Katy Elkin, Le Tendre Amour
It’s a damp evening in stinky 17th century London. It’s been quite a century: the city has been ravaged by plague and then fire, yet its taverns are alive with booze and banter. Fiddlers play the latest country hits. Meanwhile, at the court of Charles II, everyone’s talking about Henry Purcell’s new Baroque opera The Fairy-Queen, performed on cutting-edge instruments such as the long-necked theorbo or the seven-stringed viola da gamba played with ones knees parted.
In this chaotic time in musical history, French and English, court and popular styles merged and leapt between social classes to create something peculiarly and splendidly English. This vibrant mishmash of 17th century chart-toppers is the premise of a concert on May 14th performed in 10th-century church Sant Pau del Camp. Entitled 'All In A Garden Green', the concert tells the story of nature through music, and is performed by Barcelona-based Baroque group Le Tendre Amour. Metropolitan talked to one of its founding members, the oboe-player Katy Elkin.
How did the group form?
I studied music in Philadelphia. Seven years ago, I got a grant to study old instruments in Belgium. I met harpsichord player Esteban Mazer, who is Argentine-Israeli, and Sébastian Perrin, who is French and plays the traverso flute, at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. We moved to Barcelona, as I’d always wanted to study with Italian Alfredo Bernardini who was teaching at the Esmuc music school. Here our group expanded. We often work with two sopranos, including local singer María Hinojosa, although in this concert we’ve a special guest Nina Åkerblom, who is Swedish.
What is baroque music?
That depends! Italian Baroque is flashy and rhythmical, with a lot of strings: Antonio Vivaldi is a big name. German Baroque—think JS Bach—is complex and moving. French Baroque, which we play a lot, is poetic and performance-related, with songs, dances and particular gestures that refer to certain moods.
Who listened to it?
Everyone! Baroque had two roles: one as background music to a social occasion and another to capture the attention of the audience. Opera back then was a hive of gossip! Theatres were round and from some seats you could barely see the stage. It was like a football game, in which a million people are present, but they’re not necessarily watching the pitch. But then, when there’s a particular aria, everyone’s attention is on the stage.
Are the instruments familiar?
They look simpler than their modern equivalent, but they are more difficult to play. To make them, we rely on written descriptions that compare the sound of an instrument to the human voice, which is the symbol of perfection. Baroque invented the bass line, it’s called the continuo and a number of instruments play it while others improvise on top. We use the theorbo (a large lute with a low sound), the viola da gamba and the harpsichord, where one hand plays the continuo, and the other improvises. I play the wooden baroque oboe, which has the double reed like a modern oboe, but only two keys.
Is early music hip at the moment?
Early music, which refers to anything before 1800, has been fashionable in Northern Europe since the Sixties. Here it’s a more recent thing. Le Tendre Amour tour a great deal and we have played concerts in amazing places. Some of our most memorable were in places that had been destroyed by war, to a public that had no experience of this kind of music. We want to play a greater role here. That’s why we are premiering our latest concert in Barcelona.
Tell us about the concert
We chose the venue for its intimacy and natural acoustics. The music is all English early baroque. King Charles II was a big fan of the music he’d heard while in exile at the French court of Louis XIV. In England, it blended with popular English country-dances collected by John Playford in a popular dance manual called The English Dancing Master. The clash is wonderful! As are the titles of the songs, such as 'Strawberries and Cream', 'An Italian Rant'. Many, in true English style, are influenced by the weather and nature, such as 'The Glory Of The Sun'.
All in a Garden Green
May 14th 9pm,
€15, €10 reductions
1 hour 30 min
Sant Pau del Camp
C/Sant Pau 99,
El Raval, Barcelona
Metro: Paral.lel / Drassanes