UNDER THE SPELL OF THE RED PRIEST
A group of young musicians is currently showing the world what incredible power and sensual excitement there is in Vivaldi’s music. In the space of only a few years, II Giardino Armonico has developed into Italy’s foremost export in the field of Baroque music. Ruven Afanador (photographs) and Wolf-Christian Fink (text) met the ensemble in Milan and joined them for a glittering fancy-dress ball.
A rainy day in Milan. A little group of simpatico young people with violin and cello cases stands huddled outside the front entrance of the city’s top photographer, Superstudio. Il Giardino Armonico still has no idea what is in store for today.
‘Handel’s Largo — that sort of thing?’, the woman on the Superstudio reception desk asks, when they try to explain the kind of music they play. ‘Sort of …’ She seems satisfied with the answer. Paradoxically, Il Giardino Armonico is far better known outside Italy than it is in a country that has produced 0 Sole Mio and that is famous for its love of music. The group — whose name means literally ‘The Harmonious Garden’ — was established in 1985 and has been run since then by its founder members, Luca Pianca (lute) and Giovanni Antonini. Antonini now conducts the ensemble — whenever he is not playing the solo recorder. From its relatively modest beginnings, the group has blossomed like a garden in spring and more than fulfilled its promise. It now comprises fourteen players, with an average age of around thirty, and aims to give sixty concerts a year, in addition to its many recordings. Its instruments — violins, violas, cellos, lute and, of course, harpsichord and positive organ (a small movable organ) — are all period instruments or exact replicas of the sort of instruments that were used in Vivaldi’s day, right down to their gut strings. ‘Historical performing practice’ is the term normally used in musical circles to describe an approach that has now caught on to such an extent that the sound of early instruments has become the norm in all music written before Beethoven’s day. There are now many ensembles that devote their time to exhuming forgotten composers from the 17th and 18th centuries. The members of II Giardino Armonico have performed pioneering work in their own country, so that compositions by Vivaldi, Corelli, Manfredini and Locatelli can again be heard as they were once heard in the palazzi of Venice and Rome.
Word has now reached the seriously soaking-wet members of II Giardino Armonico that no photographs will be taken today for the ensemble’s family photograph album. They don’t need to unpack their tails. Instead, they all have to head off to the hair stylist’s, before donning their masks and their most outlandish gear. Amazement turns to enthusiasm: hats fly through the air, wigs are passed round and sequins rustle.
The great masquerade can begin.