Baroque Specialist and Lutenist
Improvisation and collaboration are key to baroque specialist Christina Pluhar’s working method.
This summer, the Potsdam Music Festival will stage the first modern production of Il Paride, the first Italian opera ever performed on German soil. Having lain undisturbed since its first production in 1662, the opera by Giovanni Bontempi is being revived by baroque specialist Christina Pluhar and L’Arpeggiata, the early music ensemble she founded in 2000. ‘It’s an ambitious production,’ the 45-year-old states. ‘We know the first production lasted five hours and had 16 scene changes! We know how the 14 singers, all men, divided up the 31 roles they played as well; the complete manuscript has survived in the archives for 350 years.’
Much of Pluhar’s recent research, however, has dealt with the style of improvisation in the 17th century. ‘So much has survived,’ she explains.‘There are so many sources and teaching methods printed in the 17th century that taught you how to improvise – which notes you could use to go from one interval to the next, for example. I like to compare it with language because it has its own grammar and vocabulary, but the work of a poet is to use the language and create art with it. It’s not about knowing the words.’ Though L’Arpeggiata has always had 17thcentury Italian music at its heart, the ensemble has frequently branched into other musical forms. Its 2010 release Via Crucis involved collaborating with traditional singers from Corsica, while back in 2004, the album All’Improviso saw the group working with jazz clarinettist Gianluigi Trovesi. ‘The main reasons to include artists from other musical fields is to learn something about their art of improvisation,’ Pluhar declares. ‘It’s all about the art of creating a musical piece on stage with the communication of the audience – trying to extract secrets that cannot be written down.’
Other experiments have involved the King’s Singers and flamenco guitarist Pepe Habichuela for their Tarantella album in 2001, and a second collaboration with counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky will be released in late 2011. In the past decade, L’Arpeggiata has witnessed a clear shift in the audience demographic as a result.‘We find a lot of young people have become interested,’ she reflects,‘as we feel they find the freedom in our music very appealing.’ Secondly, the improvisatory quality of the group’s work gives it a contemporary edge, she believes:‘Because it’s informed by the character of the artist of the day, there’s more presence of the actual artist,which is why I feel there’s now a contemporary side to early music performance practice.’
Pluhar herself performs on the baroque harp and lute, having moved into early music after studying classical guitar. ‘The baroque harp is quite a recent discovery compared with, say, the harpsichord,’ she notes.‘It’s a very different technique from the classical harp, closer to the South American instruments; we use gut strings, it’s a chromatic instrument, and the string tension is lower. Also, the harp combined very well with the instruments of the lute family.’ The modern-day premiere of Il Paride will take place on 19 June at the Potsdam Schlosstheater.
Join our mailing list for all the latest news and special offers...