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HIP – another buzzword in musical performance? An interview with Rachael Beesley

Rachael Beesley is one of Australia’s finest violinists and a highly sought after concertmaster, director and educator. Internationally known as a leader in Historically Informed Performance (HIP), she has worked with some of Europe’s most distinguished ensembles. Since returning to Australia in 2009 she has been involved in a growing number of projects, the most recent a very rare soloistic performance of J.S. Bach’s ‘Mass in B minor’ by The Song Company and chamber ensemble Ironwood combined featuring one voice per part vocal scoring.

ABS Committee Member Meredith Beardmore spoke to Rachael. The Australian Bach Society is very grateful to Rachael for this interview.

What drew you to Historically Informed Performance?

As a performing musician, I am constantly studying and researching composers and the performance practices of the times, as well as discovering and rediscovering repertoire on period instruments. By learning about and absorbing the history of the music, I enjoy the challenges this creates as well as the versatility this gives to me as a performer and the ultimate affect on audiences. 

What are the differences in baroque and modern violins?

Depending on the repertoire and requirements of the performance, there are many differences in the violins and bows as well as the setups and pitch, which affect the way in which the violin speaks. But it is worth noting that the changes in the design and setup of the instrument over the centuries wasn’t so much a development, as it was an ‘ideal’ for each period of repertoire, created by the makers and players of the time, inspired by new compositional requirements. 

How does this affect your approach to each instrument?

Every period and style of music from the Baroque, Classical & Romantic repertoire requires great sensitivity of phrasing, attention to harmony and subtle use of the bow, to speak in the language of the composer. So the different instruments and bows greatly influence the tempi, articulation, dynamics, phrasing and expression of the music. The Historically Informed Performance movement has been going strong for several decades now and has been continually evolving.

How do you think it has changed since you’ve started and where do you see it going?

Recently we have lost many great pioneers in the field of Early Music with Leonhardt, Brüggen and Hogwood, so I am eternally grateful for the wonderful direction and support I was given by my teachers in Europe, Sigiswald Kuijken and Elizabeth Wallfisch and the wonderful musical path this has enabled me to follow. As a teacher myself, I now see what an amazing difference HIP has on young musicians and the broad musical path they can follow as a result of these pioneers. 

How do you think this movement has affected the broader community of classical musicians?

Greater awareness and appreciation of the repertoire, performance practices and sound worlds created on period instruments has enabled all classical musicians to make informed choices but continued HIP education is paramount to enable classical music to continue to flourish and enlighten audiences.

And how do you think Bach fits into this? 

J.S. Bach’s music is the cornerstone of Baroque and Classical repertoire therefore extensive performance knowledge of the repertoire and performance practices before and during Bach’s lifetime are essential to understanding his music. Bach’s music is an inspirational art form, which continues to engage, invigorate and move both performer and listener.

In Australia Rachael performs as guest concertmaster with leading period ensembles including the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and for Pinchgut Opera, Opera Australia, Victorian Opera as well as the St John and St Matthew Passions presented by the Melbourne Recital Centre. Rachael is a member of the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra and regularly performs with the chamber music ensembles Ludovico's Band, Salut! Baroque and Quartz. As a guest director she regularly performs in New Zealand with NZ Barok. In 2006, Rachael co-founded the ensemble Ironwood and has recently co-launched orchestra seventeen88, both ensembles extend-ng the HIP influence into the Classical and Romantic repertoire. Alongside Rachael’s impressive performance credentials, she is a passionate educator and teaches at the Sydney and Melbourne Conservatoriums of Music, the School of Music Monash University and is the Kate Buchdahl Distinguished Artist in Residence at the ANU School of Music, Canberra. Rachael was recently involved in the 2014 Melbourne Bach Forum, directing a concert at Melba Hall with students of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.

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