As part of Baroque Month, Bachtrack has been quizzing leading Baroque ensembles around the globe about the challenges of running a period instrument ensemble and how to build new audiences for their work. We also ask for some Baroque recommendations to introduce new listeners and which lesser-known composer they think deserves greater notice. 

Here, Václav Luks, director of Collegium 1704 answers our questions.

Václav Luks at the Rudolfinum © Michal Adamovsky
Václav Luks at the Rudolfinum
© Michal Adamovsky

1. What is one of the main challenges of running a period ensemble today?

When the early music movement began a few decades ago, its characteristic features were a desire to discover, together with an unusual boldness to show the world an unknown world of forgotten sounds and forgotten repertoire. Over the years, early music became a widely accepted phenomenon and an integral part of the music scene, but at the same time it began to lose the energy and boldness it had when it started, and thus became a relatively conservative part of mainstream serious music. The inspiration of that energy and idealism, as well as the spirit of discovery, should remain an integral part of early music; otherwise it will lose one of the features that have made it so attractive for audiences and why it has so persuasively influenced the general perception of music of the past centuries.

2. How do you bring in new audiences?

The answer to that question is linked to what I just said. From my own experience, however, I do not have the feeling that concert audiences are getting smaller. The best evidence for me, of course, is my direct experience of concert life in Prague, where early music has become an absolutely fundamental phenomenon of local concert life and where Collegium 1704 and I can permit ourselves to perform two concert series at the same time (the Prague–Dresden Music Bridge and Collegium 1704 in the Rudolfinum) without worrying about low audience turnout. We must not forget, however, that in addition to us, other similarly-oriented ensembles work in Prague, which also offer their own concert activity. It is also highly encouraging that, in comparison to the audiences of other traditional concert organizers in Prague, our audience is by far the youngest. I believe that the audience can be convinced solely by putting together high-quality programmes and offering convincing interpretations, and one does not have to lower oneself to coming up with ‘marketing strategies’ to get support in mixing genres or offering commercially attractive programmes. In any case, however, I believe in the future of the educational projects that help to acquaint young musicians with the world of early music.

Collegium 1704 © Hasan El-Dunia
Collegium 1704
© Hasan El-Dunia

3. What piece would you recommend to introduce listeners to Baroque music?

That’s a tough one, and it really depends on the personality of the listener – his or her experience, musical preferences, and taste. In any case, it’s fair to say that the ideal works for first coming into contact with Baroque music are those that in themselves make a strong statement even without the listener’s awareness of the historical context of the composer and his or her works – to put it simply, music that needs no explanation. I believe that among such universal works and universally absolute music are, for example, Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610 and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor. But works by lesser-known composers can also become an essential impulse for getting to know music. From my own experience, I know that one well-tested ear-opener is the music of the Bohemian Baroque composer Jan Dismas Zelenka.

4. Which lesser-known Baroque composer would you like to hear performed more often and why?

Zelenka is a composer whom we devoted ourselves to a lot in the past, and we will definitely devote special attention to in the years to come. For me, he is one of the most original and most remarkable figures of Baroque music, and his music, full of emotion, fascinates audiences today as few compositions from the past. Apart from the individual figures, however, there are whole ‘continents’ on the map of Baroque music, which have yet to be properly explored. I am very much interested in the still almost unexplored vocal works of another Bohemian composer, František Ignác Antonín Tůma, and the world of 18th century Neapolitan music. Apart from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater almost no other work of the Neapolitan repertoire of this period became an established part of the Baroque repertoire, and yet Naples was one of the most important music centres of the 18th century and the music radiating from there fundamentally influenced the face of all musical Europe. I am convinced that there is still much to be discovered in this repertoire.

Václav Luks © Martin Straka
Václav Luks
© Martin Straka

5. What is your musical guilty pleasure? (For example, “when I’m not performing/listening to Heinrich Biber, I’m actually listening to Justin Bieber…”)

We are swamped with sound and are almost constantly bombarded by ubiquitous music in various forms. To be honest, I try to avoid recorded music. Despite all the comfort that the technology of reproduced music provides us with, music has lost a good deal of its most important charm – the charm of uniqueness and the unrepeatability of the moment in which it is played and heard. And thus with increasing frequency silence is becoming my most precious music.

6. Which section of the ensemble is first to the bar?

Since I consider our audience to be somehow part of our ensemble, I would say that the audience is the quickest. But if we mean only the part of the ensemble working on the stage I would say that traditionally the brass is quickest. Since I am usually the last, however, this is only my unconfirmed guess!

7. What are your top 5 Baroque works?

Johann Sebastian Bach – The St Matthew Passion, BWV 244:  


Johann Sebastian Bach – Mass in B minor, BWV 232


Claudio Monteverdi – Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610

Jan Dismas Zelenka – Missa votiva, ZWV 18, or Missa omnium sanctorum, ZWV 21:

George Frideric Handel – Dixit Dominus, BWV 232