NATALIE RUSSO previews Spitalfields Music Festival and speaks to its curator, André de Ridder.
Spitalfields Music Festival has been a long-standing fixture on the London music scene. Now in its 41st year, the daring and provocative André de Ridder will take over as guest curator when it takes place in December. De Ridder’s bold vision is clear as I flick through the programme, with genre boundaries and fixed time periods exchanged for a more nuanced vision. Even so, there is a sense of connectivity right across the programme – it is ‘kaleidoscopic’, in de Ridder’s own words.
The two major projects of the festival, ‘House of Monteverdi and ‘Schumann Street’, will play with the Renaissance and Romantic compositions of Monteverdi and Schumann, in intricate and innovative ways. On 2nd December, Sara Mohr-Pietsch will guide the listeners through a journey of invigorating reinterpretations of Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals, and on 9th and 10th December, the 16 songs in Schumann’s song cycle Dichterliebe will be unravelled in new styles to the audience as they wander around Spitalfields’s treasured Huguenot Houses. The audience can carve their own performance experience during ‘Schumann Street’: this innovative idea is built around De Ridder’s conceptual theory that performance ‘all hangs on developing your own thoughts’.
Rather than seeing these events as modern twists on classical music, de Ridder tells me that these composers stood out as ‘avant-garde’ in their own times. As a result, their malleability and timelessness is magnified when we hear the Eighth Book of Madrigals and Dichterliebe woven into the ideas of a diverse team of today’s rappers, jazz artists, or Bengali folk musicians.
De Ridder speaks extensively about the ‘unexpected connections and thematic links’ that thread together Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals and other artists: ‘The themes of love and war seem very modern to me… [they remind me of] an Anti-War banner in front of the White House’. And Monteverdi himself ‘was a moderniser of music… chords and baseline- this is the basis of pop music!’
This kaleidoscopic approach is evident in Turner Prize nominee Mark Titchner’s exhibition ‘There Will Be Two Wars (songs of love and war)’ on the 2nd-10th December. This event will provide a visual reflection of the festivals’s overarching themes in relation to legendary post-punk band Fugazi and the classical composer Monteverdi – two seemingly dissimilar figures. Despite the apparent differences between the pair, de Ridder gives me a very simple explanation: ‘Both artists [use] a song form: they are individuals expressing something universal’.
Another personal and contemporary touch to the festival is the inclusion of the European instrumental network s t a r g a z e (founded by de Ridder himself) in multiple events across the festival. Artists will appear in more than one event, adding an exciting texture to this year’s festival, just like the events themselves, which have been claimed as ‘festivals in their own right’.
De Ridder also speaks with excitement about the festival’s unique interaction with the visual arts. Anna Thorvaldsdottir of Iceland will showcase sound, touch and sight in her orchestral piece ‘In the Light of Air’ on the night of 8th December, during which a light installation will glimmer and fade according to the players’ breath. André says that multi-disciplinery events like this will make the audience ‘more conscious, and move inside the piece of music’. It is clear that de Ridder is constantly thinking about how to break down and navigate musical boundaries.
Andre de Ridder’s musical approach is often described as unorthodox, boundary breaking: it is evident that with de Ridder at the helm, Spitalfields Music Festival will be exactly that.
Featured image courtesy of the www.liquidmusicseries.org/. For more information, including dates and locations of the festival, visit www.spitalfieldsmusic.org.uk. Public booking opens on Monday 18 September.