Ashley Solomon © Amit Lennon
Ashley Solomon
© Amit Lennon
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.

Founded in 1991, Florilegium quickly established a reputation as a versatile ensemble, tackling anything from intimate chamber works to big choral repertoire. Flautist and recorder player Ashley Solomon co-founded the ensemble and is the group’s director. He agreed to take up the challenge of our Baroque Inquisition.

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

One of the main challenges we face in running a chamber/mid-size baroque ensemble is funding. This is something most groups struggle with and has always been the case, certainly since we set up Florilegium in 1991. In recent years it has become slightly easier to find support for recordings through schemes such as crowd-funding or our own “Friends of Florilegium”, however the day to day running costs, promoting the ensemble to keep it in the public eye still remains a challenge.

2. How do you bring in new audiences?

Programming is fundamental to bringing in new audiences. We are constantly renewing programmes, looking for new repertoire (like our Bolivian Baroque project) and often new ideas are stimulated by Festivals or promoters who have particular themes. This  enables us to think creatively about the repertoire we specialise in.  Obviously, popular programmes will almost certainly guarantee you a full house, but Florilegium have always been interested in promoting unknown repertoire alongside better known composers and works. Some venues and their audiences have more conservative tastes so you need to consider these limitations when planning repertoire.

Florilegium © Amit Lennon
Florilegium
© Amit Lennon

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

There are many wonderful Baroque works that can be used as an introduction to this period of music. As a collection for me, Bach’s Six Brandenburg Concertos are exceptional works and form a great demonstration of all the imaginable possibilities inherent in a certain musical form. Each of these six concertos calls for a different combination of soloists, every one unprecedented in its choice of instruments and still without parallel today. Bach gives solo roles to members of all three orchestral families (strings, wind and brass), and often groups them in unexpected combinations. All the concertos demand and celebrate the performer’s virtuosity as much as they demonstrate Bach’s wonderful skill. The union of joyful music-making and compositional brilliance combine to put the Brandenburgs among those rare works that delight connoisseurs and amateurs alike.

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

For me the lesser-known composers at the end of the 17th and early part of the 18th century in France really hold the key to the perfect aesthetic of Baroque music – gesture, dance movements, balance of phrasing, ornamentation are all there in abundance. Of course we know of the great composers such as Lully, Leclair and Rameau, but I am thinking of composers such as Monteclair, Rebel, Bernier, Campra and Charpentier.

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 love the American jazz and fusion pianist Chick Corea, especially when he is collaborating with Bobby McFerrin.

Florilegium © John Yip
Florilegium
© John Yip

6. Who in your ensemble is first to the bar after a rehearsal or performance?

Me of course, but only so I guarantee getting the first round in for my colleagues, who have always worked so hard and deserve every drop.

7. What are your top 5 Baroque works?

It's tricky not to include all works by Bach! 

Bach's Flute Sonata in B minor BWV1030

Bach Cantata BWV106 Actus Tragicus:

F.Couperin – Les Nations (La Françoise, gigue):

A.Corelli – Violin Sonatas Op.5 (no. 1 in D major):

Bach's Mass in B minor (Cricifixus):

Florilegium was founded in 1991, and since then they have established a reputation for stylish and exciting interpretations, from intimate chamber works to large-scale orchestral and choral repertoire.  Florilegium regularly collaborate with some of the world's finest musicians including Dame Emma Kirkby, Robin Blaze and Elin Manahan Thomas, and regular performances in some of the world’s most prestigious venues have confirmed Florilegium’s status as one of Britain’s most outstanding period instrument ensembles.

Concert venues include Sydney Opera House, Esplanade (Singapore), Teatro Colon (Buenos Aires), Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Konzerthaus (Vienna and Berlin), Beethoven-Haus (Bonn), Handel-Haus (Halle), Frick Collection (New York).

Florilegium’s residencies have included Ensemble-in-Residence at Wigmore Hall, 1998-2000, and since September 2008 they have been Ensemble in Association at the Royal College of Music.

Their recordings for Channel Classics have been awarded many prizes in the UK and aboard including BBC Music Magazine award nomination, a Classical Internet Award from Classicstoday.com, many Gramophone Editor’s Choice and an Edison Award (Netherlands). Future releases include a CD of Handel and September 2014 sees the release of Florilegium’s 25th recording, the complete Bach Brandenburg Concertos.

Visit Florilegium at www.florilegium.org.uk or follow on Twitter @FlorilegiumUK