Landmark birthday for Parnassian Ensemble at Festival of Chichester

Chichester's Parnassian Ensemble marks its 20th anniversary this year with a concert for the Festival of Chichester.

The Parnassian Ensemble
The Parnassian Ensemble

They will be offering A Baroque Celebration in St John’s Chapel, St John’s Street, Chichester on Tuesday, June 19 at 7.30pm – an invitation to embark on a journey around 18th-century Europe.

Included in the programme are treasures by Bach, Vivaldi and Telemann as well as some of the delightful English rarities with which the group has built its international reputation.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

The ensemble comprises Sophie Middleditch – recorder; Helen Hooker – recorder; Lynden Cranham – baroque cello; and David Pollock – harpsichord.

Sophie is delighted to have reached the anniversary: “It’s shocking! But I think really there are two reasons why we have lasted. One is that really we are like quite a close-knit but delightfully-dysfunctional family. We get on really well, but as individuals we are all very, very different.

“But the other reason is that we all share the same love for the same period of music. We specialise in historically-informed performance, all with a shared love of the period from the 1690s right up to the late 1750s. That’s our main period though we do also go slightly later and slightly earlier. The main focus is between those two dates, and we have made a specialty of performing not necessarily English composers, but composers who were living and working in England in that period – something which we started to do when there were not many people doing that.

“We all love the big baroque famous names, Vivaldi and Telemann and people like that, but there are some lesser-known writers that wrote fantastic pieces which really work for the instruments we use – two recorders, a harpsichord and a cello. It was a fantastic period for that combination, and there was such a great deal of variety.

“And although the pieces are lesser known, it doesn’t mean that they are lesser music. We have really enjoyed exploring that period. We have found that the best way not to scare an audience is that you include some really big well-known pieces that people will feel comfortable with and then you mix in some of the people that are not so well known.

“It can be quite silly sometimes why some pieces survive and others don’t. It can be just whether they got published or not and then how well they were disseminated. Doing the research has been fantastic. It is really interesting finding the pieces. There is a real treasure trove of repertoire that we have been able to tap into.

“But those 18th-century composers were so clever. Telemann had a music publication that came out bi-weekly, and he would publish separate movements in separate editions. He was an absolute genius at marketing!”

For the Festival of Chichester anniversary concert, the Parnassian Ensemble will be showing one side to what they do – though Sophie is quick to point out that there is actually another side.

“There is a side that is purely baroque and we have called our concert A Baroque Celebration and that’s what we will do, but alongside that we do contemporary pieces for solos or duos or for the whole group, commissioning pieces from composers who are still living.”

For more stories by Phil, see: