Inspired by Italy: European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO)

Inspired by Italy: European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO)
Lars Ulrik Mortensen, director, Zefira Valova, concertmaster
St John’s, Smith Square, 22 October 2015

Handel: Ouverture to Alessandro HWV21, Sonata in G HWV399, Concerto Grosso in F Op. 3 No. 4; Vivaldi: String Sinfonias in D RV124 & G minor RV157; Albinoni: Concerto for 2 oboes in F Op. 9 No. 3; Corelli: Concerto Grosso in D Op. 6 No. 4.

The European Union Baroque Orchestra was formed in 1985, and has recently successfully negotiated its way through a difficult period of financial uncertainty. It celebrated its renewed, if short term security with the first short series of concerts for the newly formed orchestra of young musicians. They are selected anew each year through combined educational and selection courses and then usually meet five or six times a year to rehearse and then tour a new programme. One of the key features of EUBO is giving the musicians the chance to experience life as a touring orchestral musician, evidenced on this occasion by the fact that they arrived in London on the day of their St John’s, Smith Square concert after a dawn flight from Romania, having previously performed in Bulgaria.

I have reviewed the various EUBO incarnations for many years, and have always been very impressed by the vigour and enthusiasm of the talented young performers. But there did seem to be something rather special about this year’s orchestra. The hiatus in the normal EUBO annual programme has meant that this was their first tour – they usually start in the late Spring each year and finish in December. Despite only having been together for a short period of time, these players’ sense of togetherness and mutual support was evident from the start. As well as some outstanding individual contributions, their sense of consort playing was exemplary.

The programme contrasted the music that Handel wrote under the influence of Italian music with pieces by the Italian composers that influenced him during his short sojourn. I did wonder if the programme might have finished, rather than started, with Handel, as his music was way ahead of the other examples offered, with the exception of the final Corelli Concerto Grosso, a noble companion to the Handel Concerto Grosso that concluded the first half. The two Vivaldi String Sinfonias were the usual bubbly affairs, both making much of Zefira Valovarising and falling scale motifs. The opening Allegro of the G minor Sinfonia was built on a ground bass that recurred after five bars – a slightly unsettling feature. The Albinoni Concerto for two Oboes provided a showcase for the orchestra’s two oboists, Tatjana Zimre and Ana Inés Feola, both outstanding. Other distinguished individual contributions came from the concertmaster, Zefira Valova (see photo – a previous ordinary member of EUBO who has returned in recent years as concertmaster), violinist Justyna Skatulnik and cellist Candela Gómez Bonet.

Much of the success of moulding these 19 individuals into a coherent whole in just a few weeks must go to the Artistic Director of EUBO, Lars Ulrik Mortensen. His conducting might be of the flamboyantly effervescent arm-waving, head-bobbing, jigging-about school, but is always seems to work, lifting the performers’ spirits and enthusing them with the sheer joy of the music they are playing. He shades and shapes every phrase and motif, and makes every individual feel an integral part of the whole.

For the next few years (until 2018) EUBO is part of the EUBO Mobile Baroque Academy (EMBA), a Creative Europe co-operation project, co-funded by the European Union and organised by EUBO and its nine partners. As a record of their past successes and contribution to European young musicians, EUBO has been honoured with the status of Cultural Ambassadors for the European Union in perpetuity.

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