Profile: Simon Standage, early music expert, violinist and conductor

On Sunday 15 May 2022, Simon will be leading the Consort of Twelve in a concert entitled “Two Composer-Priests: Vivaldi and Bonporti” at St John’s Chapel in Chichester. This concert aims to juxtapose and contrast their characters and their works. He says he is really looking forward to playing with the Consort of Twelve for the first time.

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career?

I was given a violin at the age of 4 and played it from the age of 6 with a local teacher. At my secondary school, Bryanston, I could not have had a better teacher than Peter Chamberlain, who was a fine player, who had studied with Max Rostal and introduced me to a great deal of new music.

While and after studying music at Kings College, Cambridge, I took occasional lessons with David Martin, who encouraged me to join the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra under Szymon Goldberg.

These were four extremely formative years, after which I won a Harkness Fellowship to study with Ivan Galamian in New York City. This cultural exchange scheme has supported many distinguished people, including Peter Maxwell Davies and Alistair Cooke.

I have always been attracted to the music of the Baroque period, partly because it is essentially chamber music and, in the 1970s, I was part of the Early Music movement. We were interested in historically-aware performance, and playing on instruments of the period. 

In 1973 I was a founding member of the baroque ensemble The English Concert where I was first violinist, playing and recording violin concertos by Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn and others. During this time I purchased an old (1756) violin, from the Paris dealer Vatelot, which was in more or less its original condition, and began to learn how to play on gut strings and with a baroque bow, mostly from the physical experience.  The instrument itself can teach us a lot alongside the reading of treatises and so on.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

A specific occasion I remember as being alarming at the time was in 1984 when, in a concert shared by the Academy of Ancient Music playing on old instruments and the Lincoln Center Chamber Players on modern instruments, I played some solo Bach in a program, which was broadcast live from coast to coast of America.

Going outside of my comfort zone of early music, for example playing 19th– and 20th-century concertos and repertoire also requires major adjustments of technique and attitude.

What are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

In my experience ours is a friendly profession, and the early music part of it consists of a relatively small pool of musicians, who have chosen this particular approach to music-making and so are more or less like-minded – a good basis for harmonious relations.

Are there any composers for whom you feel a particular affinity? 

While playing with the Salomon Quartet, my love for the string quartets of Haydn grew and deepened. The more we played the more his personality appealed to me.

On the baroque front Nicholas Anderson, a leading authority on Baroque music, encouraged me to investigate more closely the music of Telemann and Jean-Marie Leclair, the greatest violinist-composer of the French late baroque period.             

Which performances are you most happy about?

My many recordings of Telemann, simply because the great variety, originality and sheer appeal of his music have given me so much pleasure.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

It can be a very fulfilling career, and London (in particular) is a superb place to be a freelance musician, but don’t expect to become rich!

How would you define success as a musician?

 Playing the music you want to play and in the circumstances of your choice.

I hope our program on May 15th will be both attractive and interesting. The orchestral concerto of Vivaldi, which opens the concert, begins with such a catchy and jazzy tune that when I first played it years ago I found it hard to believe that it was by Vivaldi; and that immediate and direct appeal can be heard in his other works in the program. By contrast the music of Bonporti, while equally personal and original, is less extrovert but more complex. It is also less well-known so I am very happy that we shall have the opportunity to give it the airing that it certainly deserves.

About Simon

Simon Standage is well known as a violinist specialising in 17th and 18th-century music. Leader and soloist with The English Concert from its foundation until 1990, he also fulfilled the same role for many years with the City of London Sinfonia. As well as the many records he made with The English Concert (including Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, nominated for a Grammy award), he also recorded solo and chamber music, including all of Mozart’s violin concertos with the Academy of Ancient Music, of which he was, with Christopher Hogwood, Associate Director from 1991 to 1995.

Since his founding, with Richard Hickox, of Collegium Musicum 90, he has made numerous recordings for Chandos Records. As soloist and director of chamber orchestras and chamber musician, he is active both in Britain and abroad. He had for some years a regular collaboration with Haydn Sinfonietta in Vienna. He is leader of the Salomon String Quartet (founded by him in 1981), which specialises in historical performance of the Classical repertoire. He is Professor of Baroque Violin at the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest and teaches at summer courses in Europe.

He received a medal for services to Polish culture in 2008, was awarded Honorary Membership of the Royal Academy of Music in 2009, and in 2010 received the Georg Philipp Telemann Prize from the city of Magdeburg.

Image credit: Michael Claxton

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