Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Speed Interview: Robert Howarth

Thu Aug 26 2010

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Who doesn't love The Magic Flute? We certainly do! It's our first performance of Mozart's magic opera today… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…



What do you fear the most?

Loneliness, or spiders.

Which mobile number do you call the most?

My wife’s.

What – or where – is perfection?

Unfortunately perfection is impossible, but my cat Basil comes close.

Who is your favourite hero from fiction (book/comic/film/opera) – and why?

Charlie Brown, I can relate to his many disappointments.

Which living person do you most admire (and why)?

My wife, for her manifold talents and infinite beauty. She is a constant inspiration to me and without her I would be useles

What other talent or skill would you like to possess?

The ability to communicate in any language.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

To believe in and like yourself.

What is the most played piece of music on your MP3 player or in your CD collection?

Right now, Bruckner Four, first movement. Ask me next week and it’ll be something else, there’s a lot in my CD collection.

Is it challenging playing as well as leading a performance (as you will be on 30 August)?

Yes, but I love it. The thing about Monteverdi and playing continuo (as I do) is that it’s so rewarding being completely interactive with the music. You can change the mood just by the choice of notes you play, and in a live situation that’s just an incredible feeling.

What’s the best thing about playing with the OAE?

It has to be being surrounded by top level professional musicians who all share the same aim of producing the best possible music.

What made you decide to revive the Vespers and does the music inspire you?

The Vespers for me is one of the best pieces in the world. It turned my head when I was about 13 and I’ll never forget the impact it made on me. For me, Monteverdi’s music enhances the text beautifully. It doesn’t matter whether one is religious or not, this music touches the human soul and reflects, sincerely and passionately the true meaning of the texts in the psalms and motets. I first directed performances of the Vespers in 1996, completely self-promoted and it crippled me financially. Now to have the chance of performing it with the support of the OAE is fantastic. We had an incredibly successful tour earlier this year and since then we’ve been searching for an opportunity to record it, and it’s finally happening.

Why do you think Vespers has proved so popular?

Because the music stands out as a thing of beauty. You don’t need to know what’s being sung to hear that this is a masterpiece. However, it was Monteverdi’s intention to show you his thoughts on the texts and I think it is that intention that drives this music. I also like to think that we have the best choir ever singing this and that the instrumentalists are all amazing. It is a choral work to which Monteverdi has added instrumental colour, it is also perfectly valid to perform it ‘a capella’ but I chose to recreate a more festive occasion and add some extra music.

Should the classical music world work harder to attract a wider audience?

I don’t think it’s the ‘classical music world’s’ responsibility per se. I do feel very strongly that we have lost so much musical/cultural education in this country that people aren’t made aware of classical music. In other countries in Europe, there is no stigma connected to classical music whereas here it’s considered elitist. Even when I was in secondary education, I had to go to a different school to do A-level music, and there were only 4 of us in my class. Then, when I arrived at University, the first term was spent catching up on fundamental music training that the secondary schools hadn’t taught us that we needed for our level of study. I always felt I had to fight the system to do music, and I have to an extent, succeeded. However, to feel that one needs to fight against something in order to follow ones passion, and it is a passion (I don’t believe I know a single musician who does it because it pays the bills, it’s so much deeper and important than that) is fundamentally wrong. I suspect, given the way funding works, that it behoves us to seek the audiences out, and I am in favour of that, but I do think we should try and bring more cultural education back into our system, or we’ll end up with no balance to a work-driven, lowest-common-denominator-entertainment style of society. Sorry for the rant.


We perform Monteverdi’s 1610 vespers on Monday 30 August at 3pm, at Kings Place, all tickets £9.50 online.

If you’re interested in the live CD recording of the performance drop us a line below and we’ll get in touch when it’s released

One Comment

  • I heard Robert Howarth and the OAE give one of the most thrilling performances of the Vespers ever at the QEH; naturally I got my tickets for the Kings Place concert as soon as it was announced.

    All I can say is: beg, borrow or steal a ticket. It’s going to be amazing. And I really hope the OAE works with Howarth again soon. He really is something special.

    Michael Smith Thu Aug 26 2010