When the Queen’s Closet was founded we had the aim of establishing a Baroque Orchestra in Wellington. Our goal is to provide something new and different for New Zealand audiences, whilst presenting music of the baroque era. Early music made contemporary.

We wanted to establish ourselves as a group with a flexible and versatile makeup consistent with baroque orchestras of the Restoration Era (around 1660-1714) with a complement of string, brass, woodwind, percussion and keyboard instruments. Our formation varies from performance to performance, and we frequently edit our own scores to fit the players available–all of which was common practice in the Restoration era and is entirely consistent with Restoration music-making. At that time copyists were even on hand on the day to transcribe parts for different instruments depending on who was available: an on-the-fly approach we haven’t yet been brave enough to try!

We also wanted to provide a different audience experience from the more usual 19th century concert format common even with other baroque orchestras. Musical audiences in the baroque era would not have recognised the modern concert-hall environment, with players dressed in black and rules of etiquette requiring quiet, and applause only at the correct times. We wanted our audience experience to be more authentic to the spirit of early music, while still making sense to contemporary audiences. To that end we perform in colourful clothing, in venues where food and beverages are consumed, and we encourage interaction between musicians and audience members throughout our performances.

As we continue to develop as a baroque orchestra, we have a firm focus on discovering early music through authenticity – our aim is Bruce Haynes’ notion of Historically Inspired Performance. We play on instruments as close to the early baroque as possible, including a first for a New Zealand ensemble with regular performance on real natural trumpets and horns, and hoboy played on authentically scraped reeds. Faithful replicas of real early instruments, rather than the modified versions more commonly used with other ensembles, are both more difficult and more exciting. For example, tuning is different from not just modern ensembles, but also from baroque groups using modified modern versions of baroque instruments such as trumpets with vent-holes, modern mouthpieces and lead-pipes.

We have been pleased and excited to find audiences engaging with our approach, and to our delight we have been likened to a jazz group. This is particularly pleasing as baroque and jazz share a number of features. As an example, rhythmic flexibility was a feature of the baroque with a practice of “inegale” playing (unequal rhythms) whereby players would effectively swing rhythms in the manner of modern jazz players. Real baroque playing also involved improvising; merely playing the notes on the page is not in keeping with that era or that style. We aim for a degree of spontaneity and flexibility.

And finally, and most importantly, there is the role of the audience. We refer to ourselves as an “Orchestra” which is in some ways misplaced, but intentional. The term “orchestra” did not gain its modern meaning until well after the era of the Restoration, and the word originally referred to a place in Greek theatres. Johann Mattheson’s use of the term “orchestre” has been described as “… the place of the citizens who have been seated in the pit in order to be musically educated,” and “the place for the audience, the citizens forming their critical opinions.” We see our audience as a critical part of our performances. As a historically inspired baroque orchestra, we include you, our audience, as part of what we do.

This year we have a number of exciting projects in preparation. Our next Queen’s Closet performance is on March 8th, a BYO event back at Prefab Hall with our usual complementary nibbles to start you off. We then collaborate with Wellington choral groups to perform Bach, Vivaldi, Purcell and Biber … Details are on our Season 2020 page (see the menu above). We also have a number of other smaller events in preparation so please check our website regularly or sign up to our mailing list (also on our menu above).

We have been thrilled by the way our audience has engaged and participated in our performances, and look forward to welcoming you to our orchestra.

Gordon (gapeseed@thequeenscloset.net)