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Nigel Kennedy has kicked off quite a debate this weekend, with an article in The Observer picking up on some programme notes by him from a recent performance of Bach. In it, he criticises modern-day performances of the composers music, and period-performance in particular, stating:
“Even the description of oneself as being ‘authentic’ is unbelievably arrogant – and, in the case of so-called ‘period’ performance, misguided. How can music … be authentic if it is stripped of passion and made into an exercise of painfully self-conscious technique?
Obviously we’d take issue with this. And from a personal point of view I’d probably add that period-performance and ‘dry’ academicism are not the same thing – an academic or historically informed approach does not mean a passion-less performance. But anyway, what do you think? Does he have a point?
William Norris, Communications Director
You may have seen the phrase ‘period instrument orchestra’ floating around in relation to the OAE. Well this means that we use instruments like those from the time that the music was written in so our performances are what the composers themselves would have actually heard. But not only are the instruments the great great grandparents of what you will hear a modern symphony orchestra playing on, the pitch has also changed over the years. Modern orchestras using modern instruments play at a pitch where the note ‘A’ is equivalent to 440 hertz. In Baroque music (Bach and Handel’s time) we generally play at A=415 and for classical music (Mozart, Haydn) at A=430. To give you an idea of the difference, A=415 is about a semi-tone lower than A=440. To the untrained ear, what does this all mean? That if you played the same note on a modern instrument and an ‘old fashioned’ one, that the latter would sound a bit lower. Read the rest of this entry »