Back to the future
With her new recording of Max Richter’s Vivaldi Recomposed with Chineke! released this month, Elena Urioste explains what she learnt from using Baroque set-up for the project
How would you describe this music?
In his arrangements, Max Richter zones in on the parts of the material that he finds intriguing and runs with them. He’ll take a little fragment and either loop it or put a glorious series of slow pedals underneath to create another world. It’s mesmerising. At other times, he stays true to Vivaldi’s material. It’s a good combination of old and new, honouring the score while also putting his individual stamp on it. In the more upbeat movements, he takes it to a to a more rock and roll place, pushing the envelope in a brilliant way.
I love the Four Seasons, but they weren’t in my regular repertoire. I didn’t grow up listening to them and before this season, I’d only played them a couple of times. Coming to the music fresh has been a delight.
You were using a Baroque bow and gut strings for the recording – what did you learn from that?
It was a new experience for me. I was prepared to hate it, but I absolutely loved it. I learnt so much about how it used to feel to play back in the day that this equipment was the norm. It also gave me lots of ideas about how to approach a modern setup.
You have to approach gut strings in a very different way from modern steel ones. There has to be a great amount of intention in terms of speed, articulation, pressure, release. The bow is a different shape, a different weight. It has different limitations, but also different possibilities. I learnt quickly that some things I was used to are just not possible with a bow that’s shorter and curved differently, whereas certain things are much easier, in terms of articulation and speed. It was a treasure trove of new possibilities and very instructive, as well as being great fun.
Players often use this equipment or this era of music as an excuse to make lazy or not thoroughly informed decisions. They create bulges or randomly decide not to vibrate so I had assumed there must be some technical or equipment-based reason for it. I discovered that it’s harder to do those things with Baroque equipment. There’s no good reason to vibrate at random on gut strings or to make a bulge automatically with that sort of bow. They’re doing the whole brand of Early Music a disservice because this equipment is so lovely to use and opens up a whole world of possibilities, with a million ways to sound great.
I went on to play the Vivaldi six times, shortly after doing the recording project, and it was very helpful to think back on how certain things sounded with the Baroque bow and to try to replicate that with my modern materials.
How do you feel about performing Ethel Smyth’s Concerto for Violin and Horn at the BBC Proms?
I played it with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Alec Frank-Gemmill as my last project when I was on the BBC New Generation Artist and completely fell in love with it. It is such a great piece and I have always wanted to do it again. It’s purely enjoyable music with a few strange turns, and it’s extremely virtuosic for both instruments, particularly for the horn, which employs all sorts of interesting techniques. In the last movement, the horn has to hum while playing – I look forward to hearing that amplified throughout the Albert Hall. I haven’t been to many Proms, but having sat in the audience I can imagine what it must be like to be up on that stage. My parents are coming over specially, and it will be a special event.
You recently won the BBC Music Magazine Premiere Award for your Jukebox Album. How did the album come about?
When we started the original Jukebox project we couldn’t possibly have imagined the directions it would go in. It was a total whim, heavily influenced by jet lag. We thought we were just doing a cute and vaguely humorous thing for our friends and family while we all waited out the first lockdown. But 88 days and six premieres later, Orchid Classics approached us and asked if there was anything we wanted to record. I thought it would be great to get those six premieres down, because they’re such special pieces, and I wanted to memorialise them. The idea of doing a studio version of the Jukebox formed around that. It felt like an ode to that time we all spent together, alone but together, in this period of total uncertainty, but also recognizing the weird form of connectedness around the world as we were all going through something quite similar. It wound up being a special album and to have that recognised is surreal, but lovely.
You and your husband Tom Poster have a baby – how has that changed your musical lives?
We are both still performing a lot, but it takes much more careful juggling, mapping out and planning, so that we’re not both busy at the same time and can get a grandparent to look after him. I’ve got much better at maximising very tiny amounts of practice time. Our lives are continuing with all sorts of mad travel and performances, but we have a tiny friend to bring along.
Max Richter’s The New Four Seasons – Vivaldi Recomposed, with Elena Urioste and Chineke! comes out on 10 June
Elena Urioste performs Ethel Smyth’s Concerto for Violin and Horn at the BBC Proms on 24 July, with Ben Goldscheider and the CBSO conducted by Kazuki Yamada.