tell.

But who cares? Certainly the very appreciative audience did not. The momento mori ‘hook’ simply caused us to listen to the music with a new purpose – not to think about it but rather to reflect on who and what we are. The music took us individually to different places in our minds to do just that, and it was a sublime experience.

All barefoot and dressed in black, replete with make-up that gave them a close-to-death appearance, the ensemble looked imposing on the small stage of the intimate and tasteful Jade Monkey.

Leclair’s Deuxieme Recreation de Musique bookended the programme, and the first two sections were an ideal composition to commence the concert. The composition’s austerity engendered reflection.

Trio Sonata in C by CPE Bach featured a crisp and perfectly executed dialogue between violin and flute.

Vivaldi’s Recorder Concerto in A Minor featured the artistry of Brendan O'Donnell on recorder. A master of the instrument, his precise tonguing and fingering allowed him to negotiate difficult trilling with total authority and musicality.

Haydn’s Divertimento in G for Flute, Violin and Cello is a delicate flower and forever at risk of bruising if held in the wrong hands. Tim Nott on flute sustained a delicate tonal purity void of distracting vibrato that sustained the performance, and even the pianissimo moments were vital. This was even more evident in JS Bach’s Sarabande for solo flute.

The programme rounded out with the third and fourth sections of the Leclair. The flute and recorder playfully complemented each other, while Emily Dollman (violin), Kat Stevens (violin), Bronwen Whyatt (cello) and Glenys March (harpsichord) superbly provided the musical backbone to a finale that amounted to essentially Ensemble Galante inviting us all to thumb our collective noses at mortality and get on with living!

Kym Clayton, The Barefoot Review

 

Ensemble Galante reminded me of two things. I am not immortal and I really love music composed during what is known as the Baroque period. It was like coming home to sit back and just enjoy the sounds coming from the instruments played by Ensemble Galante. They deserve to be named: Brendan O’Donnell, recorder, Tim Nott, flute, Emily Dollman and Katerina Stevens, violin, Bronwen Wyatt, cello and Glenys March, harpsichord. Brendan O’Donnell and Tim Nott were given the opportunity to shine, and shine they did, while at all times given support from all the other musicians.

So, mortality? The music played comes from a period when the idea of death was more immediate. It was not macabre in any sense, though. It was joyous, laughing in the face of death. The players formed various combinations of instruments, and the music was also performed in a variety of forms, such as concerto, trio sonatas, overture, dance suite and divertimento. The composers included Hadyn, Vivaldi, J.S. Bach and his son Carl Phillip Emmanuel. As a backdrop we saw a number of images of the still life paintings known as Vanitas, which depicted objects of beauty next to symbols of death. These complemented rather than distracted.

The program was sensible arranged with two short intervals, so that the audience could take a drink into the courtyard of the Jade Monkey. This is a venue with huge potential, and admirably suited to a concert such as this one.

If you want an evening of lovely music, played by musicians who clearly love what they are doing, then hasten to The Jade Monkey before the Ensemble Galante have finished their season. Memento Mori!

Emily Sutherland, 5MBS