Something About Those Period Instruments?

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is called a “period instrument orchestra” but there is nothing precious or musty about the music they make. It is a democratic collective in which the musicians are the guiding force artistically, voting for board members from among their ranks who decide repertoire etc. They have worked with numerous conductors over the years, but for their CAMA Santa Barbara appearance at the Granada Theatre they performed in their preferred mode: there was no one wielding a baton. For the first of two Beethoven compositions on the program, guest concertmaster Michael Gurevich nominally “led” this group of eccentric idealists through a thoroughly engaging 4th Symphony in B-flat Major, and the sound was glorious, much grander than the fairly small size of the ensemble would indicate. From where I stood at the back of the hall, the woodwinds sounded much more present and alive than I’ve heard before. For the Violin Concerto in D Major, violinist Nicola Benedetti assumed role of “director” and from center stage proceeded to play her heart out with sensitive and dynamic backing from the OAE. Here cadenzas were dazzling and original. So, the label of period instrument orchestra doesn’t begin to describe what went down for this concert… it was so much more and lives up to their aim of making classical music works sound as revelatory as they did when first performed.