Home     Content     Articles      La Scena Musicale     Search   

La Scena Musicale - Vol. 15, No. 4 December 2009

Ensemble Caprice: Spirited

by Wah Keung Chan / December 1, 2009

Version française...

When Ensemble Caprice artistic director Matthias Maute goes through a score, his boyish excitement spreads to every member of the group, resulting in inspired music making. La Scena Musicale last met Maute in June 2007, when he had just composed a new ending to Monteverdi’s Orfeo for the Montreal Baroque Festival. Recently, the 46-year-old recorder and traverse flute virtuoso and baroque composer has added conductor to his impressive resumé, and in just a few years has taken a 20-year-old organization to new heights.

Last spring, Caprice’s Analekta recording of Vivaldi’s Gloria was the surprise winner of the Vocal and Choral category of the 2009 Junos, a category usually reserved for solo discs (the last 5 years, the award has been won by sopranos Isabel Bayrakdarian [4 times] and Measha Brueggergosman [once]). Just last month (November 2009), The New York Times wrote a full-page article on Caprice’s series of projects related to the Uhrovska Collection (1730) of gypsy melodies. Two discs have recently been released on Analekta. On their November 14th New York concert “Bach and the Bohemian Gypsies,” The New York Times praised the group for their “Music making [, which was] was first rate in the group’s striking arrangements.”

The ensemble’s latest success has echoed a broadening of its repertoire, moving beyond baroque into the classical period while employing larger musical forces that include choir. Last January, Caprice presented Brahms’ Requiem: For piano four hands with a 20-member choir. On the strength of this, Maute, who had been teaching recorder and chamber music at McGill, was appointed the new conductor of the prestigious McGill Chamber Singer.

When Maute created the Ensemble Caprice in Germany in 1989, it was a recorder-viola da gamba duo specializing purely in baroque repertoire. All of that changed in 1994, when he met Canadian recorder player and traverse flutist Sophie Lariviere. Lariviere joined Caprice three years later; the two married and moved to Montreal in 1999 to found Ensemble Caprice’s Canadian office. Here Maute discovered a fertile baroque community. His ensemble began to grow, first to four, then to six. His core now includes Lariviere, who acts as co-artistic director, viola da gambist and cellist Susie Napper, harpsichordist Eric Helyard, baroque guitarist David Jacques and violinist Olivier Brault.

With such able musicians, Caprice has the reputation of being flexible, playing works that range from John Cage to Piazzolla, from tango and jazz to baroque. “We try to explore as much as possible to satisfy our curiosity,” says Maute. “It’s always a process of inspiration, and we go back and forth. When the musicians got hooked on the Gypsy music, they reacted in a different way. This opens all kinds of doors.” He recounts how the musicians asked to cancel a rehearsal one day in order to be fresh and spontaneous while improvising for a recording session.

Stepping from the ensemble to the podium took some getting used to. “It takes some courage,” admits Maute. “I had to learn to stand up for what I think is a good idea, and try to convince everyone to do his best to hang on to that idea. This is a big mental challenge; hardly anyone speaks about it. It involves a lot of psychology, theatre and music knowledge.” Conducting, however, is the culmination of his experience as performer, teacher, arranger and composer. “It’s time to sum it up and take the responsibility on a high professional level. You cannot convey the meaning of a piece to the audience directly. You convey the meaning to the musicians and you get all their energy to pass through you to the audience.”

Bach’s B-minor mass

Caprice’s latest project is Bach’s Mass in B minor, which recently opened the Festival des musiques sacrées in Quebec City to critical acclaim and which they will perform in Montreal in December. “We know that Matthias Maute plays the recorder devilishly well, but we forget that on the podium, he can lift the choir to celestial heights as he so easily did on Thursday night,” wrote Richard Boisvert in Le Soleil.

It’s no fluke that Maute has scored another success. His natural curiosity, combined with his skills as a composer and arranger, creates a highly informed and innovative mix. He deeply analyzes every aspect of the score in order to discover its hidden meaning, which in turn brings him to a place where he sees himself becoming one with the music.

Maute theorizes that in the Mass in B minor, Bach intended for the audience “to participate in the drama as it unfolds. It’s vulnerable music, a very human drama, and he wants us to take part in a specific experience.”

For Maute, the work begins operatically. “The Kyrie eleison is in B minor, it’s dull, very long and you get the feeling we are in trouble,” he says. “When you reach the Sanctus, you are in heaven. It’s one of the most fabulous pieces, from the rich opening to the quickest fugue ever composed, when the heavens are filled with God.” Bach depicts heaven through the use of clever instrumentation. In the Sanctus there is a trio of trumpets to represent the trinity of God. “Trumpet players usually refer to people in power, like Dukes, Kings or a Pope, or God. This is the only piece that needs three oboes, again symbolic of trinity. The result is an extremely brilliant sound. You can’t get richer chords than here. You use the timpani to make exclamation marks when the King appears, and the trumpet plays as well. It’s almost like a symphonic score, in D-major, with a very brilliant, open sound.”

The choir for Maute often represents the people en masse, while the soloists provide individual points of view. As well, the instruments are pulled into the drama, becoming characters of their own. In the second movement “Christe eleison,” the first and second violins represent the trouble that humanity has brought upon the world, while the soloists sing for our salvation. In the second to last movement, the “Agnus Dei,” the first and second violins play in unison once again, but this time they are playing in canon with the singer. This interplay of string and voice signifies a great development, from the beginning of the Mass to the end.

Throughout the score, Maute notes a persistant conflict between the quadruple time of some sections and the triple time of others. A prime example of this temporal tension is in the Quoniam aria for Bass, horn, two bassoons and continuo. “This is usually an extremely long aria,” explains Maute. “In performance, it feels like it is all going downhill—the energy is gone. Why is it so long? In the score, you realize you have a small theatre piece. The horn is the king, surrounded by two bassoons. Playing in the high register, the bassoons sound like horns, as if they are trying, like servants, to imitate the king. The horn is playing in triple time, accenting the offbeat—the king trying to impose order on the people. Meanwhile the servants are playing in quadruple time. They are in a completely different world, resulting in total chaos. The bass is like a priest while the horn plays against the bassoons. We take it at a brisk 108 beats to the quarter note instead of the usual 80.”

Another prime example of temporal tension is in the finale, “Dona nobis pacem,” which is written in cut time (in 2) but accentuates a triple rhythm. According to Maute, “there is no way you can get it together. It tells you that you are here while peace is there, far away. You begin to realize the depth of Bach’s knowledge of the human being, and the fact that he is trying to express the universe with his music.”

Future projects

Looking ahead, Ensemble Caprice already has many interesting projects planned. In March, they will unveil a new program “Salsa baroque” for singers and 10 instrumentalists. This project mixes 17th century European polyphony with traditional Latin American music, which Caprice will take on tour as well as record for a new CD. Their 2010-11 season, “Les Grands classiques” will range from performances of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Brandenburg Concertos to a concert of MozartConcertos. “We want to depict Mozart’s life through his piano concertos, the Symphony concertante for violin, viola and orchestra, and the clarinet concerto,” says Maute. The Mozart works will contrast a new concerto for violin, viola, clarinet and pianoforte with classical orchestra commissioned from Quebec composer Maxime McKinley. Maute will naturally apply his curiosity to the Mozart scores, pushing beyond conventional interpretations. He finds that, like Beethoven, Mozart reached a point where his music transcends his own time, and believes that it is therefore necessary to add a certain edge to Mozart performances.

Ensemble Caprice in concert:
» December 3, 2009 at 8:00 p.m.: Mass in B minor by J. S. Bach at the Darling Foundry (as part of the Montreal Bach Festival). 514-523-3611.
» January 16, 2010 at 8:00 p.m.: Rediscovered Pearls with guest soloist Daniel Taylor at the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. 514-523-3611.
» February 21, 2010 at 3:30 p.m. at the Chapelle historique du Bon Pasteur. 514-872-5338.
» March 20, 2010 at 8:00p.m.: Salsa baroque at the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. 514-523-3611.

Version française...
(c) La Scena Musicale