In 1981, Frans Brüggen, in his time the world’s most famous recorder player, founded the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, which consists today of some fifty members from 23 different countries. Three (or more) times a year the orchestra assembles to go on tour. In its structure and size, the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century resembles the luxurious “Classical” orchestras of the period as we know them from London, Paris and Vienna. The musicians, who are all specialists in eighteenth and nineteenth century music, play on period instruments, or on contemporary copies. It is their intention to try to achieve the most authentic as possible performances of the masterpieces of the late baroque and classical era.
In concert Frans Brüggen’s wide-ranging repertoire with his Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century includes works by Purcell, Bach, Rameau, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn. After nearly 50 CDs on Philips, the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century has been recording exclusively for Glossa since 1997, in co-production with their own production house, The Grand Tour. Notable recordings which have been produced so far include Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and music by a composer who Frans Brüggen has often returned to throughout his career, Jean-Philippe Rameau.
At the time of its foundation the Orchestra was supported by friends throughout the world and the Prince Bernhard Foundation. From 1983 to 1988 the orchestra was sponsored by IBM Europe. From 1989 till 1997 Deloitte and the VSB Fonds took over the sponsorship. Subsidies from the Dutch Government guaranteed the Orchestra’s continuation from 1985 till now.
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Frans Brüggen is considered among the foremost experts in the performance of eighteenth century music. He was born in Amsterdam and studied musicology at its university. At the age of 21, he was appointed professor at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague and later held a position as Erasmus professor at Harvard University and Regents professor at the University of Berkeley.
As Luciano Berio wrote of him, he is “a musician who is not an archaeologist but a great artist”. In August 1991, Brüggen made his debut at the Salzburg Festival with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, an orchestra with which he became (along with Simon Rattle) a principal guest conductor. His continuing work with this orchestra sees him hold the position of Emeritus Conductor.
Frans Brüggen’s conducting activities in recent seasons have included collaborations with the Philharmonia Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Orchestra Sinfonica dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, New Japan Philharmonic, Chicago Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony.
How has the orchestra’s approach to the Beethoven symphonies evolved over the years?
This is a discussion that is very much alive in the orchestra: when we first started, we had no repertoire. So, with every piece that we were approaching we had to work and to discuss, in the old-fashioned way. For years we worked like this, never doing more than one Beethoven symphony in a year – and then we played it over and over again. So, it took us twelve years before we completed the cycle with the Ninth. If you play such pieces again after so many years, things start to change: tempi have changed and whereas we had always been arrogant about all those conductors, who after a certain period of time, decided to rerecord pieces, we – the orchestra members and me personally – now think that it is a good idea to do it again. [read more...]