The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) is a British period instrument orchestra. The OAE is a resident orchestra of the Southbank Centre, London, associate orchestra at Glyndebourne Festival Opera and has its headquarters at Kings Place. The leadership is rotated between four musicians, Alison Bury, Matthew Truscott, Kati Debretzeni and Margaret Faultless.
A group of period instrumentalist players formed the OAE as a self-governing ensemble in 1986, and took its name from the historical period in the late 18th century where the core of its repertoire is based. The OAE does not have a principal conductor, but chooses conductors individually. Having no permanent music director gives the orchestra flexibility to work with some of the world's greatest conductors and soloists across a wide range of music. The current Principal Artists are Sir Simon Rattle, Vladimir Jurowski, Iván Fischer and Sir Mark Elder. Emeritus Conductors are Frans Brüggen, the late Sir Charles Mackerras and Sir Roger Norrington. Other conductors to have worked with the OAE at its invitation include Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Edward Gardner, Robin Ticciati, Philippe Herreweghe, Gustav Leonhardt, René Jacobs, Harry Bicket, Christopher Hogwood, Marin Alsop, Sigiswald Kuijken, Ivor Bolton, Monica Huggett, and Bruno Weil.
Ethos and beginnings:
The Ethos of the Orchestra is based on democracy; with the idea that the players are not simply technicians but also actively guide the artistic direction of the orchestra. When it began anyone who wanted to could become a member of the orchestra, although they wouldn't necessarily be asked to play. Responsibility for concert planning is given to an Artistic Direction Committee which is elected annually by the members. An early mission statement stated that the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was to:
"Avoid the dangers implicit in:
playing as a matter of routine,
pursuing exclusively commercial creative options,
undue emphasis as imposed by a single musical director,
recording objectives being more important than creative objectives.",
The OAE's first concerts, in June 1986, were booked at Oxford's Town Hall and London's Queen Elizabeth Hall. Conducted by Sigiswald Kuijken, their first programme consisted of an Overture Suite by Telemann, Rameau's Suite from Dardanus, a symphony by Gossec and Haydn's Symphony 'La Poule'.
The OAE's current recurring season at the Southbank Centre in London includes concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Royal Festival Hall. In May 2006, the OAE started a series of informal late night concerts called "The Night Shift", which has twice been nominated for a Royal Philharmonic Society Award for audience development.
The OAE celebrated the 21st anniversary of its founding with a concert at the Royal Festival Hall on 30 June 2007, conducted by Norrington, Elder, Mackerras and Jurowski respectively.
In 2007 the OAE also won the RPS Ensemble award "for its stunning delivery of a breadth of repertoire, indefatigable advocacy of the interpretation of music played on original instruments and pioneering work in education and through a range of media - not to mention the artistry of its individual members in making each listening experience uniquely creative, engaging and thrilling."
In July 2008 the OAE moved its official headquarters to Kings Place in London where it now shares an office with the London Sinfonietta, while continuing its Southbank season and residency.
On 29 January 2010 The Night Shift (and the OAE) made its first appearance at The Roundhouse in Camden, North London.
In August 2010 the OAE played at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms season, performing Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (Act 2) and the Love Scene from Romeo and Juliet by Berlioz. The concert was conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and included soloists Sarah Connolly, Ben Heppner and Violeta Urmana.
The OAE has toured many countries, including South America and the US in 2002, and toured South East Asia for the first time in autumn 2003. The Orchestra's discography covers over fifty recordings in music from Henry Purcell to Verdi working with guest artists including Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Andreas Scholl, Ian Bostridge, Elizabeth Wallfisch, Emanuel Ax, Thomas Hampson, Cecilia Bartoli, Gerald Finley, Bob van Asperen, Anner Bylsma, Viktoria Mullova, and Michael Chance.
The OAE does much work with schools, especially in the area surrounding Kings Place, and is very active in performing concerts for local schools, leading projects with young people and teaching children to play musical instruments. Over the spring/summer of 2010, the OAE are running a series of three concerts inspired by Monteverdi's Vespers for the schools in which they work.
The Night Shift:
The Night Shift is a concert series where classical music is presented in a relaxed and informal setting. Established in 2006 by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the aim is to work outside the traditions associated with concert of the classical genre. Unusual characteristics include the concise length of each performance, the invitation to bring alcoholic drinks into the concert hall, and the ability to clap and talk at your own convenience. Since its creation, The Night Shift has proven successful among people under age 35. Over 80% of the audience falls within this age bracket and approximately 20% of the audience is attending a classical concert for the first time.
The Works is a concert series created by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment to help introduce audiences to selected classical works in a relaxed and informative style. Each concert lasts approximately 80 minutes and aims to give audience members the 'classical music equivalent of a museum audio-guide'. Each session features a Q+A with the Orchestra and a full performance of the music.
Melgaard OAE young conductor scheme:
Launched as part of the OAE Futures programme in June 2007, coinciding with the Orchestra's 21st birthday celebrations, this scheme selected a young conductor each season to work with the Orchestra, assisting other conductors, taking rehearsals, being involved with education projects and spending a week with the Orchestra's administrative team. Philipp von Steinaecker was the first Melgaard Young Conductor and has since gone on to assist John Eliot Gardiner at the Opera Comique in Paris and Daniel Harding at the Trondheim Symphony.
Eduardo Portal was the selected conductor for 2009-2010, and later worked with The Hallé and Northern Sinfonia. For 2010-2011, Kevin Griffiths was the Melgaard Young Conductor. The scheme was supported by Greg and Gail Melgaard and ran from 2007 until 2012.
Ann and Peter Law OAE Experience for young players:
Running alongside the Melgaard Young Conductor Scheme, the Ann and Peter Law OAE Experience scheme is an apprenticeship scheme for young period instrumentalists, and is the only scheme of its type with a period orchestra. Established in 2002, the scheme is consistently over-subscribed and offers its participants the opportunity to be mentored by OAE musicians, play in rehearsals alongside the OAE's roster of guest conductors and also perform with the OAE, as well as sometimes giving concerts as an ensemble in itself.