EFFE Laureate - Utrecht Early Music Festival
It is one of the odder of life's coincidences that I should find myself writing this on the exact anniversary (the 22nd) of the day I started my all too brief time as Director of Utrecht Oude Muziek, probably the most comprehensive single city programme of music from mediaeval to classical times in the world. Even in the '90s the scope and sheer number of concerts, if a little stuffy and academic at times, were a wonderful exposition of the rediscovery of repertoire that had disappeared from mainstream concert halls. Now though I have a certain vicarious pride in seeing how its modernisation has brought to fruition many of the hopes I had for its artistic and audience progression.
The centrepiece of the organisation is the festival at the end of the summer which fills the city's churches, halls and grand cafés. Xavier Vandamme, who has been Director for the last eight years, says that in that time “there has been a dramatic rise in sales without dropping the quality. Instead we decided to take our audience seriously, to do things seriously but in a fun way with no concessions. We found that the major reason people come to the festival (equal to liking the music) is meeting each other and sharing the experience. Many more young people are coming than before and I think we have lost the rather puritanical image and this has a megaphone effect on all our work.”
His job is made much easier, he says, because the new generation of performers “don't care about being criticised by their professors, they want to explore the boundaries of practice for themselves.” It means the festival can be far more inventive in where and how performances, which still stem from an understanding of earlier practice, are presented.
Xavier is also President of REMA, the European Early Music Network, and sees its role in capacity building and best practice as an extension of his work at the festival. “We know that every line we write as historians tells the reader just as much about us. So we are trying to revolutionise performance practice for a second time, using our research and development to release the creativity of musicians. We are in a real fight against the standardisation of styles.”
Simon Mundy for EFA