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André de Ridder: Premiering The Past with Spitalfields Music Festival

Images © Brian Sweeney

André de Ridder, one of the most influential and daring conductors working across genre boundaries in music today, guest curates Spitalfields Music Festival this December. Now in its 41st year, the east London festival enters an exciting new chapter, with a reinvigorated vision for 2017 that reflects its location at the heart of one of London’s most vibrant areas. With André at the helm, this year’s festival is packed with extraordinary international artists and visionary collaborations, celebrating classical music in its widest sense. He writes for Run Riot about curating the festival.


In curating this year’s Spitalfields Music Festival I have been led by the idea of creating the kind of festival that I would love to go to myself. There are a lot of great music festivals around nowadays that I visit enthusiastically but few really manage to present old and new, classical and non-classical (for example alternative electronic, pop and folk music) in an equal setting, and curated in a way that connects many of these different strands. I believe that Spitalfields through its history and place is ideally suited to this challenge!

We are re-examining classical masterpieces (from composers like Monteverdi and Schumann) which may not have been heard beyond the classical music confines. We have commissioned young artists (Nik Colk Void, Daniel Brandt) to create new pieces for and collaborate with groups outside their natural musical habitat. And we are introducing certain up-and-coming composers’ work which is new to London and the UK (Qasim Naqvi, Anna Thorvaldsdottir).

So one question we were asking ourselves: is it possible to present iconic works of past centuries as if they are premieres? What is the relevance of Monteverdi’s Madrigals, Operas and Songs and Schumann’s songcycles in the 21st century? Certainly those two composers belong to the greatest, pioneering word-setters and ‘songwriters’ we have ever seen – their protagonists and musical story-telling basically foreshadowing artists like David Bowie in the 20th century. Certainly the romantic songcycle (as is Schumann’s Dichterliebe, ‘A Poet’s Love’) could be seen as the blue print for the modern concept album in pop music. For our Schumann Street project we have invited contemporary artists of diverse genres and backgrounds to take on and interpret ‘Dichterliebe’ in their own way, and in the case of Schumann Street Re-Imagined asked the pupils of Osmani and Shapla Primary Schools to create their own songs, inspired by this music.

The experience of going to and exploring non-classical music festivals (of the camp-out, immersive, long-weekend kind) has occurred relatively recently in my life. But when it did, it was really overwhelming and changed my perceptions dramatically. I believe the first was in 2011, one of ATP’s legendary gatherings at Camber Sands, dubbed ‘Nightmare before Christmas‘. Typically it was curated by the artists themselves, gathering their collaborators or favourite and most influential colleagues and fellow bands… It was the combination of so many different experiences, widely differing approaches and styles, clearly lapped up by the audiences who formed a closely-knit commune of appreciation which formed my views on the possibilities of music festivals anew. Maybe not coincidentally, it was right there that I heard Nik Colk Void perform for the first time, with her band Factory Floor, which left a lasting impression on me.

And so it was exciting for me to learn about Nik’s more experimental work as a solo artist and as a collaborator in many other forms. This led me directly to the idea of inviting her to work with s t a r g a z e, a group founded for and dedicated to collaborations themselves. On Wednesday 6th December, Spitalfields Music Festival will present Renegade New Classical, combining works from three different artists whose bands are all known for their use of minimal technoid elements; played acoustically in works by Germany’s Daniel Brandt (BrandtBrauerFrick) and New York’s Qasim Naqvi (Dawn of Midi), or through electronics and live noise experiments in the case of Void. This evening (like many other Spitalfields events this year) therefore makes for a mini-festival in itself that should prove particularly interesting.

Talking of ‘mini-festivals’: the events on Tuesday 5th December should be mentioned in the same bracket, as three different solo-artists and performances combine to explore the idea of ‘counterpoint’, from Bach, via Steve Reich, to the combination of both, within Veli Kujala’s composition for his own microtonal accordion. And the Monteverdi Marathon of course on the opening day, 2nd Dec, which contrasts and connects performances of the renaissance master’s most sublime works from his book of Love and War with contemporary premieres and specially commissioned pieces inspired by Monteverdi (notably by young French-british composer Josephine Stephenson), and visual art responses by Turner nominee Mark Titchner. The latter artist also forms part of a permanent exhibition/installation throughout the festival. The artwork links all of this to the body of work by influentual post-hardcore band Fugazi, which would have been more typically heard and revered at one of the above mentioned ATP Festivals…


Spitalfields Music Festival 2017 runs from 2 - 10 December.

Please see for more details