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Q&A/What to SEE/Music

What to SEE: Australian Baroque

28 February 2022

Over the past 12 months Australian Baroque has performed over 90 concerts to more than 30 000 people. Artistic director Helen Kruger reveals the vision behind the astoundingly popular new orchestra.

Rosalind Appleby: 2021 was a pretty incredible year for Australian Baroque; you performed over 90 concerts to more than 30,000 people. That’s not bad for an ensemble who only formed in 2020. How did you do it?

Helen Kruger: Well I think with our European colleagues unable to perform we felt an extra pressure to do as much as we could while we could. So we really pushed the boat out to see what was possible in a small city like Perth, and what the saturation point would be. Happily, it turns out even with 92 concerts in a year, we haven’t reached saturation point yet!

RA: From its very first concert, Australian Baroque has brought a unique and fresh approach to performing early music. What is your vision?

HK: Our vision is to make awesome music, to move our audiences and to connect with what composers are trying to express. And do that in a way which isn’t exclusive to people who know their BWV numbers. Engaging with a two year old through solo Bach, or introducing primary school students in Margaret River with the 17th century concept of “affect” in Vivaldi, is as important as engaging our audience at the concert at AGWA on Thursday. 

The Australian Baroque made of more than 20 musicians wearing black and holding string instruments, in front of a white studio backdrop
Australian Baroque will launch their season at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Photo supplied

RA: Your ensemble has been collaborating with breweries, roasteries, wineries, galleries, film makers and cake bakers to bring music from the Baroque period to Perth audiences. What interesting locations and combinations can we expect from the 2022 season? 

HK: Starting a relationship with the Art Gallery of Western Australia has been wonderful as it is an amazing venue to work in and I am really excited to see how this will develop. 

We will be working on a new Space Music program for the Perth Festival, further deepening our journey into the synthesis of science, film and music. 

In 2022 we will embark on our first regional tour, working with regional breweries in Denmark, Albany, Esperance, Harvey and Mandurah to produce our “Bach and Beer” program, and also our “Vivaldi Masterworks” and “Baroque Babies” programs. 

We launched our Perth String Project this term and we are so delighted to engage with music education at the grass roots level. We already plotting how we will weave these wonderful new students into our concert programs. We also have some irons in the fire for a new project with CircusWA but I can’t tell you about that yet! 

RA: That’s a really diverse program! What inspired you to take Bach and Vivaldi to the wheatbelt?

HK: There is a certain immediacy with Vivaldi – it enables listeners to instantly connect with the energy, virtuosity and affect of the works. There’s a reason some people in our audience have returned to hear our “Four Seasons” program three times in a year! 

Pairing Bach and Beer has been such a journey for us; yes it’s a fun concept but there is real understanding and appreciation that comes from talking about Bach’s layers, textures, colours and harmonies in conjunction with craft brewing. 

I presented these shows at Circuit West Showcase and this tour has come from that, so we are so grateful to Circuit West for that amazing connection that they enable with regional WA.

RA: I know you are particularly excited about recording the entire set of Mozart Piano Trios with Geoffrey Lancaster this year. Why is this such a significant project?

To be doing the first Australian recording of these works AND for it to also be the first Australian recording on period instruments is really exciting. And of course working with Geoffrey is such an incredible privilege. He was my history lecturer at the University of Western Australia many moons ago where he had such a huge impact on me and continues to be an inspiration. 

RA: Australian Baroque have been a large contributor to the Fever Candlelight series, performing more than 50 concerts of Vivaldi by Candlelight and other Baroque-themed pieces. What has that been like?

HK: The candlelight series has been a brilliant opportunity to engage with audiences that have never felt comfortable going to a classical music concert before. They have taken up my challenge of behaving like a Baroque audience and expressing what they feel when they feel it, so we have applause, cheering and whooping mid-movement and the whole concert ends up like a big party. 

RA: Your 2022 season launch “Summer Showcase” is Thursday 3 March at the Art Gallery of WA. What should we expect from this concert?

HK: This concert is a program of glorious music including a sublime flute concerto by Telemann, with soloist Andy Skinner. We threw in an unknown that audiences will love, with a suite from Geminiani’s Enchanted Forest and we also include a firm favourite with Summer from The Four Seasons. Telemann’s Gulliver’s Travels Suite for 2 Violins demonstrates how quirky some of these composers were and a rapturous “Chaconne” from Rameau’s Dardanus rounds out the concert. 

Our wonderful wine sponsor Faber Vineyard are providing Blanc de Blanc on arrival and the gallery is looking supremely fresh and contemporary with their renovation. It is going to be a stunning start to the year.

Australian Baroque’s “Summer Showcase” is on 3 March 2022.

Pictured top: Helen Kruger is the artistic director and violinist in Australian Baroque. Photo supplied

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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