Just under three decades ago, a group of inquisitive London musicians took a long hard look at that curious institution we call the Orchestra, and decided to start again from scratch. They began by throwing out the rulebook. Put a single conductor in charge? No way. Specialise in repertoire of a particular era? Too restricting. Perfect a work and then move on? Too lazy. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was born.
And as this distinctive ensemble playing on period-specific instruments began to get a foothold, it made a promise to itself. It vowed to keep questioning and inventing as long as it lived. Residencies at the Southbank Centre and the Glyndebourne Festival didn’t numb its experimentalist bent. A major record deal didn’t iron out its quirks. Instead, the OAE examined musical notes with ever more freedom and resolve.
That creative thirst remains unquenched. Informal night-time performances are redefining concert formats. Searching approaches to varied repertoire see the OAE working frequently with symphony and opera orchestras. New generations of exploratory musicians are encouraged into its ranks. Great performances now become recordings on the orchestra’s own CD label. It thrives internationally: New York and Amsterdam court it; Oxford and Bristol cherish it.
In its 30th year, the OAE is part of our musical furniture. It has even graced the outstanding conducting talents of Elder, Rattle, Jurowski and Fischer with a joint title. But don’t ever think the ensemble has lost sight of its founding vow. Not all orchestras are the same. And there’s nothing quite like this one.