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From female tenors and basses to music by the first professional female composer, the 2015 London Festival of Baroque Music celebrates Women in Baroque Music, putting a rare spotlight on music written by, for, or inspired by women.

Particular highlights include music by the woman considered to be the first ever professional female composer, Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, in her 350th anniversary year; rarely heard treasures by composers Barbara Strozzi and Francesca Caccini; distinguished French harpsichordist Béatrice Martin; and the all-female choir, Schola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi.

In the first year under the new name of London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music), nine concerts are packed into five days. Artists joining the celebration include Bach Collegium Japan on a rare visit to the UK, star soprano and Festival favourite Carolyn Sampson, and the unique talent that is the Argentine soprano María Cristina Kiehr.

Lindsay Kemp, Artistic Director of the London Festival of Baroque Music, says:

With a new name and a new look for 2015, what better time for us to take a fresh angle and explore the contribution made both in Baroque and modern times by women, whether as composers, performers or inspirational figures.  It’s a big subject, and the only programming difficulty has been to keep the Festival down to five days!’

Opening this year’s Festival is the Bach Collegium Japan under founder-director Masaaki Suzuki. The world-renowned ensemble, which has not been heard in the UK since 2012, joins forces for an evening of JS Bach with Czech soprano Hana Blažíková, a major figure in their recently finished recorded cycle of the complete Bach church cantatas.

The compelling voice of María Cristina Kiehr begins Saturday’s events with a performance accompanied by Concerto Soave, directed by Jean-Marc Aymes. Widely regarded as one of the most distinctive interpreters of Baroque music, Kiehr brings works of great emotion by 17th-century female composers, including Barbara Strozzi, Francesca Caccini, Isabella Leonarda and Caterina Assandra.

To Voltaire she was an ‘adorable nightingale’. French opera star Marie Fel, who captivated Paris audiences for more than three decades, is celebrated in an evening featuring modern-day nightingale Carolyn Sampson.  Joined by Ex Cathedra and Jeffrey Skidmore, they explore Fel’s triumphant career through works by the composers she inspired, including Rameau, Lalande and Mondonville.

 In her 350th anniversary year, Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre’s elegant chamber music is performed by French harpsichordist, Béatrice Martin.  One of the few women composers of her time, Jacquet de La Guerre gained much acclaim throughout her career, which was launched after a performance for Louis XIV whilst still a teenager. Béatrice Martin shares this concert with the London-based Bach Players for a programme exploring both her solo harpsichord music and her chamber music, all performed in the spectacular setting of the Great Gallery of the Wallace Collection.

 Headlining Sunday evening is a virtual visit to Venice’s Ospedale della Pietà for an exploration of the music Vivaldi composed for the female performers of the orphanage which employed him for much of his career. The concert, which includes Vivaldi’s well-known Gloria, features Oxford-based, all-female choir Schola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi, which specialises in recreating the unusual sound-world of Vivaldi’s sacred music, alongside the internationally renowned Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Monday evening brings an encounter with Baroque music’s best-kept secret: François Couperin’s achingly expressive Leçons de ténèbres, composed for performance by nuns during Holy Week. It is performed together with other French music of the time by sopranos Julia Doyle and Grace Davidson, with harpsichordist Steven Devine and Jonathan Manson on bass viol.

The annual concert in Westminster Abbey brings the Festival to a close with one of the most iconic masterworks of the Baroque era: Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, with its profound honouring of the Virgin Mary. The Choir of Westminster Abbey is joined by the instrumentalists of St James’s Baroque under conductor James O’Donnell.

Other highlights include a new focus on young artists. The newly established ‘Late o’Clock Baroque’ slot offers a late-night concert in an intimate setting featuring the cellos of Duo Domenico, winners of the audience prize at the most recent York Early Music Festival International Young Artists Competition; and a lunchtime ‘Future Baroque’ concert by Medici, a new ensemble of nine musicians from the Historical Performance Department at the Royal College of Music.

In addition to these concerts, the Festival also features ‘From Salon to Stage’, a talk on women in Baroque music by Dr Berta Joncus of Goldsmiths, University of London; a Gallery Tour at the Wallace Collection; and two public ‘Sing Baroque’ events directed by Robert Howarth of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, exploring the Vivaldi Gloria.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2015
15-19 May 2015
St John’s Smith Square
Wallace Collection
Westminster Abbey