"We have a three-year period in order to put together different projects that interest us, that we can treat almost as freely as possible." Solomon's Knot Collective was founded by Jonathan Sells in 2008, and is now directed artistically by Jonathan and James Halliday. They describe themselves as "a group of singers and players who are prepared to take risks in order to communicate more directly with their audience."
As part of Open Space they have so far done a number of projects including Kuhnau & Bach as part of the 2014 Aldeburgh Easter Weekend, their fully-staged production, ‘The Hospital of Incurable Madness’, at Wilton’s Music Hall and Pour un tombeau d’Anatole for Easter Weekend 2015.
The Leipzig Connection
Orford Church was filled with the sounds of Solomon’s Knot at Easter. Solomon’s Knot are part of Aldeburgh Music’s Open Space programme, which supports emerging artists and ensembles for up to three years. Solomon’s Knot have been on the scheme since September 2013 and had their Aldeburgh Music debut at Easter. Joint Artistic Director Jonathan Sells talk about the project:
‘The Leipzig Connection’ was a programme created by Solomon’s Knot specifically for Aldeburgh Music, which we ‘hot-housed’ over the course of two Open Space residencies, and finally performed on Easter Sunday 2014 in Orford Church. We put two Easter cantatas by J.S. Bach (‘Christ lag in Todesbanden’ and ‘Der Himmel lacht’) in the context of Easter music by his predecessor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Johann Kuhnau. Kuhnau’s raucous cantata, ‘Wenn ihr fröhlich seid an euren Festen’, which calls for an almost unprecedented four trumpets, colours Christ’s victory over death as a most graphic, military triumph. We framed the programme by opening with Kuhnau’s moving, dissonant passiontide motet, ‘Tristis est anima mea’, and closing with its magical re-working by Bach, ‘Der Gerechte kommt um’.
During the Open Space residencies, we were able first to work in detail with the ten singers alone, figuring out how to lighten up Bach’s dense textures, and how to communicate instant and dramatic tempo changes. There was also time, with eight weeks between the first residency and the performance, for the singers to be able to memorise their material little by little, a factor which was certainly welcome during the hectic Lent season. When the instrumentalists joined up, we could experiment with instrumentation, particularly in the continuo group and in the accompaniment of recitatives, and of course work on the critical aspect of co-leading and communication at key moments in and between movements. We also had the luxury of rehearsing in the concert venue on one day of the residency, which allowed us to experiment with the space and find different ways of tackling a rather difficult acoustic balance.
Although we had a lot of fun in and around the sessions mocking Kuhnau for rarely moving away from the key of C major in his cantata (#cmajor became the unofficial hashtag for the project), it was interesting to switch between the styles of the younger, forward-looking Bach, and Johann Kuhnau who was obviously planted in the 17th century. When we arrived at the final ‘Amen’ movement in the Kuhnau cantata, which begins on an unexpected F major chord before relaxing back to C, one can’t help but experience this F tonality as an exotic colour, almost a new and wondrous world after so much C major. It was also fascinating to observe the difference in the string writing between the opening Sonata, which seems to hark back to the stepwise style of viol music, with the adventurous agility demanded by J.S. Bach. And ‘Christ lag in Todesbanden’, one of Bach’s earliest cantatas in which he really seems to be setting out his stall in terms of compositional (and above all contrapuntal) talent, seems to sum everything up, crossing the bridge from past into future. The opening instrumental movement again evokes the sonority of a viol consort, but only a few bars into the first vocal section, the violins are sparring with one another in concitato baroque figuration. These features seemed to become even more apparent in our one-to-a-part presentation of the work. What a privilege to have the time and space to enjoy detail like this! We very much hope that some of the joy of the detail came across to our audience.
The Hospital of Incurable Madness
Set in an asylum this comedic opera explores the various maladies of the human condition.
Pour un tombeau d’Anatole
In January 2015 they had a residency here to prepare Pour un tombeau d’Anatole for their Easter Weekend performance, in which elegiac poetry by Stephane Mallarme, lamenting the death of his young son Anatole, is linked into a chain of exquisite vocal and instrumental music from the French and English Baroque to reflect on themes of mortality and the fragility of life. Simply staged and atmospherically lit, the yearning, spiritual qualities of the music are embellished by simple visual effects and the sparse but sensuous verse.
Jonny Sells describes the group’s Open Space experience as a scheme that “gives artistic free reign to the people lucky enough to be here, take part in it, but it’s also about a kind of blue-sky thinking, a really open, creative approach. The freedom here and the clarity of mind which you get just being here in this wonderful place allows us to be as creative as possible with the material that we have in front of us. Literally the space that we have to clear our minds, and when things get too hectic or too overheated in our rehearsal room, we take a stroll, we go outside and we come back refreshed and absolutely clear about what we want to do with this really interesting subject matter.”