Les Arts Florissants to perform at Saffron Hall

Saffron Hall will host one of the world’s leading Baroque music ensembles on Sunday 13 March, as Les Arts Florissants visit the award-winning venue for the first time.

Les Arts Florissants was established in 1979 by Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor William Christie. Christie himself has a most interesting pedigree. After reading art history at Harvard, he became the assistant conductor of the Harvard Glee Club before taking up music studies at rival university, Yale. He took French nationality in 1995 and has subsequently been in receipt of many awards including a Grand Croix de la la Légion d’honneur and the Georges Pompidou Prize. An ensemble of singers and instrumentalists specialising in the performance of Baroque music on period instruments, Les Arts Florissants are renowned all over the world. The ensemble, named after a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, has played a pioneering role in the revival of a Baroque repertoire that had long been neglected. Today that repertoire is widely performed and admired: not only French music from the reign of Louis XIV, but also more generally European music of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Each season Les Arts Florissants give around a hundred concerts and opera performances in France—at the Philharmonie de Paris, where they are artists in residence, the Théâtre de Caen and the Opéra Comique—and are an active ambassador for French culture abroad, being regularly invited to New York, London, Edinburgh, Brussels, Vienna, Salzburg and Madrid.

In recent years, Les Arts Florissants have launched several education programs for young musicians. The Arts Flo Juniors program, launched in 2007, enables conservatory students to join the orchestra and chorus for the length of a production. The partnership between William Christie, Les Arts Florissants and New York’s Juilliard School of Music, comes to complete this panel of programs with short working sessions led by William Christie and Paul Agnew, to help young professionals improve their skills.

But what of the music they are going to play? For this programme they have chosen but one piece of music: L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato by George Frideric Handel, the two parts of which will be separated by the interval. The work is a pastoral ode based on John Milton’s poetry (1632-34) that abounds in musical imagery evoking aspects of the English countryside at its most resplendent.

Whilst still at Cambridge, Milton wrote just the two poems: L’Allegro and Il Penseroso; Il Moderato was an addition written by Charles Jennens, the librettist of The Messiah, at Handel’s request. Jennen’s poetry, whilst quite definitely not of the quality of Milton’s, served to give Handel’s work the balance that Milton’s works lacked and Georgian society demanded.

The piece is performed by four soloists and a chorus, all over the texture of an orchestra of period instruments.

This is Handel at his best. Saffron Hall and Les Arts Florissants are doing everyone a great service by providing the opportunity to hear it at its most authentic – an opportunity not to be missed.