In memoriam Judith Nelson (1939-2012)

Last week we were deeply saddened to hear of the death of soprano Judith Nelson.

Judith was a longstanding AAM collaborator, and thankfully her singing is immortalised on a range of recordings – including Purcell’s complete Theatre Music as well as oratorios, operas and cantatas by Handel.

Perhaps her most famous appearance was in our 1980 recording of Messiah, in which she sang alongside Emma Kirkby. Here is Judith performing ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’.

“I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though worms destroy my body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.”

AAM at the Thames Jubilee Pageant

On Sunday 3 June, we’ll perform to our biggest-ever audience. Positioned on the second of ten musical herald barges, we’ll play Handel’s Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks as part of Her Majesty the Queen’s Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant.

To find out more about the music, its history and how to watch and listen to the Pageant, visit the new dedicated section of our website; and you can keep up to date with all the latest news with Facebook and Twitter.

Thames Jubilee Pageant

Photographing music: Bach’s Cello Suites

In January we held a photoshoot at our new London home, the Barbican Centre. Before we started the group shots, principal cellist Joseph Crouch sat down to play some solo Bach.

We wish we could bring you the audio. But we think this picture speaks volumes about the quiet passion of Bach’s Suites, and the craftsmanship of Joe’s playing.

AAM principal cellist, Joseph Crouch

Musical “Gods”: musicians from the AAM muse on their heroes ahead of this weekend’s concerts

In the beautiful surroundings of Taunton Castle this weekend, a handful of AAM players give a weekend of concerts on the theme of ‘Gods and mortals’, featuring favourite works by their personal musical “Gods”. Here follow the musicians’ insights into these pieces, along with musings on their personal sources of musical inspiration more generally. 

Lisa Beznosiuk flute

“Bach’s works for flute are amongst the most enduring and beautiful of all our repertoire, the first movement of the E minor sonata being a particular favourite of mine. It takes both player and listener on an epic journey with huge, arching shapes which build and soar to the very top of the flute. The architecturally perfect bass line mirrors the flute throughout, sinking deep to support the highest notes, climbing high to greet the lower flute tones. The flute line gradually returns, in downward circles — a leaf fluttering inevitably on the air — coming to rest on a long, dark, final E.

“Only 30 bars in length, yet surely one of Bach’s miracles.”

Richard TunnicliffeRichard Tunnicliffe cello and viola da gamba

” Tobias Hume — an unlikely hero. A viol-playing soldier who ended his days  in the Charterhouse, depressed, poor and not a little cracked, making unlikely petitions for commissions to the King. Nevertheless he was a passionate champion of his instrument — the “Gambo Violl” — claiming that it could do everything that the lute could! Quite a claim for the time!

“Many of his works are pervaded by the sounds of the battlefield — trumpets and drums, marching soldiers, “the great ordnance” — we can almost smell the cordite! Others, despite Hume’s protestation that he did not “studie eloquence or professe musicke” are beautiful and many of his songs have found a permanent home in the repertoire. By the time of his death in 1649 English viol music had reached its zenith, and the viol had definitely eclipsed the “other” instrument.”

Pavlo Beznosiuk violin

“I’ve always been more interested in the “How” rather than the “What”  in the world of music and consequently my musical “Gods” (and I have many), are all performers. Leaving aside  all those in the worlds of Jazz and Rock music, and given that I’m playing pieces by two of the 18th century’s great violinists this  weekend I’ll stick to my all-time violinistic hero, Jascha Heifetz.  This might seem a strange choice for someone who spends most of his time playing “period” instruments but Heifetz’s legacy transcends any  notions of style, fashion or historical authenticity. For one thing, he  used a plain, un-covered gut A and D string throughout his career,  something which I feel sure contributed to the amazing complexity and  depth of his sound. Also, on close examination his approach to the  classics is remarkably “authentic” in our modern sense, being one of  very few artists to observe Beethoven’s brisk tempo indications in the  concerto and sonatas, for example; and his wondrously elegant phrasing  in Mozart chimes in perfectly with the mores of the historically informed  performance movement.

“His supernatural command of the violin, the  astonishing range of colour in his playing, and the sheer strength and integrity of his  musical ideas are all qualities which any violinist would do well to emulate, and in that sense I suppose I could call him a musical God. Or, at the very least, a Saint.

Sally Bruce-Payne mezzo-sopranoSally Bruce-Payne

“My personal musical “Gods” are plentiful and broad-ranging, so I can only mention a few of them. I would have to begin with my parents. My father’s extemporization skills on the organ have been long admired. I listen in awe and bewilderment to him and wonder why that gene missed me! Together with this, the way in which my parents conduct their professional lives — with generosity and a great sense of proportion and balance — has been a huge inspiration to me.

“As anyone who knows me will tell you, JS Bach is my absolute favourite composer. The sheer scale of his out put and his truly outstanding and unique gift as a composer is overwhelming. Aside from Bach, I admire Paul Tortelier’s absolute technical mastery of the cello, and the joy and musicality Yo Yo Ma exudes in his performances. I adore the sublime and intricately crafted voice of Anne Sophie Von Otter and the breathtaking top register of Joan Sutherland’s voice. I love the soft earthy ease of Bing Crosby, the raw power of Whitney Houston and the outstanding close harmony and vocal gymnastics of the group Manhatten Transfers.”

Pavlo and Lisa Beznosiuk, Richard Tunnicliffe and Sally Bruce-Payne will give four concerts in the beautiful surroundings of Taunton Castle this weekend. To read more and find out how to book, visit the AAM’s website

Gustav Leonhardt: 1928-2012

Here at the AAM we’re deeply saddened to learn of the death of Gustav Leonhardt. As well as being a brilliant harpsichordist, he was a true pioneer, a personal inspiration to many AAM players, and simply one of the most important musicians of our time.

Gustav taught both the AAM’s founder Christopher Hogwood and our current Music Director Richard Egarr. Richard commented:

“I had the great privilege and pleasure to have studied with Gustav and to know him a little personally.  Both he and his wife Marie were true pioneers in the field of historical performance.  They clung to their ideals of thorough research coupled with (more importantly) a deeply musical and practical application of this knowledge.  This is truly the ending of an era.

“He was an aristocratic man, in some ways demonstrating odd contradictions.  His living environment was utterly eighteenth century: a CD player and fax machine were, I think, grudging additions to the household.  At the same time he had a passion for fast cars.  I remember going on a trip with him and Marie to see a couple of old organs in Holland; being carried there extremely fast along the Dutch motorway in his latest Alfa. After seeing the second organ somewhere in a small suburb it was late and dark and we were somewhat lost. No sat-nav of course.  Gustav just looked up at the sky to get his bearings from the North Star…

“His passing is a huge loss.”

You can read more about Leonhardt and his work here.

Benedict Hoffnung: the “world of tonal nuances” of timpani and the AAM

Benedict Hoffnung, the AAM's principal Timpanist

Benedict Hoffnung, the AAM's principal timpanist

“I have always been fascinated by drums and drumming ever since, at the age of three, my father presented me with an ancient bass drum, rescued from the back of a skip outside Boosey’s in Regent Street. A kettledrum has magical properties and the tonal nuances of newly mounted calfskin on hand beaten copper allow me to underpin the entire orchestra with a depth of sonority in a most satisfying way. I feel honoured to be associated with the AAM, especially now with Richard Egarr, whose driving force is propelling the orchestra to new heights.”

Benedict has been playing timpani with the AAM for over 20 years. See him perform Handel’s Messiah with the AAM at the Barbican on Wednesday 14th December. For more information click here.

Sumi Jo & the AAM in the Far East — May 2011

Earlier this year, Sumi joined us for a seven-concert tour of the Far East, with performances in South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and China. Here are some reactions and reminiscences from the players, the press — and from Sumi herself.

“I’ll remember two things about the tour: the gasps from the Korean audience on seeing their heroine’s latest concert wear and, more importantly, the intensity of her focus while performing. One can talk at length about her amazing instrument and dazzling technique but these are made so much more potent by her sheer intensity, a quality which convinces the listener that right now nothing in the world is more important than listening to her.” Pavlo Beznosiuk, Leader

Sumi Jo and Richard Egarr after one of the many encores in Taipei, wearing traditional Korean dress

Sumi Jo and Richard Egarr after one of the many encores in Taipei, wearing traditional Korean dress

“It’s rare to come across a soloist who is utterly compelling, a personification of the word ‘charisma’. Sumi Jo is one of these. From the unabashed theatre of her costume changes, to her immaculate vocal technique, Sumi Jo is a unique combination of the professional, the naive, the down-to-earth and the ethereal. Thoroughly exotic, she still acknowledged and was respectful of every musician on stage, and performing with her was truly exhilarating.” Judith Evans, Double Bass

“The Asian tour with the world-renowned Academy of Ancient Music was a wonderful and refreshing experience for me. Maestro Richard Egarr’s charisma and gentle musicianship was more than enough for me to enjoy the beauty of baroque music, which in fact I felt nervous of (and even fearful about!) until now. I would like to express my sincere appreciation and regards to the AAM, who accompanied me thoroughly.” Sumi Jo, Soprano

“The Korean ‘Queen of Coloratura’ Sumi Jo made a significant departure from her usual territory of Ro­mantic showstoppers to delve into Baroque finery. As with great singers past and present, the results were nothing short of spectacular. If one expected her to tone down her usual fire to fit the sound of the period instrument movement, there was to be nothing of the sort.The bright and luminous glow which all have come to expect was immediately apparent. Ever careful with enunciation of words, she crafted every note with pristine clarity, and never at the expense of the seamless flow of the music.” The Straits Times, Singapore

Don’t miss the oportunity to see Sumi in concert with us this Friday 25th November: a scintillating programme of Mozart, including extracts from The Marriage of Figaro, Idomeneo and The Abduction from the Seraglio, as well as the complete ‘Paris’ symphony. To find out more details and how to book, visit the AAM’s website.

“That carriage jolted the very souls out of our bodies”: the stresses and strains of 18th-century touring

We’re warming up for a scintillating Mozart spectacular with the Korean “Queen of Coloratura” Sumi Jo on Friday night. So, to get into the spirit between now and then, we’ll share Mozartian nuggets here each day. Watch this space.

The mail coach in a thunderstorm on Newmarket Heath, Suffolk, 1827

Mozart’s letters, writes Stephen Rose, are a mine of information about the conditions faced by travellers in late eighteenth-century Europe:

the relentless heat and choking dust when travelling through Italy in August; the filthy roads that made it difficult to walk in Paris; and the sheer discomfort of riding along bumpy roads. On 8 November 1780 Wolfgang described a particularly painful journey to Munich: “That carriage jolted the very souls out of our bodies—and the seats were as hard as stone… For two whole stages I sat with my hands dug into the upholstery and my backside suspended in the air.”

Below is a further account of Wolfgang’s – a letter to his father from Vienna, where he had been summoned by the Archbishop Colloredo, who was planning celebrations for the coronation of Joseph II. The journey had taken him no less than five whole days.

Mon tres cher amy! Yesterday, the 16th, I arrived here, thank God, all by myself in a post chaise at nine o’clock in the morning. I travelled in the mail coach as far as Unterhaag but by that time I was so sore in my behind and its surrounding parts that I could endure it no longer. So I was intending to proceed by the ordinaire, but Herr Escherich, a government official, had had enough of the mail coach too and gave me his company as far as Kemmelbach. There I was proposing to wait for the ordinaire, but the postmaster assured me that he could not possibly allow me to travel by it, as there was no head office there. So I was obliged to proceed by extra post, reached St. Polten on Thursday, the 15th, at seven o’clock in the evening, as tired as a dog, slept until two in the morning and then drove on straight to Vienna.

For further information about the concert, to book tickets, watch a preview, or to read the concert programme, visit the AAM website.

“We try to be expressive map readers”: Antony Pay on the AAM

“What we do in the AAM is try to be expert and expressive ‘map readers’.

The score of a long-dead composer is like a map because it leaves out many things that make music wonderful. Any map simplifies the territory, removing in particular everything that is alive. And if the map is old, the world has changed in the meantime — even the conventions of mapmaking may be different!

We work to imagine the different musical world that the scores correspond to, and — because we are still alive and expressive — to recreate that world. I find that very exciting.”


Hear Antony bringing to life Mozart’s maps next week, in a concert with South Korean soprano at Cadogan Hall, London on Friday 25 November. Click here for more details.

‘Witches and devils’ – Halloween with the AAM

Nights are drawing in, pumpkins are abundant and we’re warming up for a bewitching pair of concerts in London and Cambridge next week. On Monday and Wednesday, our leader Pavlo Beznosiuk will perform Tartini’s fiendish ‘Devil’s Trill’ sonata, and will direct Telemann’s rarely performed ‘Frog’ concerto, alongside extracts from Handel’s Alcina Charpentier’s Medée with soprano Rebecca Bottone. According to Stephen Rose’s programme notes for the concert (read them here),  furies will be unleashed, choruses will cackle and ‘gruesome echoes’ will reverberate. Inspired to get under the skin of this intriguing programme ahead of the concerts, our own Anna Goldbeck-Wood did some digging on the origins of our obsession with witchcraft and Halloween…

The craze for witchcraft, the beginnings of Halloween

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Europe became swept up in a hysterical fear of witchcraft. Anti-witchcraft measures were enshrined in law and large scale witch hunts were embarked upon, resulting in the imprisonment, torture, execution and banishing of hundreds of thousands of people. The majority were women.

A chap called Heinrich Kramer – an inquisitor of the Catholic Church – published a treatise on witches in 1486, and he was by no means the only one. His book, catchily named ‘Malleus Maleficarum’, challenges doubters of witchcraft, discusses witches’ powers and practice, argues why women are more likely to be witches – “all witchcraft comes from carnal lust which is in women insatiable” – as well as giving instruction on how witches should be prosecuted.

Accepted ‘proofs’ of witchcraft ranged from ‘diabolical marks’ (which could be visible or invisible, as determined by the examiner), denouncement by other witches (common, since the accused could often avoid execution by naming accomplices), relation to other convicted witches, showing fear during interrogations, not crying when tortured, blasphemy, to causing harm believed only to be possible by means of sorcery.

Punishments for being proven (by these tenuous means) guilty of witchcraft were gruesome. The commonest included –

  • Hanging or strangling, then burning at the stake
  • Burning alive at the stake
  • Binding to a chair and submerging in water (used as a form of trial – if the defendant survived they were convicted a witch and executed)
  • Binding to the oars of a ship
  • Pressing to death

But by the time Tartini came to write the ‘Devil’s Trill’ sonata, advances in science and philosophy had begun to calm this hysteria. There was a move away from mystical explanations that had been so relied upon in the Mediaeval and Early Modern times. Indeed, referring to witchcraft as a frivolous superstition soon became fashionable. By 1736 attitudes had changed so much that anti witchcraft laws were repealed in England – and Switzerland saw Europe’s last execution for witchcraft in 1782.

With relaxed attitudes, Halloween practices (mostly stemming from age-old folklore) flourished. The word ‘Halloween’ was first attested in the 16th century; believed to be a Scottish variant of the fuller ‘All-Hallows-Even’; that is, the night before All Hallows Day, which, as with many Christian festivals,  has a parallel or pre-existing pagan origin. For Celts, 31st October was considered to mark the last day of summertime, and the start of the new year. Around this time, the worlds of the living and the dead blurred, and spirits of the year’s departed roamed in search of living souls to possess. Celtic customs arising from these beliefs are largely responsible for the way we still celebrate Halloween today:

Fancy dress | On the night of October 31, people would extinguish the fires in their homes, to make them cold and undesirable. They would then dress up in all manner of ghoulish costumes, and noisily parade around the neighborhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess.

Apple bobbing | Charles Vallancey, a British-Irish Military surveyor, gives the first known account of this in his Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis (1786). It is thought that the practice arose from the fusion of Celtic Halloween practices with the Roman festival for the goddess of fruit, ‘Pomona’.

‘Souling’ | The origin of what we know to be ‘trick-or-treating’ today. Peasants would go from door to door on All Hallows Eve, collecting food in exchange for prayers for the departed.

Jack-o-lanterns | Turnips (not pumpkins) – abundant at harvest time, and native to the Celtic lands – were carved with scary faces and made into lanterns to ward away wandering evil spirits.

I’ll leave you with a poem by John Mayner – the earliest known piece of literature to feature Halloween. It was first published in 1780 in Ruddiman’s Weekly Magazine, and is thought to have inspired Robert Burns’s later and more well-known poem of the same title.


Ranged round a bleezing ingle-side,
Where nowther cauld nor hunger bide,
The farmer’s house, we’secret pride,
Will a’ convene

Placed at their head the gudewife sits,
And deals round apples, pears and nits,
Syne tells her guests, how, at sic bits,
Where she has been,
Bogles hae gart folk tyne their wits
At Halloween.

A’ things prepared in order due,
Gosh guides’s: what fearfu’ pranks ensue!
Some i’ the kiln-pat thraw a clue
At whilk, bedeen,
Then sweethearts at the far-end pu’,
At Halloween.

But ‘t were a langsome tale to tell
The gates o’ ilka charm and spell;
Ance gau to saw hemp-seed himsel’
Puir Jock M’Lean
Plump in a filthy peat-pot fell,
At Halloween.

Half felled wi’fear, and drook it weel,
He frae the mire dought hardly spiel;
But frae that time the silly chiel
Did never grien
To cast his cantripes wi’ the Deil,
At Halloween.

So join us, a witch in the guise of soprano Rebecca Bottone and the world of ghouls and spirits on Monday 31st October in Cambridge or on Wednesday 2nd November at the Wigmore Hall, London, for a truly extraordinary night. For more information about the ‘Witches and devils’ concerts, to book tickets or to read the programme visit our website.