It's time to banish the 20th century tradition of not speaking from the stage at classical music concerts. The printed programme provided background information and the stage time was to be devoted entirely to music. Even encores were not announced.
Presenters and musicians who have done their research know that a 21st century audience enjoys a little bit of a verbal introduction to what's going on. For one thing, no one should take for granted that we've arrived at the concert knowing everything about the composers and why particular pieces were chosen for the programme.
Yesterday's Handelfest 2011 concert was a perfect example of what I'm talking about. It was an evening of excellent Baroque-era musicmaking, but communication regarding the programme was a different story.
The printed programme provided no background whatsoever about the music (and, in what must have been a slip of a finger, got Handel's death year wrong).
I suspected that artistic director and harpsichord player Ashiq Aziz didn't say a word about the first two pieces or their composers, François Duval and Handel. Even though I'm supposed to come to a concert prepared, I would have liked to know more about Duval and why Aziz chose this piece instead of one by, say, Corelli, whose style Duval was imitating, within the traditional French-suite strucutre.
On the other hand, I could feel the audience warm up to lutenist Lucas Harris and violinist Geneviève Gilardeau, as they explained the fascinating Bach-Weiss connection in the evening's title work, and how they personally worked through their interpretation of the piece.
It was informative and, very importantly, humanizing.
They didn't speak long; just enough to make clear that what we were about to hear was something we would not have been able to hear anywhere else in the world yesterday. That is special in and of itself -- and we would not have known if they had merely tuned up and played, bowed and gone home.
Gilardeau and Harris run a free summer concert series called Beaches Baroque in Toronto -- an excellent excuse to grab an ice cream, take a walk on the boardwalk and catch their warm musicality before or after.
They haven't posted their 2011 season yet, so here's a teaser from 2009: On period instruments, Gilardeau and Harris perform a sonata by Bernhard Joachim Hagen (1720-1787):