The New Coming of the Tallinn Baroque Orchestra

Something new and exciting is happening in the early music scene of Estonia. I’m lending the text from a program leaflet of yesterday’s concert, written by Taavi-Mats Utt:

“The Tallinn Baroque Orchestra (TBO) has been active for 36 years – it was founded in 1987 by Ivan Monighetti, Taivo Niitvägi, and Egmont Välja. TBO was the first and, for a long time, the only orchestra in Estonia that played on period instruments and one of the few continuously operating baroque orchestras in all of Eastern Europe. TBO’s artistic director and initiator of its activities is the orchestra’s solo cellist, Egmont Välja. Of course, a beautiful book could be written about its long history, but let’s focus on the present instead.

Seismologists know that after silence, volcanoes either extinguish or, conversely, there is expected to be greater activity. A few years of relative silence, where TBO was limited to only a few concerts per season. Unlike volcanoes, however, TBO does not sow chaos but rather arranges harmony. In 2021, Tõnu Kaljuste conducted a memorable Bach program at the Tallinn feat. Reval festival. A year later, Andrew Lawrence-King conducted TBO for the first time. After a highly successful concert, there was a certain sadness that something beautiful had ended and the next concert was not yet in sight. However, Andrew Lawrence-King agreed to break this vicious circle, and we decided to start working regularly. Rehearsals every week and concerts every month.”

The rehearsals started in February, and yesterday we presented our first program, ‘La Musica,’ to the audience.

The Program

Here are the words of Andrew Lawrence-King that elaborate on the program:

“After the customary trumpet Toccata, the first character to appear onstage in Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo is La Musica, the personification of music as a communicative, charming and influential woman. She greets the noble audience and proclaims the power of her ‘sweet accents’ to calm your troubled heart, and to enflame even the coldest minds with love.

Accompanied by the cetra, the magical lyre of ancient Greek myths, La Musica’s singing delights the ear: and when she channels the cosmic harmony of the Music of the Spheres, she can even move your spirit. She comes from Permessos, a river flowing from Mount Helicon, sacred to Apollo and to the nine Muses, the inspirational goddesses of poetry, music, dance, drama, history and astronomy.

The ensemble of bowed string instruments, from both violin- and viol-families, represents the mythical cetra, as do the real-life accompanying instruments in early-17th-century Italy: the Theorbo (a long-necked bass lute) and the Double Harp with its multiple rows of diatonic and chromatic strings. In Tempro la cetra, the poet tunes his lyre to sing of War, but it resounds only with Love. In the following ballo, the circle-dances of the Muses are even more beautiful than the stars dancing around the moon on a dark night.”

Andrew continues:

“Orfeo was first performed on February 24th 1607. A year later, rehearsals for the opera Arianna were thrown into confusion by the illness and death of the Mantuan court’s favourite soprano, Caterina Martinelli. Unable to find a singer to replace her, Monteverdi and the poet Rinuccini cast an actress from the commedia dell’arte, Virginia Ramponi-Andreini, known by her stage-name of La Florinda, as the tragic heroine.

Her performance of the famous Lamento d’Arianna was a huge success, but this scene is all that survives of Monteverdi’s masterpiece. We can only speculate, what harmonies might have accompanied the tragic entrance of the noble lady (la nobil donna), what melody might have accompanied her aria of Hope (Speranza). For the same courtly celebrations, La Florinda also sang another Lament, in the role of one of the Ingrate – cruel women from Hell!

Isabella Leonarda, ‘the Muse of Novarra,’ entered the convent of St Ursula as a teenager, and became one of the most published composers of the century, though her music has only recently been rediscovered. She urges listeners to religious devotion with passionate texts in the language of secular love-songs: ‘If you love, you must love God’; with the dramatic contrasts of early opera: ‘I sigh’, ‘I hope’, ‘I die’; and in the dance-rhythms of a passacaglia: ‘sweet fire and flame”.

Francesca Caccini, known as La Cecchina, was the daughter of singer-composer Giulio, whose Le nuove musiche (1601) defined the performing style of ‘the new music’ of the early Baroque. Under the patronage of Grand Duchess Cristiana, Francesca became the leading musician at the Medici court in Florence, and was the first woman to compose an opera. The enchantress, Melissa, rides on a dolphin to the magic island, to rescue Ruggiero from the Alcina, an old witch who transforms herself into a beautiful young woman and transforms her former lovers into plants.

Our finale is an echo from the more distant past, the famous dance for the Grand Duke of Florence, first performed in 1589 to celebrate Cristiana’s marriage to Ferdinando de’ Medici. Three soloists – star soprano Vittoria Archilei, Francesca’s mother Lucia Caccini, and young Margherita – accompanied themselves on guitars and tambourine, contrasting with a huge ensemble of over 300 musicians.

Around the year 1600, there was no standard formation for an orchestra. Large ensembles combined contrasting ‘choirs’ of similar instruments: violins and viols, flutes and recorders; reed instruments; trombones and trumpets; percussion. Until the 19th century, there was also no conductor. The ensemble is ‘guided and supported’ by the instruments of the basso continuo: harpsichord, organ, theorbos, guitars, harps, regal etc. Rhythm is defined by the steady swing of baroque Tactus, sub-divided variously into smaller note-values: two, four or eight; one and a half, three or six times faster. Music imitates the patterns of the Italian language, alternating Good and Bad syllables; reflects the perfection of Heavenly Music; is embodied by a woman’s voice: La Musica.

TBO in rehearsal, Feb 2023

The players

Violin – Meelis Orgse, Mari Targo, Tatjana Gašimova, Madleen Kristen Alasi, Melissa Jõesaar, Eva Punder, Tiina Petrov, Giulia Guarini, Anete Ainsaar
Viola – Eva-Maria Sumera, Arvo Haasma, Kristiina Talen
Cello – Egmont Välja Violone – Peeter Klaas
Viola da gamba – Tõnu Jõesaar, Martin Chhabra
Theorbo, guitar – Robert Staak, Kristo Käo
Harp – Lilian Langsepp
Harpsichord – Reinut Tepp
Organ – Tiia Tenno
Recorders, rackett – Taavi-Mats Utt
Recorders, flutes – Reet Sukk, Hardy Hännikäinen
Recorder – Kai-Riin Kont
Oboe – Aleksander Hännikäinen
Bassoon – Oliver Anni
Trumpet – Indrek Vau, Chris Sommer, Martin Pajumaa
Trombone – George Butler, Tanel Juksaar
Harp, leading- Andrew Lawrence-King

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