Australian chamber ensemble, Ironwood, is celebrating its tenth birthday this year. Recently, Fine Music magazine spoke with violinist Anna McMichael and keyboardist, Neal Peres da Costa about their journey with the group over the past decade, and what is coming up for the rest of the year.
Since its establishment in 2006, Ironwood has been committed to exploring music from the baroque, classical and romantic periods on early string and keyboard instruments. The members believe that historically informed performance should be complemented by new materials, and actively commission new music for historical instruments. Over the past ten years, the ensemble has worked with some of the nest musicians in the country including Diana Doherty, Fiona Campbell and Miriam Allan, and commissioned music from Paul Stanhope, Rosalind Page and Kevin March.
“It has been a chance to explore a very wide range of repertoire from the 17th to the early 20th centuries on period instruments and with cutting edge research into historically informed performance style, particularly the Classical and Romantic eras” said Neal Peres da Costa.
“It has also been the chance to work with world- class musicians bringing incredible insights and performance air to all the repertoire we have performed and recorded,” he said.
The ensemble includes violinists Rachael Beesley, Alice Evans, Julia Fredersdorff, Anna McMichael and Robin Wilson; cellist Daniel Yeadon; and harpsichordist/organist/ fortepianist Neal Peres Da Costa.
For Violinist, Anna McMichael, the past decade has been highlighted by “witnessing
the quality of music making from the other players in Ironwood. I’m always so happy to play with these musicians as they are all incredibly special and talented in their own right and with each performance I learn and develop new things as a musician”.
When it comes to period performance, Peres da Costa thrives on the discovery of new material and new practices: “I simply love the detective work, and the continual questioning of what the composer expected for his/ her music and what the notation meant to musicians who rst brought the music to life.
“Trying to answer these questions means that we are constantly assessing how the music goes and coming up with new solutions. There’s a feeling of getting into the head of the composer and that’s really exciting for me.”
As one might assume, there are numerous techniques that are different between performances on period instruments and modern instruments. “Period keyboards were an integral part of the sound world of the particular composition” says Peres da Costa. “The composers knew intimately the sounds they were writing for and these sounds form an important dimension of the musical art work.”
But why is a period instrument so important in the context of these performances? Why are they so vastly different, and why do the colours and textures available to the performer change so much in comparison to a modern instrument?
“Period keyboards including harpsichords and fortepianos (18th-19th centuries) produced particular sounds with quicker decay of notes and more transparent timbres which helped the music to speak in ways entirely different to the more sustained sound of the modern piano” said Peres da Costa.
With the combination of gut strings on the string instruments, the sound created during an Ironwood performance is both exciting and authentic, allowing the modern listener a glimpse into the sound world of the classical and romantic period.
What’s in store
For their next concert, the ensemble is preparing works by Mozart and Beethoven for solo keyboard, string trio and piano quartet. “I love the added extremes of Beethoven, the radical searching for boundaries that occurs across his lifetime” said McMichael.
“Mozart is always challenging for its level of perfection of form and beauty”, she continues. “I’m particularly looking forward to performing Mozart’s piano quartet with an historical keyboard and the Beethoven trio is a favourite of mine I’ve been wanting to play for some time.”
As for what else is to come, Ironwood has a very busy few months ahead adds McMichael “We are travelling to the new hall at Ngeringa in Adelaide in August which we are really curious to see and hear. As well as a guest spot at this year’s Tyalgum Music Festival. Ironwood was very popular at last year’s festival as a string quartet so is returning again, but this time also with Neal on fortepiano.”
The much anticipated Ironwood Brahms CD on ABC classics is to be released this year and Ironwood will also return to Canowindra Baroque Music Festival.
– Callum Close