Like many ensembles in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Haydn Ensemble is offering a hybrid live and digital season in 2021, with concerts from its tours livestreamed on Melbourne Digital Concert Hall as well as producing its own concert films as part of a digital season.

Skye McIntoshAustralian Haydn Ensemble Artistic Director Sky McIntosh. Photo © Helen White

“2020 was a challenging year for AHE, as it was for everyone,” Artistic Director Skye McIntosh tells Limelight. “Almost all of our performances had to be cancelled, and there were many obstacles to overcome in an ever-changing landscape. Each day meant negotiating constant changes while trying to plan without knowing what was coming next. The uncertainty around when it might be possible to return to ‘regular’ performing amongst everything else was extremely taxing. I think the icing on the cake was being forced to cancel what was to be our ‘return’ concert at the City Recital Hall on the day of the Avalon cluster outbreak. That was hard. We did, however, feel so uplifted and encouraged by our friends and supporters who stayed with us throughout the year. They continued to watch us online, send messages of support and urge us to continue even though they couldn’t see us in person. That helped us to keep going and to know that people were continuing to support us no matter what.”

The new year will see AHE undertake a new digital initiative. “I am most excited about our new digital series of creative concert films that will take audiences beyond the regular ‘livestreamed concert’ experience,” McIntosh says. “We don’t expect this to replace our more traditional live concert experience but we are excited by the extra dimension it will add to our regular touring season. It also extends our opportunity to explore and share more repertoire throughout the year. The series presents three creative concert films, produced in collaboration with Australian cinematographers and directors, to create something visually exciting to enhance the musical performance.”

As for the live season, “when putting together the programs for this year, I faced the reality we were presented with last year, which made me think hard about what I wanted to share with audiences moving forwards,” McIntosh says. “I thought after everything we have all been through, it was important to present programs that were filled with positivity, that uplifted people and were also thought-provoking. The programs we have this year reflect these ideas.”

The AHE opens the year with a tour in March titled Prussian Quartets – music by Haydn, Pleyel and Mozart dedicated (or believed to have been dedicated) to King Friedrich Wilhelm II. The second tour in the ensemble’s live season continues AHE’s exploration of masterworks in chamber arrangement, with a program featuring Beethoven Sixth Symphony and Mozart’s ‘Haffner’ Serenade, opening with Boccherini’s String Sextet, Op. 23, No 4. “I think the chamber version of the Beethoven Pastoral Symphony is going to be a real highlight,” McIntosh says. “I heard a recording of a string sextet arrangement of the work and thought that translated very well from full-scale size orchestra to chamber version. The version that we will perform has flute and double bass along with the strings and I think this will add an exciting extra dimension enhancing the pastoral essence of the reduction.”

Actor John Bell joins AHE in August and September for a theatrical production (which will also feature in AHE’s digital season) that brings to life Stendhal’s fictional 19th-century account, The Life of Haydn: In a Series of Letters Written at Vienna. “The performance will be an imaginative theatrical telling of the letters by John Bell,” McIntosh says. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for the group to conceive a new project and performance. The finished product will draw together theatre, stunning music and the poetry of these beautiful early 19th-century letters published by Stendhal about Haydn’s life presented in a staged version with lighting. It’s going to be amazing!”

“I also wanted to give as many of the AHE musicians the chance to perform as possible, so we have a slightly larger orchestral project than usual,” says McIntosh of the December concert which will see Erin Helyard join the band as Guest Director and Fortepiano soloist for a program of Mozart and Haydn, featuring the K.467 Concerto which has collected the nickname ‘Elvira Madigan’ for the use of its second movement in the 1967 film of that name.

The AHE’s digital series begins in May with a concert film featuring the music of Vivaldi and Hasse and starring soprano Celeste Lazarenko and flautist Melissa Farrow.

McIntosh is then joined by Neal Peres Da Costa on piano and Daniel Yeadon on cello for the second concert in the digital series, featuring Beethoven’s ‘Spring’ violin sonata, his piano sonata Pathétique and the Sonata for cello and piano in G minor Op. 5 No 2. “The performances, interspersed with interview footage, will delve deeper into the background of the music and historical performance styles and be filmed in a visually beautiful way,” McIntosh says.

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