On the eve of his latest Australian performances we catch up with the globe-trotting gambist.
Your Melbourne recital of music from France, England and Spain is called Les Goûts Réunis, the Baroque term for mixing cultures and styles in music. But you’ve taken that concept to a whole new level. Where does that curiosity come from?
I was born in Catalonia in Spain, where Christians, Jews and Muslims have lived together for 700 years. When I started to make music with Montserrat, my wife, we were interested in all these cultures, and from there we discovered oriental musicians, from North Africa, Istanbul, Armenia, Israel – they have all conserved musical traditions.
Do you still feel a responsibility to be “authentic” in your approach to early music?
It is authentic. On the Hespèrion XXI albums Jerusalem, Istanbul, Orient-Occident, every musician plays his music in total authenticity. We are not doing “crossover”. I will never ask a Turkish traditional musician to play Bach with me, or a Palestinian qanun player to do Monteverdi, because this would be the wrong way. But when we play a medieval dance or a medieval song from the troubadours together, they can play better than me!
You’re also bringing your Celtic Viol trio to Australia. How have you and your two bandmates interpreted the Celtic style?
Andrew Lawrence-King and I have known each other for 30 years and have played all kinds of music together. He plays the Irish harp and psalterium, I play treble and bass viol and Michaël Grébil plays bodhran. These jigs and dances have been heard in pubs for centuries, so yes – we especially like to bring this program to Australia.
Playing a festival is one way to reach out to a new, younger audience, just like playing Marais on the soundtrack of Tous les Matins du Monde. Is that important?
Tous les Matins du Monde was in the Top 10 on the charts for 3 months. First was Michael Jackson, second Marais and third was Prince! This music can be very popular with young people; it depends upon how we touch them. We need to forget these conventional things and be open to share with them through spontaneity, through improvisation. The festival experience is very good for that.
Your daughter Arianna sings and plays harp; did you and Montserrat always want music to be a family affair?
Most of the time our children just announced: “I would like to do this!” Our son Ferran started with electric guitar. Then we bought him a normal guitar, then a lute and a vihuela. Music is something you can’t force; to be a musician you need to make the decision yourself and approach it in a very flexible way and be at home with the music.