This concert marked the beginning of Jordi Savall’s week-long residency at the Auditorium de Bordeaux. The purpose of the concert was to take music from the ancient world and combine it with music from the new world. The works demonstrated the difference between the European influence and Latin American influences. Early folias, antiguas and criollas were performed by the eight musicians on stage, led by Savall on the viola da gamba. Two different musical ensembles fused for this concert: Savall played on stage with Hespèrion XXI (his own early music group) and the Mexican Tembembe Ensamble Continuo.

Jordi Savall in Fnac, Paris; photo by Georges Seguin
Jordi Savall in Fnac, Paris; photo by Georges Seguin

Savall is largely responsible for bringing the viola da gamba into the concert hall back in the 1970s, and is now recognized as one of the world’s best viola da gamba performers. He is particularly well known for his determination to recreate historical accuracy and has won many awards for his contribution to early music.The nature of the fusion of old- and new-world-style music for this concert enabled it to attract a wider audience base than the more closed niche of early Baroque.

The performers were true musicians. They each played at least two different instruments, but some of them played up to five. All of the instruments being played were traditional or original period instruments. The Mexican musician Enrique Barona performed two pieces on a jawbone from an animal, most probably a horse, and used the teeth as percussion. He played it with a drumstick, to great effect, holding it by the top teeth so the larger part of the jawbone was at the bottom and rested on his knee providing an amplifier for the sound. It had a subtle noise similar to a rattle.

Jordi Savall played with a rich tone from the gut strings. His dexterity on the viola da gamba was more than I have ever witnessed in any other performer of the same instrument. His ability to improvise at such speed with an elegant grace about him was impressive. This grace was enhanced by his trademark floaty black outfit and red scarf draped around his neck. He had the air of a studious and wise man on stage, yet did not appear arrogant. He nodded only very subtly to lead the rest of the musicians, who were all looking in his direction attentively.

The improvisational side of the concert in the form of variations is typical of the original music. This means that the musicians require a lot of skill, not only to play the instruments, but also to be able to synchronise improvisations. I was anticipating mistakes, or musical clashes, but heard none. Most of the pieces remained in one key, but some changed rhythm part of the way through, and the percussionist’s job was to keep all of the instruments in time. There was one piece towards the end in which he played an almost impossible rhythm, cutting the beats between each bar by a quaver each time and syncopating himself against the other musicians.

The brand new Auditorium de Bordeaux opened in January and was still so fresh you could smell the paint. There were a few grumbles that there was no bar, but the space is functional and discreet. A modern glass and steel structure sandwiched itself between two buildings of typical architecture in the heart of Bordeaux and was build in place of an old 1900s cinema. The inside of the Auditorium has an enormous seating capacity, with seating all the way round the stage. The building had been purpose built for acoustics and the sound was great. The notes were clear and the music was at a pleasant level with a surprisingly minimal noise from the audience considering the large amount of people who attended.

As I was sat behind the musicians in “la coeur” (the heart), I had the luxury of being able to see all the music on Luca Guglielmi’s small organ. It was an amazing instrument that sounded delicate and is more similar in sound to panpipes than church organs. The gentle sound provided a modest continuo and I was surprised to see that for some pieces that lasted five or so minutes, the score was only three or four lines long. It is somewhat rewarding, when going to a performance, to know that every time this music is performed it will sound different – this concert was a true one-off.

At the end of the concert, three rounds of bows of musicians arm in arm were beckoned to play an encore. The applause that followed was only finally quelled by the lights going up a good few minutes after the musicians left the stage. This was an incredibly memorable performance in a venue that I would definitely return to in the future.