In Ambronay, the youth of baroque music

While, this Saturday evening, September 25, the musicians of the Arts Florissants re-tune their instruments and the singers take their places on stage, Paul Agnew addresses the spectators of the abbey of Ambronay. I imagined this program while thinking of the most famous portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach: a mature man with an imposing wig, a certain overweight, a strict gaze. But this eminent man was also a young boy full of ambition, sure of his talent, eager to let the world know! “

Bach step by step

It is to the composer at the dawn of his career – long before he became the Cantor of Leipzig – that the British tenor and conductor devotes the first chapter of a new story that “Will follow Bach from step to step, confided Paul Agnew earlier today. His first cantatas, composed between the years 1703 and 1708, were intended for small numbers quite different from the orchestras he would later benefit from. But he already wants to show that he can do everything, from the simple and the sophisticated, the old and the innovative, the pathetic and the pastoral.“.

Faced with the nourished audience that fills the nave of Ambronay, Les Arts Flo ‘reveals the youthful sap that flows between the notes of these pieces, of which Paul Agnew sculpts the shapes and paints the colors of a gesture where energy s’ combines refinement. Supporter of the risk taking, he dares, in the cantata BWV 4, a hair-raising accelerando on a Halleluja before letting soprano Miriam Allan and countertenor Maartens Engeltjes embrace their voices in a celestial duo that opens the doors of paradise to us…

Recalling how much Bach, a convinced Lutheran – at the end of his life he had two editions of his complete works ” – hears the music as the servant of the sacred text, the conductor encourages his performers to carve out each word, to seek the strength of meaning even before the sensual beauty of the melodies and the intoxication of the harmonies (1).

“The mark of a great festival”

At the Ambronay festival, Paul Agnew feels at home. He evokes with a smile the beginnings, some forty years ago: “The facilities were basic, but the welcome was so warm! Today, the facilities are fabulous, the renovation done with perfect taste and the joy of making music remains intact. It is the mark of major cultural events ”, he assures.

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And to rent the acoustics of the abbey, both for intimate concerts and during flamboyant, opulent evenings. I sang in the Vespers of the Virgin of Monteverdi edited by Bill (William Christie, Editor’s note, with whom he now shares the artistic direction of Les Arts Florissants): it sounded beautifully. The only necessary condition is that the audience is large to “absorb” the reverberation. “

The conversation of violins

A few hours before the Bach concert, the place was taken over by the Ensemble Clematis for an Italian trip at the end of the XVIe and XVIIe centuries. Four violinists inhabited by grace – Stéphanie de Failly (also artistic director), Louise Ayrton, Amandine Solano and Jorlen Vega-Garcia – accompanied on bassoon, violin bass and organ (2), illustrated Paul’s words Agnew.

Twirling on the catching tempo of a Ballo by Tarquinio Merula, echoing each other in the pages of Biagio Marini then by Dario Castello, or espousing the sensitive melancholy of a Passacaglia by the same Marini, these elegant and eloquent artists played in and of the abbey like an instrument of living stones. Proving that a secular building has retained its freshness beyond the centuries.


“To create a dialogue between the baroque and the culture of our time”

Isabelle Battioni,Director of the Ambronay Cultural Meeting Center

“By giving the title of“ New Suites ”to this 42e edition of the festival, we wanted to honor a beautiful heritage and adapt it to our time. By dialoguing with other artistic forms that affect our contemporaries – hip-hop for example – baroque music reaches out to the public. It is essential in a rural territory, especially after the health crisis which has reinforced certain isolations, silent but dramatic. We have moved from the era of cultural democratization, driven by public and professional authorities, to that of cultural law, where every expression has the right to express itself. “


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