14 June 2013

The Journey Back to Baroque

Written by Published in Art & Culture
Florian Caffé
Image: Allison Zurfluh
Pont des Soupirs
Image: Allison Zurfluh
Teatro La Fenice
Image: Allison Zurfluh
Venice Ospedaletto
Image: Allison Zurfluh

Venetian Baroque is in peril. The history of its birth – the emerging of the first public opera houses, the invention of sonata, cantata, concerto – has been told worldwide but remains largely unspoken at home

A twenty minute boat ride from the mainland and a step over a wooden gunwale and you’re on the dock of one of the world’s greatest cultural hubs. In Venice, Italy, history looms in timeless architecture and a tangible artistic energy permeates every corner of town from the Caffé Florian, with Ospedale della Pietá in the distance, to St. Mary of the Friars across the Grand Canal. But La Serenissima – a name that evokes the opulence of the former Venetian Republic – is also home to a unique form of Baroque music, fathered by composers such as Monteverdi, Marcello, Vivaldi, during the early 17th to mid 18th centuries. 

The music that once flourished now flounders; and an evening stroll through St. Mark’s Square has come to resemble an awkward face-off of modern pop tunes. Throughout the city is heard a repetitive if not mediocre interpretation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons aimed more at appealing to tourists than exploring the music’s cultural and historical context.

baroque Olivier LexaOlivier Lexa, Founder and Artistic Director, Venetian Centre for Baroque Music. Image ©Matteo Da FinaTo counter its impending demise, the Venetian Centre for Baroque Music opened its doors in 2010 – spearheaded by Olivier Lexa, Founder and Artistic Director. It has since propagated the form in the hopes of reclaiming an important part of the city’s identity. Its mission is two-fold: to provide resources and promote the dissemination of information and knowledge through research and interpretation of golden era music, and to hold an annual international Monteverdi Vivaldi Festival that seeks to revive a style, both sacred and profane. The Centre also runs an academy for young artists.

Bringing the greatest Baroque musicians back to the heart of Baroque contributes to Venice’s future, and ensures the authenticity – not to mention survival – of what was once the cultural heartbeat of Italy. ‘The Venetian repertoire is infinite,’ he says. ‘It is humankind’s inescapable heritage.’

Lexa explains that this year’s Festival stops in eleven symbolic locations that speak to Venice’s extraordinary longevity, from historical palazzi and secular churches to Teatro La Fenice. It gives a nod to cultural advancement and sustainability with performances at the Teatrino di Palazzo Grassi – the city’s museum of modern art. The season opens with an appearance by Jordi Savall, the Spanish viol maestro and UNESCO Artist for Peace, in an evening that celebrates the crossroads of Ottoman, Arab-Andalusian, Sephardic and Armenian Mediterranean music. 

In addition to partnering with La Fenice, UNESCO, Instituto Veneto and the Pinault and Prada Foundations, the Festival welcomes the Palazzo Contarini Polignac this year, among other, international, patrons. 

‘These partnerships translate into a real desire on the part of major Venetian institutions to support our mission, which they feel underpins the cultural landscape of the city,’ relates the Artistic Director. ‘The public applauds us for having brought to a higher plane a style that until now has been stuck in the Four Seasons. They grow in number and loyalty every year: habits do change!’ 

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The Monteverdi Vivaldi Festival 2013 runs from June to September. Get tickets here

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