Old Worlds and New

Old Worlds and New Adelaide Baroque 2024Adelaide Baroque. Nexus Arts. 31 May 2024


In staging Old Worlds and New, Adelaide Baroque presented a rare and utterly delightful concert of medieval and early renaissance style music.


Adelaide Baroque is renowned for its thoroughly informed and authentic performances of music of the baroque era, and its members frequently collaborate with other musicians. For this concert, members of the Adelaide Baroque Orchestra, led by violinist Ben Dollman, were joined by the Early Modern Trio of Aaron Brown (violin, rebec), Philip Griffin (oud, guitar, tzura) and Tunji Beier (hand percussion), together with Maryam Rahmani (santur, kamancheh and voice).


Aaron Brown is a specialist in medieval music and composes music drawing on medieval forms and flavours, as well as performing some original pieces. This was the era of Moorish Spain — Al-Andalus — where Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities coexisted and whose culture spread through Europe to the middle east.


Brown takes the danceable rhythms of medieval music and recreates them as modern jazz rhythms. His Ecclesia is based on Sequence for St. Ursula by the legendary abbess and composer Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179), and it combines sequences of solos for violin, oud and drum supported by the strings of Adelaide Baroque. The gentle sounds of Maryam Rahmani’s santur, an instrument similar to a hammer dulcimer, can be heard throughout.


Brown’s Lament for Tristan, based on a troubadour song drawn from a fourteenth century Tuscan manuscript, opens with a mournful, characteristically medieval violin solo that segues into a hypnotic contemporary jazz piece performed by the ensemble. The style of music shifts back and forth between eras as Brown performs another solo in contemporary style, and there is a jazz guitar solo by Philip Griffin.


In many works, the arrangements for the ensemble create dialogues between instruments, and involve sequences of alternating instrumental solos in the manner characteristic of jazz ensembles, but the style of the music never loses its medieval, often courtly flavour. The sound of the early violin is quite different to that of its modern counterpart, and Brown also uses a rebec, another early bowed string instrument. The use of traditional instruments in contemporary music adds to this most seductive and unique musical hybrid.


Kalenda Maia, by troubadour Raimbaut de Vaqueiras (c1155 – 1205) is in the form of the estampie, a medieval dance, and features solos for violin and recorder. Cominciamento di Gioia (Origins of Joy), arranged for recorder, played by Brendan O’Donnell) and a small frame drum, played by Tunji Beier, is from another, anonymous, estampie.


The slow, meditative A Chantar, by Beatriz, Contessa de Dia (1140 – 1212), was originally a vocal work, but is arranged for santur and oud, accompanied by tinkling percussion. Rahmani also performed a delightful solo on the santur to accompany her own voice in her Improvisation on Traditional Persian Melody.


Brown’s Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream begins with Philip Griffin reading a text from the Book of Daniel in which Nebuchadnezzar dreams of the great tree that shelters the world. The music that follows the reading is based on the opening melody of the thirteenth century Play of Daniel, a liturgical drama written by students of the Beauvais Cathedral in northern France.


The concert booklet provided extensive details of the nature and sources of the music and its historical context, and Brown’s compositions and arrangements are based on extensive research. This enchanting concert provides just a taste of the kinds of music that might have been heard in the medieval era, and so the concert constituted an absorbing history lesson.


The performances throughout were excellent. The whole ensemble combined wonderfully, sharing a common appreciation of Aaron Brown’s finely crafted compositions which bring medieval music into the contemporary era and continue the evolution of musical composition and performance that characterised medieval times.


Chris Reid


When: 31 May to 1 June 2024

Where: Nexus Arts Venue

Bookings: Closed