Viola da gambist and musical adventurer, Jenny Eriksson, founded The Marais Project in 2000 with a vision to play the complete works of Marin Marais, the great French baroque viola da gambist and composer. They are currently 85% through this massive task. The group turns 20 in 2019 and is celebrating with its Times and Seasons concert on May 26 at The Independent Theatre and June 2 at The Rose Room, Burradoo. Since those early days Jenny has expanded The Marais Project’s vision to include commissioning new works, Swedish folk music and even jazz (see video below). Jenny spoke with Philip Pogson.
Philip Pogson (PP): The Marais Project turns 20 years old in 2019. Are there some highlights you can remember from the past two decades?
Jenny Eriksson (JE): I have so many great memories. I have loved getting to know the music of Marais of course and have especially enjoyed playing French baroque cantatas with singers such as Belinda Montgomery. Collaborating with Tommie Andersson on our Smörgåsbord! CD, featuring a broad range of Swedish music, was also a highlight. I did not originally think I would commission new music but that just happened over time. Working with living composers and performing and recording their music has been so stimulating. I also want to mention gambist Cathy Upex who has so often played continuo gamba with me – and so well! Finally, we have given quite a few concerts in rural and regional Australia which I never fail to enjoy.
PP: How did you come up with the idea of an ensemble focussed on the music of Marin Marais?
JE: It was simple, really. I was in a bit of a career dip and needed a project. 2000 in Sydney was the year of the Olympics; committing to playing the complete 500 or so pieces of Marais was, and is, an Olympic-level goal. Once the idea came into my head, I just started doing it. I am surprised we are still going 20 years later, I thought we would last 2-3 years!
PP: Your latest Marais Project CD, The Garden Party, which will be released on May 31, features the piano accordion on several tracks. Can you give us some background to this unique partnership?
JE: As with so many twists and turns in The Marais Project, it started with a relationship. Our producer, Llew Kiek, introduced me to singer/violinist, Susie Bishop. Through Susie I met multi- instrumentalist and composer, Emily-Rose Šárkova. I asked Emily-Rose and Susie to do a collaboration with The Marais Project for our 15th anniversary. As part of this event I commissioned Emily to arrange a Marais suite for viola da gamba and one of her instruments, the piano accordion. Five years on and we are still playing together and have now recorded her very fine arrangement of the Marais. It will be an Australian first combination of instruments I believe.
PP: In recent years you’ve taken up the electric viola da gamba and have become quite well known via your electric gamba group, Elysian Fields. What do you find different about working with jazz musicians as opposed to classically trained colleagues?
JE: I am very much a beginner in terms of improvised music compared to the musicians I play with whose skills amaze me. I suppose the first difference I notice between jazz and classically trained musicians is the that jazz musos are so comfortable in the musical moment. The notes on the page – and there are often not very many – are a starting point rather than an end point. Secondly, the rhythm section drives the music. For a baroque specialist like me, this is not so strange a concept as the continuo – harpsichord, cello/bass viol and theorbo etc – play a not dissimilar role. Getting used to the drums, however, has taken me some time. Finally, we really don’t rehearse much: normally its one run through then the gig, even with quite complex music. Improvising musicians know it will work when we hit the podium! Miles Davis once said, “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” Its advice I am still trying to understand, let along do…
PP: When did you meet visiting Swedish viola da gambist, Leif Henrikson? What will you be doing together when he visits Australia?
JE: Leif is a long-term colleague of Tommie Andersson. They met in Sweden and then studied together at Schola Cantorum, Basel. Leif was a student of Jordi Savall, but he has his own style and I really admire his recordings. Last time I was in Stockholm Leif and I got together for a day and just played. It seemed so natural I asked him to come to Australia for our Marais Project 20th Anniversary. We will be doing two concerts on May 26 and June 2 as well as a studio recording at Fine Music 102.5. We hope then to organise for The Marais Project to tour to Sweden.
PP: Finally, what is the one thing you hope comes out of your 20th Anniversary year as an ensemble?
JE: As with all these events, I just hope everything goes off without any disasters! More seriously, I hope that our 20th Anniversary reminds music-lovers of the beauty and majesty of the viol family and the viola da gamba in particular. Ours is not just an historical instrument, it lives and breathes today.
What: The Marais Project celebrates its 20th Anniversary
When & Where: 3.30pm May 26, 2019 The Independent Theatre, North Sydney; 2.30pm, June 2, 2019, The Rose Room Burradoo
Contact: Philip Pogson 0412 459 156; firstname.lastname@example.org