Tuesday, January 10, 2012

1729 Reasons to Watch Out for this Ensemble

If you are ever faced with a problem which you feel that, having reviewed all the data, you cannot solve, one might tell you that the answer could be staring right at you. To a certain extent we have all had that experience, for example, my most recent excursion around the house to find my glasses ended up in their discovery upon my nose. 

Ensemble 1729 (From left to right)
Estelí Gomez, soprano
Mark Edwards, harpsichord and organ
Vincent Lauzer, recorder
Joanna Marsden, traverso
Meet Ensemble 1729, a dynamic new group "forged in the fire of Mount-Royal," which focuses on presenting music of the baroque and galant. 

As students of McGill's Schulich School of Music, Joanna Marsen, traverso; Mark Edwards, harpsichord and organ; Vincent Lauzer, recorder; Kate Bennett Haynes, baroque cello; and Estelí Gomez, soprano; began sharing their love for music in 2009. Since then, their performances of thoughtfully-crafted programs have been heard across North America and Europe. 

"We think out our programs with a clear idea of who will be performing with us," says Joanna, whose deep investment in the group is clear from the instant I sat down with her, "once we know who is available, we find the music most suited to them [which fits with the theme of the program]." Though the group has a core of five members, 1729 has been performing this season with quite a variable instrumentation, from three to seven on stage in any given concert.

Over the past few years, increasing demand for its members in the early-music community has led to the displacement of a few; Joanna has moved to Den Haag, Mark to Freiburg, and Estelí has been very active internationally. Interestingly, the geographical challenge seems to have brought the group closer together. 

Having already performed three programs this season abroad, 1729 have begun the process of applying for fringe festivals, among them Boston and Utrecht. They don't seem to tire, they have planned for two more programs in Montreal before the end of the season, and, according to a few crayon drawings made on some restaurant table-mats, they are already looking ahead to 2013. I'm told their more elaborate plans have included diagrams of winged bovine (who would have known their knowledge of early music stretched back to Hathor?). 

1729 also has an ace up its sleeve. "We've certainly have been blessed in one regard," explains Joanna, "My boyfriend is a great sound engineer and he and his friends have been recording most of what we've done [in Montreal]." Blessed indeed, as many groups have to rely on poor-quality devices, 1729 has played with what one might consider a small studio, equipped with a free engineer. Not only is this providing a great quality archival copy for every performance, but it is also serving as some great ammunition towards their applications for summer festivals. 

Last week's concert, held in Montréal's Westmount Park United Church, was their largest yet. Titled "Telemann et des amis" and their first collaboration with one of the city's newest string quartets, Quatour Djadin; it focused on music from Dresden, with a few other gems added in. "It went really well," notes Vincent, "it was nice to be able to play concerti with an group of friends backing us." 

An interesting concern of theirs lies in the audience's experience in  of music a modern concert format. "We feel that a performer experiences a concert in a superior, or different way than the audience," explains Mark, "that is to say that we feel an entirely different aspect on top of the aural experience. Musicians experience both an aural, as well as a physical sensation in their performances which, at least to me, is very gratifying. I think we are trying to, somehow, transfer that experience upon our listeners, though I think it is [and will continue to be] a challenge." Though that transfer will be difficult to achieve, both their awareness of that issue and the fact that they are looking to tackle it looks very promising.  

Though I may have stumped Joanna, Vincent, and Mark when I asked them 'what makes you unique?' (more of a cliché than a question, I admit), upon reflection I find that there is plenty to be celebrated and even admired that is almost exclusive to them. Ensemble 1729 is a truly international young ensemble. Its members, averaging 25 years of age, each live and work in a region with a rich history for their respective instruments, they have the capacity, and drive, to bring their programs to their homes (both new and old), as well as a deep knowledge and appreciation for the music of their slightly peculiar instrumentation. 

It seems the answer was staring us right in the face. 
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