Pygmalion and pâtisserie: A chat with Ensemble Molière
Ensemble Molière is a young ensemble based in London. They specialise in exciting and innovative performances of French baroque music, and have upcoming concerts at the London Festival of Baroque Music, the Brighton Early Music Festival, and the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition, to name but a few.
We asked Alice Earll (baroque violin) some questions about the group...
Can you introduce your ensemble to our readers?
Ensemble Molière formed in 2014 at the Dartington International Summer School. Jakab Kaufmann, Flavia Hirte, Kate Conway, Satoko Doi-Luck, and I had spent a week together playing music by Jean-Marie Leclair and were eager to explore this challenging repertoire. By the end of the week, our shared love of French baroque music had inspired us to found Ensemble Molière. We now specialise in performing French baroque music and have played across Europe, including performances at the Festival Oude Muziek Fringe in Utrecht, at the Brighton Early Music Festival, and most recently live on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune. Alongside more traditional concert settings, we really enjoy devising innovative and creative programmes, from the fictional story of Monsieur Valancourt narrated live in our ‘Medicine and Mortality’ programme to a collection of works centred around French pâtisserie! Our mission is to carry our enjoyment of the repertoire to as many people as possible, not only making French baroque more accessible but also more relevant to today’s public.
What is it about French baroque music that particularly inspires you?
The beautiful harmonies, the intricacies of inner voices, the poetry of the music - French baroque music has it all! Once you start delving into the repertoire it just gets better and better. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s music really epitomises the beauty of this music, it has the intimacy of the small chamber works such as Pièces de clavecin en concerts all the way up to the spectacle of the grand operas, like Hippolute et Aricie or Les Indes Galantes.
How important are historical sources to what you do?
Historical sources are a vital resource for us. Referencing manuscripts, treatises, and facsimiles while rehearsing enable us to solve many of the questions that arise. Sources can also spark differences in interpretation with numerous musical possibilities. It’s an exciting part of the rehearsal process. It’s not only musical sources that are important to us, but also literary and dramatic works from the period, which have inspired many of our programmes and even influenced our name. Without these sources our programmes would have no context, no history, and no stories to bring them to life.
We're very excited about your plans for a performance of Pygmalion. Could you tell us a bit about this project?
We have chosen Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Pygmalion to be our first opera project. Since the ensemble’s main aim is to share our love and passion for French baroque music, and to communicate this to as wide an audience as possible, Pygmalion - which packs all the inventiveness and brilliance of Rameau's music into 45 minutes - was the perfect fit. Ensemble Molière, featuring young singers Josh Cooter, Angie Hicks, and Roberta Diamond, have teamed up with emerging director Karolina Sofulak to create a staged production with a newly commissioned animated film by the artist Kate Anderson, which elucidates the scenery and replaces surtitles with simplified texts.
French baroque music is often perceived as being a little arcane, perhaps even aloof! Would you agree with that, and if so how can groups like Ensemble Molière enthuse more people about this music?
Yes, I think French baroque music is perceived by many British audiences to be arcane, but I think that this view stems merely from unfamiliarity. The great choral tradition in the UK means that the majority of audiences are far more comfortable with the music of J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel, through works such as the Passions or the Messiah. As for Italian baroque music - well, Nigel Kennedy’s numerous recordings of the Four Seasons have done more for Vivaldi than any historical performer might care to remember. French baroque music on the other hand perhaps lacks this immediate familiarity, and maybe this inability to access the music through a shared language or to dazzle with obvious virtuosity has impeded its popularity. Whatever the reason, it is definitely time for a renaissance of this repertoire on a grand scale.
I admit, there is an element of difficulty that arises from this unfamiliarity which can put people off. For example, the notation and ornamentation can make the music hard to read, the language is demanding, the never-ending phrases can mean that it is often tricky to play. But it is addictive: the more you play and listen, the more you understand and enjoy. I think it is the same with anything unfamiliar, be it music, art or even a new TV programme. By presenting French repertoire alongside familiar works, modern animations, relatable stories and with food, drink, and an element of social engagement, we not only aim to entice more people to this repertoire but to make our performances appealing as a live music experience for anyone to attend.
Which groups and performers inspire you as an ensemble?
William Christie with Les Arts Florissants and Christophe Rousset with Les Talent Lyriques have created spectacular productions of many of the greatest operas by Jean-Philippe Rameau and Jean-Baptiste Lully. Music on such a grand scale never fails to impress, and the level of detail, research and ambition is astounding. Equally, we are endlessly enamoured by the beauty of the Channel Classics disc of Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin en concert with Trevor Pinnock, Rachel Podger and Jonathan Manson, as well as François Couperin’s Les Concert Royaux by Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations. I know we have also taken great delight watching artists such as L’Arpeggiata transform music with their unique and daring musical interpretations.
What are your plans for the future, and where can we next hear you in concert?
Our next concert is Friday May 12th at 1.05pm at St John’s Smith Square, where we are appearing at the London Festival of Baroque Music as Future Baroque artists with a programme inspired by Telemann’s Paris Quartets. You can still book tickets by clicking here! For the 300th anniversary of Handel’s Water Music we are presenting a programme of Handel and Lully at the Handel and Hendrix Museum (sold out) and again on July 17th at St Martin-in-the-Fields. We are also performing Pygmalion at the Stroud Green Festival in June and at the Brighton Early Music Festival in October. We are also very proud to be finalists in the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition in July, so it’s going to be a busy, yet very exciting couple of months for us! If you want to know more, please follow our blog or sign up to our newsletter here.
Finally, which one piece would you recommend for a listener who has never heard French baroque music before?
For me, it would have to be the Entrée from Act IV of the opera Les Boréades by Jean-Phillippe Rameau. It is just the most sublime piece of music ever written.
Here is our attempt…
Ensemble Molière is a lively and enthusiastic early music group based in London, with a particular passion for French Baroque music. The ensemble has performed throughout the UK and Europe, appearing at the MAfestival fringe in Brugge, the Oudemuziek fringe in Utrecht, and the Styriarte Lunchkonzerte series in Graz, as well as at venues across London. In 2015, they participated in the Early Music Live! scheme at the Brighton Early Music Festival, and they returned to BREMF in 2016 with their spoken word and music programme ‘Medicine and Mortality’, including a performance of highlights live on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune. The ensemble has also been selected for the finals of the upcoming York Early Music International Young Artists Competition, and they have recently recorded their first EP, a collection of French baroque dance movements entitled ‘Dance Sweets’, which will be available to buy later this year.