ENSEMBLE Augelletti will make their York debut on Saturday at the National Centre for Music’s online weekend celebration of the rise of spring, Awaken.
Founded and directed by recorder specialist Olwen Foulkes, the young, up-and-coming ensemble will perform A Spring In Lockdown, an intriguing tale of 18th century music-making from an English debtors’ prison.
Premiered at 3pm on Saturday (27/3/2021), on sale until April 23 and available to watch on demand until April 30, the concert will feature Olwen, recorders; Ellen Bundy and Alice Earll, violins; Elitsa Bogdanova, viola; Carina Drury, cello; Harry Buckoke, double bass; Toby Carr, theorbo, and Benedict Williams, chamber organ.
Winner of the FBAS Young Artists Competition in Italy in 2019, the ensemble explores the chamber music and concertos performed on the London theatre stages in the first decades of the 18th century.
Hence Olwen’s focus on trumpeter John Grano in A Spring In Lockdown: “In the spring of 1729, Grano, dubbed ‘Handel’s trumpeter’, was serving the end of a sentence, incarcerated in the infamous Marshalsea debtors’ prison,” she says.
“The prisoner kept a diary detailing his musical exploits as he composed, taught, organised concerts, and tried to maintain a performance schedule from the ‘home’ of his cell.
“Our concert will explore some of his fascinating diary entries from a very different kind of lockdown and will include music that he was performing, writing, and listening to, by Francesco Geminiani, Grano, William Corbett, John Baston and of course Mr Handel.”
Ensemble Augelletti recorded the concert at the NCEM’s home of St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, on March 15. “I’d been there in the past, performing Shepherds Of Bethlehem with Fieri Consort at the York Early Music Christmas Festival in December 2019,” says Olwen.
“But this is the first time the ensemble has played there. Since lockdown started last March, it was one of the few times we could play together because the NCEM is such a big space.”
How did Olwen settle on A Spring In Lockdown for Saturday’s concert? “Delma [NCEM director Delma Tomlin] offered us some proposals, giving me the chance to propose this programme, which is completely bespoke for the Awaken festival,” she says.
“I’d been reading the diary of John Grano, a trumpeter, flautist and recorder player, written in 1728, when, in some ways, London was very similar to now. So much of the musician’s experience resonated with us today, reading of when he was working in West End theatres, at the Haymarket and the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.
“Grano was the principal trumpeter in Handel’s orchestra for 15 years and is likely to have played in the premiere of Handel’s Water Music.
“For our concert, one of the pieces we’ll play will be the only surviving publication of Grano’s music.”
Ensemble Augelletti made the recording with Ben Pugh, omnipresent at the NCEM’s online recordings for the 2020 York Early Music Festival and Early Music Christmas Festival.
“The one thing we found strange was taking a bow to an empty room, which made us realise how much we miss playing to an audience,” says Olwen.
“I last played to a full audience a year ago, on March 15, with Dramma Per Musica at the Barnes Festival, and the last performance by Ensemble Augelletti was to a very, very small audience in the London Sound Galler, for an online festival with The Gesualdo Six in September.”
Olwen Foulkes and Ensemble Augelletti released their debut album, Indoor Fireworks, in November 2019, taking the name Augelletti [little birds] from the aria Augelletti Che Cantate from the first act of Handel’s opera Rinaldo.
“We’d been playing together for a while, and when I did that CD, I was thinking about where I wanted the group to progress, and I thought it would be lovely to have a new identity for the group, so I said, ‘Can we call ourselves an ‘ensemble’?’ and that’s when we became Ensemble Augelletti,” says Olwen.
Her ensemble has plans to make a new recording this year, but Olwen will remain quiet on its exact nature, subject to the outcome of a “big funding application”. “But I can say it’s really exciting and will be another project celebrating musicians that we don’t necessarily know of as a composer,” she says.
Unlike so many of us whose first encounter with playing music is a forlorn blow on a recorder, Olwen’s journey was different. “I actually started playing the recorder second! I started with the violin when I was five,” she recalls. “I didn’t start the recorder till I was 11 and that was to keep my sister Ethnie – now an acoustic and electronic composer – company in a recorder group.
“I just fell in love with the recorder at the point, but I’d found that love in the opposite way to the usual graduation to another instrument!”
Olwen went on to study at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London from the age of 13 to 18, and later as the Christopher Hogwood Scholar at the Royal Academy of Music, and a career specialising in recorders has ensued.
Once the easing of pandemic strictures allows, she would love to perform to an audience in York, taking a bow in more familiar fashion. “It is such a lovely place to play,” she says.
The Awaken weekend will run online on Saturday and Sunday, March 27 and 28. The full programme and ticket details can be found at ncem.co.uk.
How to view
The Awaken weekend of concerts will be shown on ncem.co.uk. On the day before the festival starts, all bookers will be emailed the viewing links and clear navigation to the concerts from the home page will be added.
The NCEM advises: “Please ensure that you have a strong broadband connection, and you may want to use external speakers or headphones to maximise your experience. If you experience any difficulties with the concerts, please contact us and we will do our best to help you via ncem.co.uk.”