Music making is, and always has been, a communal activity. Though we lack an abundance of concrete documentation, it is likely that the very earliest instances of music making involved communities of people coming together to sing and play early percussion instruments. Over time these gatherings developed in complexity and ritualistic practices — both social and spiritual — sprang up around them, many of which still exist in some form today. However, in many traditions music making also began to become more grandiose, slowly becoming disconnected with its communal roots. This is arguably the case with the European tradition of classical music, as is particularly evident in the advent of large symphonic orchestras and the ‘opera-as-spectacle’ culture that has developed over the last several centuries.
Despite all this, the social nature of music making is still very evident in specific areas, notably that of chamber music. It is often chamber musicians, rather than large ensembles, who can be found participating in outreach events and community activities (a fact which, granted, has as much to do with organizational challenges as ensemble ethos), but chamber music’s social nature is perhaps most obvious in the closeness of the performers.
In the early history of chamber music, often it was played by a group of friends for personal enjoyment, and in today’s professional world this is still the case for many performers. Ensemble Nevermind, the group of friends who will be bringing their music to Ann Arbor on Wednesday evening, is no exception.
“I used to study the modern flute for pedagogie, and Baroque flute,” Anna Besson, who is the flutist of Ensemble Nevermind, said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “And Robin, the gamba player, and Jean, the harpsichord player, used to study the viola da gamba and harpsichord because it’s really [the] early music department.”
Besson went on to explain the origins of Ensemble Nevermind in more detail, and how the players met as peers at conservatory.
“So we basically met at Conservatoire supérieur de Paris … except Louis, we all used to study there. We started to play together in another ensemble, with singers, and finally we just found out that it worked very well, the four of us,” Besson said. “We used to get all together for chamber music or for our examinations, for example … we used to share our friendship just to participate [in] each examination. And so we decided, because we were close friends, to go ahead after our studies and start something together.”
The four founders of Ensemble Nevermind — Besson, Louis Creac’h, Robin Pharo and Jean Rondeau — brought the group into existence about three years ago, creating a performance group which specializes in chamber music from the Baroque period (c. 1600-1750).
“For concerts, of course, it’s a quartet, so we can play music from, I would say, end of 17th century … until, I would say the end of [the] 18th century, because after this period of course harpsichord and viola da gamba disappear from orchestras and chamber music, because of the Revolution.”
In addition to their professional specialization in Baroque and other early music, the youthful friends of Ensemble Nevermind enjoy playing other genres together for recreation.
“For fun, we like to play a lot of music, so we improvise a lot when rehearsing,” Besson said. “It can be like contemporary music, or jazz music, or traditional music, it depends. It helps … to relax also.”
Besson also spoke about the ensemble’s upcoming performance in Ann Arbor this week, saying the program to be presented will largely be for quartet
“In Baroque music ensembles you always have a trio, even if there are four musicians, because two of them are playing basso continuo, so they play the same part,” Besson said. “And we’ve decided to really play music for quartet, which means that viola da gamba and harpsichord have two separate parts.”
Besson also described some of the specific pieces Ensemble Nevermind will be performing, detailing her history with them and talking about the composers.
“When we decided to read the “Paris Quartet,” by [Georg Philipp] Telemann, which are very [sic] written for quartet, it was like really what we wanted to do,” Besson said. “Because we perform like a string quartet, in fact — there is no leader, it is ensemble, we just act like if we’re a string quartet. With a first violin, second violin, alto — ah well, viola — and cello, it’s really the same.”
Besson added that there will be some French composers performed in addition to the German Telemann.
“So Telemann has written this quartet, and then because it was fashion [sic], Jean-Baptiste Quentin and Louis-Gabriel Guillemain, these two French composers … they started to compose quartet after Telemann,” Besson said. “And then we’ve decided to record a CD with only these too composers, because even in France they are really unknown. Nobody knows about Guillemain, nobody knows about Quentin — especially Quentin — and it’s really beautiful music.”
Ensemble Nevermind’s CD of Quentin and Guillemain, among other composers, will be coming out on the 22nd of March, the first release of the group.
“[François] Couperin [is] the last composer we will play, because sometimes you have the continuo with harpsichord and viola da gamba, but sometimes the gamba also plays a soloist part,” Besson said. “So sometimes it’s a trio, sometimes it’s a quartet, so this is very interesting, it’s in between.”
Besson also explained some of the philosophical reasons behind what Ensemble Nevermind does, and the goals of the group in terms of societal impact.
“Usually people always ask ‘Why ‘Nevermind?’ ’ And in a way — yes we are French, but it doesn’t matter, in the sense that music belongs to everybody,” Besson said. “It doesn’t belong [just] to people from 60 years-old, as we usually see in the concert hall, at least in France. And (the age discrepancy) is a pity, because we want to touch everybody, and especially young people.”
Besson concluded on an optimistic tone, conveying her hope that through Ensemble Nevermind’s music they might change the way early music is perceived.
“So maybe, with the fact that we have taken some funny pictures, and some videos that we’re not wearing black clothes — we just want to change a bit this vision of Baroque music … music belongs to everybody. There is not an age to listen to Baroque or classical music.”