Eastern European soundscapes at Early Music Days | Music | DW | 22.11.2013
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Eastern European soundscapes at Early Music Days

For decades, fans of early music have known there's something special going on in Herne, Germany. In the latest edition of the city's Early Music Days festival, even seasoned listeners could make new discoveries.

The roots of the early music scene stretch back some 60 years to the founding of two influential ensembles at the beginning of the 1950s. Those ensembles, Concentus Musicus Wien and Capella Coloniensis, employed historical performance practices in an effort to accurately recapture how music sounded in periods ranging from the Middle Ages to the early 19th century.

"There's much less of a tradition of this approach in Eastern Europe; it's only existed for 20 years or so," says Richard Lorber, artistic director of the Early Music Days festival in the city of Herne in western Germany.

Just what the Eastern Europeans have to offer in the realm of Early Music was on display during the latest edition of the festival in Herne. From November 14 to 17, 2013, top ensembles from Eastern Europe gave 10 concerts that included fresh interpretations of largely unknown works. Each concert was dedicated to a city: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Riga, Warsaw, Prague, Lviv (Ukraine), Bratislava, Pannonia (West Hungary), Transylvania and Belgrade.

Polish violinist Zbigniew Pilch (C) Thomas Kost / WDR

Zbigniew Pilch performs "The Paganini of Lviv"

Bagpipes and the Paganini of Lviv

Audiences had plenty of opportunities to discover new things in Herne, including "The Paganini of Lviv" about the 19th century Polish composer Karol Lipinski. The work's graceful melodies and virtuosic violin passages came to life thanks to the Wroclawska Orkiestra Barokowa and violinist Zbigniew Pilch.

And who knew it was only with reluctance that Chopin performed his famous piano concertos with full orchestra backing? The composer and star performer preferred his adaptations for piano and string quartet instead. Listeners could perhaps appreciate Liszt's point of view after pianist Janusz Olejniczak (undeservedly little known in the West) presented the composer’s works on the fortepiano accompanied on stage by the young musicians of the Ellenai string quartet.

Janusz Olejniczak performing in concert (c) Thomas Kost / WDR

Janusz Olejniczak plays Chopin on the fortepiano

Blurred borders, new sounds

The borders between classical and folk music vanished once bagpipe player and flautist Balasz Szokolay Dongo und his partner Matyas Bolya on, among other instruments, zither and lute took the stage. Centuries-old tunes were given new life thanks to an improvisational approach that incorporated elements of folk music.

For festival director Richard Lorber, this year's Early Music Days provided another interesting new discovery: "For me, the Russian and Serbian Orthodox Church music was amazing," he told DW. "It's totally separate from other musical development in the rest of Europe at that time. It's a rough, harmony-free sound. It may well have been a kind of protest against the secular rulers of the 17th and 18th centuries. It really draws you into that world."

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