“For me Stockhausen and Messiaen is early music.” Now there’s a provocative statement, but then Jos van Immerseel has been provoking a response on and off for 40 years now. The Belgian ‘early music’ pioneer who is bringing his acclaimed Beethoven symphony cycle to the Sydney Festival next week is talking to me over the phone from Mexico City where he’s appearing with his period band Anima Eterna, a truly globetrotting phenomenon. These days he’s as likely to be found applying his mind to ‘authentic’ Ravel and Janáček as he is to be playing Mozart on his beloved fortepiano, but this questing musical personality has never forgotten his roots, nor the catalysts that launched him on a collision course with the music of the late baroque and the classical era.

“I didn’t start with early music that came later,” Immerseel admits. Starting out as a piano and the organ student in the 1960s (the maestro turned 70 last year), up until the age of 18 he played what was considered normal repertoire before heading to Antwerp for further studies. But then it all changed. “I was a little bit shocked...

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