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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 March 2019

Dinner and a show: Faenza bring classical music into the 21st century

Faenza will perform four short programmes in four different languages – each designed to suit one of four different cuisines

Chamber music group Faenza will perform at the Odeon restaurant in Dubai. 
Chamber music group Faenza will perform at the Odeon restaurant in Dubai. 

Meet Faenza – a chamber music group whose members don’t particularly like playing in concert halls.

The nebulous collective might specialise in the kind of early music repertoire generally presented to hushed, well-heeled audiences in clinically spot-lit venues – but the players themselves prefer to shun formality, and instead take their custom-made, period instruments to the people.

The challenge that awaits

Rather than performing a studiously notated programme, the group makes musical decisions on the spot. They like to challenge themselves by playing to distracted diners, as they will in Dubai with the themed The Four Savours of Love concert, which presents four short programmes in four different languages – each designed to suit one of four different cuisines.

It might sound absurd that any serious musician would readily choose to reduce their art to dinner-table entertainment – to risk playing second fiddle to the plates being served, pun intended – but Faenza’s founder Marco Horvat, 58, seems to take particular pleasure in confounding convention.

“I feel very sorry when I do a concert and I don’t meet the public,” he says. “I don’t know who came and what they received. The idea was always to make contact with the public and understand that you are giving them something – or not.

Faenza will perform the recital 'L'Europe Galante' which features 17th-century French, English, Italian and Spanish music compositions. 
Faenza will perform the recital 'L'Europe Galante' which features 17th-century French, English, Italian and Spanish music compositions. 

Using authentic period instruments, including the theorbo (a long lute), Baroque guitar (a five-string precursor to today’s instrument, with movable frets) and viola da gamba (a fretted five-to-seven stringed instrument reminiscent of the modern cello), Faenza specialise in 17th century Baroque music – a fertile period late in the Renaissance when the rules were yet to be written, let alone broken. The classical conventions ploughed and enforced by Mozart and Haydn in the late 18th century were yet to be imagined – the dramatic wilds of Romanticism still generations away.

“That’s why I like this period – there is no norm in early music, it’s not like classical music, there is much more invention – and much more fun,” says Horvat, a Frenchman of Italian descent.

“And there’s a lot of freedom, because everything is not written in the score, so we have much more space to invent, to create. We can improvise a little bit.

“When you say ‘early music’, it sounds old and dusty – but not when you hear us play it.”

Creating a relationship with their audience

It was the Baroque era’s freewheeling lack of formality which also inspired Faenza’s novel approach to performance – recreating a time when there were no formal venues and music making was a strictly informal, primarily private affair.

“Our concept is about conviviality,” says Horvat, who plays the theorbo and Baroque guitar. “The fact is that in the 17th century, ‘the concert’ as such didn’t exist, so people did music in a more homely way.

“So we try to put the public near us, so we can speak to them and present the instruments and they can help choose the programme. It creates a relationship with the people.”

Mixing the contrasting moods of a concert recital, vaudeville theatre and supper club show, Faenza’s performances take a dramatic bent, delivered with the evident ease of players who have spent countless years on the road together. In Dubai, Horvat will be joined by long-term collaborators Francisco Manalich, a Chilean who plays bass viol and Baroque guitar, and Olga Pitarch, a Parisian who plays the castanets, the ancient percussion instruments otherwise known as clackers.

Pivotally, all three musicians actively participate in the unfolding narrative.

“We’re all singers and instrumentalists, which is quite rare – but in the 17th century it was the norm,” says Horvat.

“Normally, every person who sang could accompany himself on an instrument, and we try to ‘re-give’ a life to this tradition.

“There is a little bit of theatre to the show, let us say. It starts always with the music, of course, but we try to put it into a stage context, so people feel engulfed, and not a stranger to the music.”

There is a little bit of theatre to the show, let us say. It starts always with the music, of course, but we try to put it into a stage context, so people feel engulfed, and not a stranger to the music.

But in Dubai, the trio’s theatrics risk being upstaged by a fourth voice – coming from the kitchen. The Four Savours of Love will be complemented by the culinary contributions of Thomas Duhamel – founder and head chef of host venue Odeon and an alumnus of top-end eateries Zuma Dubai and Stay by Yannick Alleno.

The programme takes inspiration from Les Exercices de Style, a classic book by Raymond Queneau from 1947 which tells the same story 99 times, each in a different style.

Using a mixture of vaudeville and cabaret, Faenza present the same scenario – a classic love triangle – four times, in four different languages, paired with four different cuisines. After opening with a selection of French Baroque pieces by composers Michel Lambert, Marin Marais and Sebastien le Camus, the audience will be invited to feast on a buffet of French entrees. Then, after some Spanish pieces by the likes of Juan Hidalgo de Polanco, the main course of paella will be served.

Then, somewhat unusually for a French restaurant, a selection of English and Scottish Baroque works – including selections by Henry Purcell and Tobias Hume – will be followed by English cheeses (“perhaps Stilton”, quipped a press communique).

Finally, the programme will return to Horvat’s Italian roots with selections from Enrico Radesca di Foggia, Giovanni Ghizzolo and Sigismondo d’India – served, naturally, alongside a dessert of tiramisu.

Faenza perform The Four Savours of Love at Odeon, Alliance Francaise Dubai, on February 27 at 7.30pm. Tickets are Dh120 including dinner. For more information, visit www.afdubai.org.

Updated: February 27, 2019 12:56 PM

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