Paul James
Paul James
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. 

The European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) is unique: every year it sets itself the challenge of forming a completely new Baroque orchestra. The players are selected by audition from post-graduate young musicians, average age 24 years, from all over the EU. Paul James, Director General of EUBO, kindly offered us the following responses to our questions.

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

The obvious eternal challenge, alas: funding! It is a sad fact that it is impossible to balance concert expenditure from concert income alone. As an international touring group with a remit to perform in all corners of Europe, travelling with over 20 musicians is always going to be costly. Unlike established groups with stable personnel, EUBO as a newly-formed ensemble each year has no repertoire to fall back on, so each programme is rehearsed from scratch, which increases costs. And in planning a tour I start logically going from one venue to the next as economically as possible in a sensible order, and then a venue drops out, or another comes in unexpectedly, and my masterpiece of planning goes horribly wrong! Performances on almost consecutive days in Luxembourg, Estonia, Spain and Slovenia… a particular favourite, nice one Paul!

2. How do you bring in new audiences?

Good question! In a different kind of way the very nature of EUBO generates new interest and audiences. Our dynamic raison d’être means that each year we reach out to hundreds of ‘new’ students from all over Europe, who respond and attend our orchestral courses. Also, this year for the first time, EUBO collaborated with a puppet theatre from Germany to produce a brilliant, multi-lingual show for children, based on the music of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The project provided EUBO with the impetus to record these fabulous violin concerti for CD, which is now the backtrack for the puppets’ allegorical tale ‘Concertatio in Silva’ (Conflict in the Woods). The show will now tour over the next few years with performances in literally hundreds of schools throughout Europe.

<i>Conflict in the Woods</i> puppet show
Conflict in the Woods puppet show

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

I am torn between Georg Muffat’s amazing Passacaglia from his Sonata no. 5 in G from Armonico Tributo and J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 3. This former is astonishingly beautiful and yet deliciously zany, whilst the latter is just such an exciting and and perfectly crafted masterpiece.

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

Jean-Philippe Rameau doesn’t get nearly enough coverage. From experience with EUBO we know that playing Rameau’s music requires a completely fresh approach to performance and that takes lots of rehearsal. Rameau writes the most gloriously singable and danceable tunes. Just listen to “Entrée de Polymnie” (from Boréades) or the “Chaconne” from Dardanus and you will know why we should hear more Rameau!

European Union Baroque Orchestra
European Union Baroque Orchestra
 

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…”)

I expect my colleagues would say almost anything I can sing along to. I love listening to Scottish folk/fiddle music and own a worryingly large collection of Bruce Springsteen and ABBA hits.

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

Don’t know because I am either usually clearing up on stage, loading the harpsichord into the van, being interviewed by a local journalist, glad-handing a potential sponsor, or trying to extract the fee from the promoter!

7. What are your top five Baroque works?

J.S. Bach Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 in G major BWV1048: 

Muffat's “Armonico Tributo” Sonata no. 5 in G major - Passacaglia:

 

Handel's Concerto Grosso in B flat major Op.3 no. 2 – especially the slow (G minor) movement & the Birthday Ode for Queen Anne: “Eternal Source of Light Divine”: 

Geminiani Concerto grosso in D minor “La Folia” (after Corelli):

 

If I am allowed a stand alone aria, it would have to be the final aria “Tu del ciel ministro eletto” from Handel's Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno – but it probably has to be sung by soprano Maria Keohane and performed by EUBO. 

 

About the European Union Baroque Orchestra:

The European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) is unique: every year it sets itself the challenge of forming a completely new Baroque orchestra. The players are selected by audition from post-graduate young musicians, average age 24 years, from all over the EU. The 20+ musicians spend a season together performing under world class Baroque directors to gain experience, skills and confidence to enter the music profession. The core ensemble of period instruments typically comprises nine violins, three violas, two cellos, double bass, two oboes, bassoon and harpsichord: augmented by other instruments depending on the repertoire. Each year EUBO gives around 40 performances at major international festivals and concert halls, presenting four different programmes under its Music Director Lars Ulrik Mortensen and guest ‘player’ directors (only rarely conductors), such as Gottfried von der Goltz, Riccardo Minasi, Rachel Podger, Maggie Faultless, Sergio Azzolini and Enrico Onofri. EUBO has its rehearsal base in Luxembourg, where it is “orchestra-in-residence” at Trifolion in Echternach. EUBO receives EC funds for its training courses and its role as Cultural Ambassador for the EU. Since 1985 EUBO has given over a thousand concerts in 54 different countries and has inspired and trained over 1000 young musicians at the start of their professional careers.