AFP-Jiji NEW YORK (AFP-Jiji) — The Orchestra of St. Luke’s in New York named master of early music Bernard Labadie as its principal conductor last week, setting a new focus on advancing work predating the early 19th century.
The chamber ensemble calls itself New York’s second orchestra and performs at locations across the city, with its players collectively serving as music director.
Star mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, who has frequently sung with the orchestra and serves on its board, said Labadie would fine-tune the mission of an ensemble known for versatility.
“Bernard’s area of expertise will further the identity of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s,” she said.
Labadie, an expert in baroque, classical period and early romantic music, founded the chamber orchestra Les Violons du Roy in his native Quebec and has been artistic director both of the Opera de Quebec and Opera de Montreal.
Labadie said he wanted to “touch people directly” with great music rather than attempt to reconstruct performances from before the age of recordings.
“I am absolutely not interested in performing in an 18th-century wig and trying to fool people and make them believe this is how the music was meant to be,” he said.
“Music is still about people, and the connection between performers and an audience.”
Labadie said he was glad the debate — the “war,” he joked — between proponents of modern and period instruments has abated in recent years.
Instruments have evolved over time with modern versions — such as bows for string instruments — often significantly different in material or design than their ancestors.
The Orchestra of St. Luke’s — which has commissioned more than 50 new works since it was founded in 1974 — performs with modern instruments.
“I am a complete, total believer in period instruments and I work a lot with period instrument orchestras, but I do not believe that it is the only way to approach this repertoire,” Labadie said.
“In the word ‘instrument,’ there is the Latin root of ‘manus,’ the hand. I like to think that in the same way the hand is an extension of the body, the instrument is the extension of the musical mind,” he said.