Following the European day of Early Music celebrated on 21st March, Bachtrack sets out this spring on a Grand Tour across Europe and beyond, to meet some of the most important period instrument performers and conductors. Our first interviewee is Nicholas Kraemer, Principal Guest Conductor of Music of the Baroque, Chicago.

Nicholas Kraemer © Jim Steere
Nicholas Kraemer
© Jim Steere

The Baroque period saw the emergence of The Grand Tour, a travel made throughout Europe whose aim was to meet new cultures and complete one’s education. Nowadays, it’s period music ensembles – as well as audiences – that travel extensively, giving the chance for people to hear music sometimes forgotten for centuries. How would you explain the popularity of Baroque music?

Baroque music got a new lease of life, when period ensembles emerged in the 1970s, due to their liveliness, lightness and transparent textures. This in turn has rubbed off on to the modern instrument ensembles that play Bach etc and even with symphony orchestras there is an expectation of ‘enlightened’ Baroque interpretation.

The status of Baroque music in contemporary society is hard to define. Some children start learning music with the harpsichord for instance. Is Baroque still ancient ?  

Do children start by learning the harpsichord? That’s news to me. I think children are more likely to relate to Baroque music than to contemporary classical music – unless there are cross-over elements. Ancient? If it has negative connotations, then no. Maybe the specialisation by ensembles of different periods of music is reflected in their audience/followers. For instance you can either be a Wagnerite or a Handelian but not normally both.

There has been a lot of research over the past decades exploring Baroque’s musical heritage, both in terms of performance practices and in terms of sociology of music. What discoveries have excited you most? What is left to be discovered?

What excites me is that this music is continually being ‘rediscovered’ by interesting and varied approaches. I’m not one for digging out obscure Baroque operas, orchestral and chamber music, when the stuff we have already is so good and being reinterpreted in a fresh and original way. The lost cantatas of Bach are still to be discovered but I have a feeling they are well and truly lost.

History seems to be an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Historically informed performances have now explored more recent repertoires, such as 19th century music. How do you feel about this new trend? Where will it end?

It’s fine, but not necessarily more interesting or valid than ‘modern’ performances. I think we learn a great deal from these ‘early’ sources but it matters not to me whether they are played on ‘original’ or ‘modern’.

Going back to The Grand Tour theme, what is the thing you miss most when you go on tour? What are the difficulties of living ‘out of a suitcase’?

I very rarely tour – usually a few concerts in one venue (5 Messiahs running is not a rarity anymore).

Are there opportunities to explore the cities you travel to? What has been the most memorable tour destination?

Yes definitely. Especially if you get a bicycle. Probably Rovaniemi (capital of Lapland) was my most memorable in recent years, but I love Chicago.