The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin is one of the busiest baroque and early music ensembles in the world, with a wide repertoire and a punishing touring schedule which takes them to dozens of venues in many continents. Their concert master, Bernhard Forck, tells us more...
Bachtrack: You have a big tour of the United States coming up, coast to coast and in the middle! Tell us about some of the places you’re visiting and what US audiences are like.
This year's tour will end in Boston, where I played my first concert as a baroque violinist in America, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990. Concerts with historical instruments were more of a rarity at that time, so there was a very committed and enthusiastic audience at Jordan Hall.
Hot on the heels of the USA, you’re touring Europe with René Jacobs, performing the Bach Passions. What can Bach fans expect from your approach to these works?
As in our recording, our performance of the St. Matthew Passion is strongly related to the use of a double chorus. We attempt to approach a sound that the audience might have heard in the Thomaskirche in Bach’s time. For example, choir I and orchestra I are much larger than choir II and orchestra II, which were placed on the very small side gallery in those days. All the soloists - with the exception of the evangelist - are part of the choir, too.
If you could go back in time and ask Bach one question, what would it be?
I probably would be speechless in front of him due to excitement and admiration. If, however, I recovered my powers of speech, I would ask Bach whether he was interested in opera and whether he would like to have composed one himself.
There’s a big Telemann anniversary in 2017. To make the case for his music, what one Telemann work would you advise a person to hear?
Telemann surprises me again and again. There are so many works that were forgotten in libraries and are now coming back to life. Out of this wealth of wonderful music, two works are especially dear to me: Orpheus oder die Beständigkeit der Liebe ("Orpheus, or the Marvellous Constancy of Love") and the Brockes-Passion. This year we will explore his little known Persian-flavoured opera Miriways at the Telemann Festival in Hamburg.
Please tell us about a lesser known piece of baroque music that you would like to make better known. Why?
Two melodramas by Georg Anton Benda are worth a listen: Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea. Benda’s music still amazes me with its depiction of intense emotions. Moreover, melodrama itself remains today a form of music theatre that is both unusual and fascinating, with its mixture of dramatic music and declamation (in place of singing).
You’re playing with some big name soloists - Nuria Rial, Sandrine Piau, Tine Thing Helseth and many more. How is it different working with different personalities - if they’re demanding, quiet, impulsive, nervous?
Certainly it is a great advantage that we have known each other for so long and that we are so familiar with each other in our way of making music. But I love to play with other soloists: they bring new ideas and a different reading of the music. They challenge us to question the seemingly self-evident.
Your calendar is about the busiest of any of the baroque ensembles we’ve spoken to, with the most travel. How are you able to sustain this kind of pace and still cope with any kind of family life?
This is indeed a very important question. And unfortunately I cannot give a really satisfying answer. There were a lot of complaints, especially when my kids were smaller. But I am very glad that they have preserved their love of music.
What are the places you love best for performing baroque music? It could be for any reason: the interior decor, a sense of history, the acoustic, a particular audience or anything else.
This is difficult to specify. Indeed, the relationship with the audience plays a very important role. And of course, playing in a beautiful ambience makes things easier, so I love playing Telemann in the Laeiszhalle and chamber music in Wigmore Hall.
The Akademie's tour of the US runs from March 11th to 24th. You can see the events here. April sees the release of their latest recording: Telemann's Concerti per molti stromenti.
With thanks to Linus Bickmann for facilitating this interview and for the English translation.