If It Ain't Baroque, Don't Fix It
English quartet Red Priest aims to toss Vivaldi on his ear.
Thursday, February 1, 2001
The Red Priest is coming to Carmel. It can''t exactly forgive your sins and heal your wounds, but if your penance is to immerse yourself in a modern maelstrom of Baroque, then this is your altar.
The quartet of Piers Adams (recorders), Julia King (violin), Julian Rhodes (harpsichord) and Angela East (cello) formed four years ago after coming to the collective idea that too often, classical and Baroque music were played "inappropriately," that is, too seriously.
"There are some people who go about it with a ''library mentality,'' " says Adams, whose cheerful British accent rings out over the trans-Atlantic phone. "They research the music almost to death--''how it was really played, back then.'' We wanted to bring it back to life. The early composers were real people, they must''ve had a sense of fun and emotion, too."
Unusual comments from a relatively young (for classical) musician who leads his merry band to--where else?--the Carmel Mission on Wednesday as part of the Carmel Bach Festival''s Bravissima! series.
Red Priest bills itself as "the other side of Baroque music," but band members'' commitment to quality performance remains as high as more traditional groups. The group has been praised for its eclectic approach to early music as well as the dead-on playing of all the musicians.
"Red priest" comes from the nickname given to Antonio Vivaldi, the 17th-century Italian composer whose bright red hair, priest''s frock and flamboyant personality earned him exile in one profession and acclaim in another. According to one story, the prolific composer was kicked out of the church after leaving an in-progress Mass to write down a song idea that suddenly struck him.
But in contrast to his seemingly all-consuming interest in music (he wrote more than 450 concertos), Vivaldi also devoted much time to his work at an orphans'' hospital in Venice, his hometown.
Red Priest admired the man''s passion and grabbed the name. "The idea was not to give it a classical title. People who know Vivaldi knew what they were getting, and people who didn''t thought we were a rock band or something," explains Adams.
The group''s song lineup for the Carmel concert is far from a rock playlist. Dubbed "Priest on the Run" (the same title as their debut CD), the concert is loosely based on the fantasy that the group dashes around musical European countries, chased by Venetian authorities, playing pieces they pick up along the way. Thus, you end up with Vivaldi''s Chamber Concerto in D Major, J.S. Bach''s Cello Suite No. 2, Georg Telemann''s Gypsy Sonata in A Minor and other delights.
"We try not to present things as usual musicians," Adams says. "We play a mix of flamboyant styles and early music. It''s hard to tread the line. We want to make it fun and exciting but not alienate the core audience [traditionalists]. I want to emphasize this idea that early music can have personal interpretation even if it''s so old."
The other musicians keep busy with other-than-Priestly projects. Violinist King directs the Royal Academy of Music Orchestra, cellist East has played in La Scala and the Sydney Opera House, and "musical polymath" Rhodes (he plays harpsichord, organ and clavichord) has recorded for BBC Radio.
In addition to a lively onstage presence (one reviewer compared them to a "Guinness-soaked folk session in an Irish pub"), Red Priest makes it a priority to interact with the audience. Not exactly a sing-along, given the fact that Baroque music has no lyrics, but band members occasionally are known to frolic in the aisles, essentially bringing the music to the people.
The music is not necessarily danceable, but the skills and passion that the musicians exude contribute to a refreshing experience. "Baroque has fantastic rhythm," says Adams. "From 1750 on, composers got more specific in their themes, I think. Vivaldi wrote a lot of things for violin, and did many for the recorder, as well. He''s popular with recorder players. Most people think he wrote The Four Seasons and ''500 of the same song.'' Not true at all. His work has technical virtuosity and it''s great fun when you can get your head around it."
Red Priest is touring the West Coast for the first time, playing only in Oregon and Carmel before moving on to the East Coast. The foursome has performed other programs with titles such as "Nightmare in Venice" and "Wild Men of the Seicento," featuring Scottish masque music, Italian sonatas, gypsy folk music, pieces by Corelli and Handel, and even Albinoni''s Adagio for Strings, in a great cross-section of 16th-18th century music appreciation.
Scaring away the traditional classical audience is not the intention of Red Priest. Adams quickly reassures that the ensemble loves its music and strives to retain authenticity, but just wants to add its own personality.
"I''ve been listening to lots of gypsy violin and folk music," Adams says. "They have just amazing passion. One thing I''ve always been interested in is presenting early music well, but more percussive and colorful. Il Giardino Armonico [coming to town in a few weeks] has influenced us that way, they''re doing something a little different."
Red Priest performs Wednesday at 8pm in the Carmel Mission, Rio and Lasuen, Carmel. Tickets cost $20 and can be ordered by calling 624-2046 or clicking on www.bachfestival.org.