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Orchestra of the Age Enlightenment

In 1986, a group of inquisitive London musicians took a long hard look at that curious institution we call the Orchestra, and decided to start again from scratch. They began by throwing out the rulebook. Put a single conductor in charge? No way. Specialize in repertoire of a particular era? Too restricting. Perfect a work and then move on? Too lazy. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was born.

And as this distinctive ensemble playing on period-specific instruments began to get a foothold, it made a promise to itself. It vowed to keep questioning and inventing as long as it lived. Residencies at the Southbank Centre and the Glyndebourne Festival didn’t numb its experimentalist bent. A major record deal didn’t iron out its quirks. Instead, the OAE examined musical notes with ever more freedom and resolve.

That creative thirst remains unquenched. The Night Shift series of informal performances are redefining concert formats. Its base at London’s Kings Place has fostered further creativity, such as Bach, the Universe and Everything, a trailblazing Sunday morning series with contributions from esteemed scientists. And from 2017, it started Six Chapters of Enlightenment, six extraordinary seasons exploring the music, science and philosophy of the golden age from which the Orchestra takes its name.

Now more than 30 years old, the OAE is part of our musical furniture. It has even graced the outstanding conducting talents of Elder, Rattle, Jurowski, Iván Fischer, John Butt and Sir András Schiff with a joint title of Principal Artist. But don’t ever think the ensemble has lost sight of its founding vow. Not all orchestras are the same. And there’s nothing quite like this one.

©Andrew Mellor

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