Vincent Dumestre announces the artistic director of Misteria Paschalia 2024!

11 December 2023

Limitations Give Rise to Freedom

Vincent Dumestre has been enchanting music lovers and critics with his interpretations of early music for over two decades. In 2024, he takes over as artistic director of the Misteria Paschalia Festival. Paweł Szczepanik talks to this great authority on historically informed performance.

Paweł Szczepanik: Maestro, in 2017 you served as director in residence of the Misteria Paschalia Festival, which was dedicated to French cultural circles. Now, seven years later and after the strange, sad period of the COVID-19 pandemic, you are making a return to Kraków. Do you think the world of early music has changed significantly since then? What is your perspective on the ecosystem of early music festivals and Misteria Paschalia in particular?
Vincent Dumestre: I’m very familiar with Misteria Paschalia, I have performed at the festival almost every year since 2007. In 2017, Robert Piaskowski offered me carte blanche to discover the ins and outs of the festival: I found it has a very professional, enthusiastic team of people open to new challenges… Everything is driven by great ambition and courage to take risks and discover new repertoires. That’s really unusual for a festival which has been running for 20 years! Poland’s cultural circles are proud of their passion, curiosity and dynamism. And so experiencing this trust, this carte blanche, has been a terrific adventure on the social, human and musical scales.
And later COVID hit. The way we function in society today, through ubiquitous social media, smartphones, communication tools and so on, tends to lead to withdrawal and isolation – and the global pandemic has only exacerbated this. We were all largely forced to isolate for two years, which had a particularly negative impact on the cultural world, especially that of early music – historically more fragile and less rooted in structures than major institutions and permanent orchestras. This wave is now behind us. We must adapt and rethink the ecosystem of early music, make closer ties with institutions, show ourselves to be inventive and pragmatic, support creativity by building mechanisms of collaboration, improve the benefits of artistic projects through effective distribution, show sensitivity to audience expectation in terms of the music and experience of performance, and accompany listeners beyond the traditional concert format: via education or developing tools for tasting culture… All this leads to, I think, a certain “desacralisation” of artists and “resacralisation” of the performance itself.

You have been named as artistic director of the Misteria Paschalia Festival for the years 2024–2026. What does this title mean to you?
More than anything, Kraków is one of Europe’s most beautiful historic cities, and I’m particularly fascinated by its Baroque heritage. The city abounds with churches, temples, imposing basilicas, palaces with clear Italian influences; the museums are filled with treasures (oh, the fabulous Renaissance courtyard of Wawel Castle!) and present world-class artworks. It is also a city of myriad cultures, where mere metres separate the Catholic architecture of the Church of Corpus Christi and the beautiful synagogues in the heart of the Jewish district of Kazimierz… The synergy of musical and architectural heritage lies at the core of my concept for Misteria Paschalia.
The city also hosts plenty of concerts, especially those with Baroque repertoires. It is home to acclaimed ensembles such as Capella Cracoviensis, Kraków regularly presents Baroque operas, and the audiences are always enthusiastic. All this makes the city a fantastic space for growth – Misteria Paschalia could become the largest festival of sacral Baroque music. It’s a beautiful challenge for the coming years!

Since its earliest days, Misteria Paschalia has been dedicated to the special liturgical period of Holy Week and Easter. Do you see this framework as a limitation or a source of inspiration?
Limitations give rise to freedom! In any case, for artists there’s nothing worse than a blank sheet. Throughout the Baroque period, Catholic liturgy provided great inspiration for composers writing their finest works. This could be a painful experience – Monteverdi wrote in his letters complaining about services at St Mark’s Basilica which meant he had to write vast amounts of sacral music – but it also means we are constantly forced to be reborn and cross new boundaries.
We are living at a time when composers are freed from contexts of the present day, themes and often economic limitations – but does this result in better works? I don’t think so; even far-reaching limitations force artists to constantly analyse their art. This is the spirit with which I approach being the festival’s artistic director. Many projects by my predecessors have left powerful marks: Misteria Paschalia has featured performances of masterpieces from the Renaissance to Classicism. But we should remember that past centuries abounded with incredible volumes of music: just five percent of music published in the 17th century is still being performed today. I want to continue developing reconstructions and discoveries as part of the Misteria Paschalia Festival and suggest new approaches to repertoires. For example, I will present a programme dedicated to German music featuring the orchestra Arte dei Suonatori under the baton of Patrick Ayrton. One of the pieces presented during the evening will be composed not by a great Baroque master, but by an AI. The audience’s task will be to identify this work among real ones. It will be a way to question our ingrained beliefs about “historicity” and Baroque repertoires!

You mention Kraków’s architecture; the festival has always been held in unusual locations, but in 2024 we are adding a very special venue. What music will we hear at the beautiful Basilica of St Mary?
Last year I was able to see the opening of the side panels of the monumental altarpiece at the Basilica of St Mary in Kraków. It was an unforgettable moment filled with emotion. The altarpiece is the largest Gothic example of its kind in the world – a masterpiece of sacral art which had just undergone extensive renovation. The results inspired me to compare it to Monteverdi’s sacral repertoire and the “restoration” – or, rather, recreation – of his Vespro della Beata Vergine which may have been performed in 1643, towards the end of Monteverdi’s life, at the Venetian Frari, where the composer is buried. It is fascinating to understand how the acclaimed Marian Vespers from 1610, now widely regarded as Monteverdi’s masterpiece, are a snapshot of the ephemerous form which we are only able to enjoy now because they were published. After all, there were as many versions of the vespers as Monteverdi’s occasions to celebrate the Blessed Virgin over the course of 30 years he spent in Venice. That’s why I want the audience to hear the “new” vespers with the participation of soloists, choir and Le Poème Harmonique orchestra who will recreate the traditional progression of Venetian Marian vespers intertwining excepts from the extensive collection Selva morale e spirituale from 1641 – selva as in “forest”, and musical testament of the composer at the peak of his brilliance and maturity. A special, ecstatic element of this concert will be Pianto della Madonna, in which Monteverdi recalls his moving Ariadne’s Lament, simply changing the text to make it a part of his new Vespro della Beata Vergine and which we will perform under the open majestic sides of the altarpiece. This means that the restoration of the altarpiece will be accompanied by returning the legacy of vespers. Material (visual) and nonmaterial (musical) heritage are at the heart of the Misteria Paschalia Festival.

All performances by Le Poème Harmonique are more than simply concerts – they are spectacles with carefully designed lighting, candles, processions… Is the music you perform so theatrical that it is simply begging to be enhanced by an atmosphere affecting all our senses? Or is it your way of ensuring that the experience is all-embracing?
I believe that music has a vastly greater power when it is put in a theatrical setting – and this is an important aspect of my artistic concept for Misteria Paschalia. In the past, it was entirely natural to combine music with other fields of the arts. Back in the 17th century, Bernini himself staged Marco Marazzoli’s operas at the Palazzo Barberini, while during great French lyrical tragedies, the audiences were just as enchanted by seeing the decorations of painted canvasses and garish costumes as hearing Quinault’s divine recitatives set to Lully’s music.
It’s just as worthwhile today to provide impressive settings for music even when it can stir our imaginations by itself. Of course Bach’s Goldberg Variations are sufficient in and of themselves and don’t require additional adornment, but the listener’s focus and ability to fully experience the performers’ talent is enhanced by tasteful lighting and proximity to the artists. Recalling the context in which the piece was created brings us closer to its beauty.
During the Misteria Paschalia Festival, the audience will take part in a special project: a rediscovery of two masterpieces of European painting, by Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt respectively, by placing them in a musical context. After all, hearing the kind of music the great Leonardo might have listened to as he was painting his Lady with an Ermine in 1490 means fully immersing ourselves in the era, in the work, and revealing its emotional aspect; it means discovering a different side to the great master. Another example: as well as presenting concerts, Misteria Paschalia will be an opportunity to discover early keyboard instruments. For three days, the Potocki Palace will host meetings and recitals by some of the greatest performers working today (Pierre Hantaï, Carole Cerasi, Justin Taylor…) focusing on 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century instruments. The venue will also host masterclasses, workshops and presentations including the Moeder en kind virginal, Spanish 18th-century harpsichord, claviorgan, clavichord, clavicytherium… Gaining a better understanding of how the instruments were built and putting Monteverdi’s sacral repertoire in a contemporary context alongside music and paintings by great masters all bring a greater enjoyment of the beauty of music.

Could you share a few of your ideas for Misteria Paschalia 2024 with readers of “Kraków Culture”?
Without revealing everything, I’ll just say that our audiences will be able to hear the most important works performed by some of the finest artists working today as part of the cycle Great Concerts, launched on 24 March by Jordi Savall with St John Passion at the ICE Kraków Congress Centre. The listeners will also be able to discover new venues: the concert of Sephardic music will be held at the Old Synagogue – one of the oldest in Poland – marking the festival’s opening to different cultures. The Church of St Lazarus presents the cycle Dormitio with three acclaimed harpsichordists whose recitals will be dedicated to works of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries juxtaposed with music by Johann Sebastian Bach. The Potocki Palace welcomes all fans of Baroque keyboard instruments: professionals, amateurs and beginner musicians will all witness Poland’s greatest presentation of these instruments, numbering almost 30. The Czartoryski Museum presents chamber concerts under paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt. Listeners will face the challenge of spotting a piece of music composed by an AI at the Chapel of St Kinga at the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine. Over the course of nine days we will present around 40 events including concerts, workshops, masterclasses and presentations – I will be delighted to see you there!

Text published in the 4/2023 issue of the "Kraków Culture" quarterly.

The detailed programme of the 21st Misteria Paschalia Festival will be announced on 15 January.

Vincent Dumestre

Photo by Francois Berthier, Chateau de Versailles
His love of art, sensitivity to Baroque aesthetics and talent for discovery all make Vincent Dumestre one of the most imaginative and versatile interpreters and advocates of music of the 17th and 18th centuries. He performs with his ensemble Le Poème Harmonique, as well as being director in residence of instrumental and vocal ensembles and artistic director of festivals. He still maintains his love for plucked string instruments, which is where he began his musical journey. He has recorded around thirty albums and DVDs for Alpha Classics and Château de Versailles Spectacles. He will serve as artistic director of the Misteria Paschalia Festival from 2024 until 2026. He has previously developed the festival programme in 2017.

Paweł Szczepanik

Photo by Georgina Gryboś
Music director of Radio Kraków Culture, music journalist specialising in the 16th to 18th centuries, author of the cycle of classical concerts Cavatina Hall Essentials in Bielsko-Biała and artistic director of the Kromer Festival Biecz. In the past he worked on the programmes of the Opera Rara and Misteria Paschalia festivals, was responsible for the PR activities of Capella Cracoviensis and served as music director of radiofonia. He almost exclusively listens to sung poetry, including rap, recitar cantando and airs de cour.
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