Daniel Hope

The British violinist explains why the colourful lives of the Baroque violin virtuosos have fascinated him for the past decade

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This January you’re performing the first classical concert at the Elgar Room, a new performance space in the Royal Albert Hall, and everyone in the audience will be standing…

It’s certainly a bit of a change, although I’ve done quite a few of these concerts at the Yellow Lounge in Berlin over the past three or four years. They were the start of all of this idea of putting classical music into a club type atmosphere. There you get up to 800 or even 1,000 people standing. It takes a while to get used to, but it’s an amazing atmosphere.

This concert is titled ‘A Ba-ROCK Explosion’…

I’ve been researching Baroque music for the past ten years and I once had a different perception of this era – for me it meant wigs and the stately, very serene experience that you associate with some of the great recordings of the 1950s and 1960s. After the work of people like Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the advent of performance practice, we have to completely change the way we approach Baroque music. For me it was fascinating to discover the risks that many of these composers took, how raucous this music was; there’s music about war, composed for battles, and music written about love for kings in palaces. So it was fun to take the more radical, rock-like music and put it together.

Little-known composers like Westhoff, Falconieri and Matteis pop up in the programme alongside Bach and Handel – how do they compare?

You’ve got these giants Bach and Handel, but guys like Westhoff and Matteis were the new rock stars of the violin. Matteis, Geminiani and Falconieri were from Italy, which was considered incredibly chic and dangerously enticing. Matteis went on his travels and ended up in England where he absolutely bowled over the audiences and fell in love with the country. He became interested in English folk music – there’s one piece called Ground after the Scotch Humour. Westhoff became one of Louis XIV’s favourite violinists at the court of Versailles, and wrote this one very famous piece for his majesty about his victory in the war, La guerra così nominata di sua maestà (see audio player, above right), which became his favourite. It’s short, very virtuosic with double-stops – it’s an explosion. Part of these kinds of concerts is telling the stories of these people. People like Westhoff were the ones that influenced Bach and Vivaldi. They may not be as famous or at such a high level, but they still have something very valid to say.

But Bach would still be your Desert Island Disc composer…

Oh yes, absolutely. Bach goes to the other extreme. He uses simplicity, yet there’s a complexity in his music that I don’t think we’ll ever get to the bottom of. It always sounds so effortless, but it’s so difficult to play. People said that if you sat down and copied every single work he wrote you wouldn’t be finished in your own lifetime. But if you think of everything from the Goldberg Variations, to the Cello Suites to the St Matthew Passion, to name three works, the quality in Bach, the supreme ease with which everything is constructed, puts him at the top of everybody.

Interview by Rebecca Franks

Daniel Hope performs at the Elgar Room on Monday 18 January 2010, 8pm.

Audio clip: Westhoff: La guerra così nominata di sua maestà
from Air: A Baroque Journey
DG 477 8094

Image: Marco Borggreve