‘What makes music authentic is emotion’ – an interview with Bojan Čičić

‘What makes music authentic is emotion’ – an interview with Bojan Čičić

AAM leader Bojan Čičić explains how authenticity is all about emotion, describes his approach to leadership and offers his advice to young musicians

How did you become interested in Early Music?

I studied at the Academy of Music in Zagreb with Andjelko Krpan, graduating in 2001. Catherine Mackintosh came to give a masterclass and when I played her the Bach Fugue in A minor, she invited me to Aestas Musica, her Baroque summer course in Croatia. Other teachers there included Jennifer Ward Clark, Nicolette Moonen and Laurence Cummings, so that’s where my connection with AAM began.

I had a few AAM CDs, such as CPE Bach symphonies with Christopher Hogwood, but the first time I heard the orchestra live was in Vienna, around 2001. I was still studying in Zagreb and took a train to Vienna, staying in a hotel with Joe Crouch to save money before my train back to Zagreb. I was in love with period performance and knew that I had to try and do this with my life, but it was a totally different world. At the time it wasn’t available to me unless I went abroad.

After graduating, I joined the Zagreb Soloists, but after a year working there, in 2003 I decided to do something about my love of Early Music and moved to France to study at the Paris Conservatoire. During my studies there, I was mainly playing French music, or German music in a French way, but not much Italian music. I learnt more about German and Italian repertoire from Rachel Podger when I went to study at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where I finished my MA in Performing Arts in 2007.

I remember Lars Ulrik Mortensen in a masterclass saying that Early Music students should start by playing only French baroque in the first year, move on to Italian style for the second and then go into German style for the third. I was very lucky to have had that in my own education, so I would tend to agree with this statement.

What does ‘authenticity’ mean to you?

What makes music authentic is emotion – our tools are only there to create that. In the same way that a film is a vehicle for empathy and seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, music is about expressing emotions that we share with other people.

When Monteverdi began to compose in the style of Seconda Prattica, it was always about words and emotions. The aim of composers such as he was to put music to the service of words. They used florid ornamentation and sudden harmonic changes, which are often shocking to the ears, to describe what the text was saying and to bring an emotional response. This intention of creating a reaction in our listeners hasn’t changed over the centuries. It is what we should strive for – not just using the same instruments they used back then and calling it an authentic approach.

It’s good to have discussions about instruments, but that’s not the point of authenticity. I’m of the philosophy that the tool doesn’t make the music – the musician makes the sound, regardless of the instrument they use. Having said that, a musician cannot come close to developing the appropriate sensitivity for baroque or classical music without the experience of trying original instruments or their copies. Students must experience authentic instruments as much as they can. Only then can they go on their merry way and do whatever they want.

These days, people even use instruments that hadn’t been invented in period times, which are louder and easier to transport. For example, there’s a theorbo that I see young players use quite often, which is a mixture between a theorbo and arch lute and is a little louder for today’s concert halls. There are also carbon-fibre harpsichords, bringing modern materials into the mix.

It’s exciting that people want to experiment like this. Early Music has always been an experiment. We are at a risk of losing that freshness. We don’t want to make recordings for our parents – we want to make them for our friends and generations that haven’t even been born yet. How do you remain current? By trying new things. However, it’s important that audiences are aware of what is a thoroughly 21st century invention regarding instruments and what tries to be more authentic. Then they can decide for themselves which approach they would prefer.

The idea of a singular authenticity is pointless, anyway, because it changes for each generation. For example, back when the Dolmetsch Society brought old music and instruments back from obscurity in the early 20th century, its members were interested in sounds that weren’t available, or known, at the time. You can’t say that they were less authentic than us today because they didn’t know things that we know now. There are many ways to get to knowledge – it’s a path and not a destination.

What specific skills do you need to lead the orchestra?

When I arrived in the UK, I was surprised at how much leaders loved explaining things to their section using words, rather than gesture, so I don’t think I’m very representative of this art. I don’t tend to talk much, mainly because I believe that we can show a lot through gesture alone, especially in baroque and classical music. If everyone pays attention, we don’t have to spend time talking, since ideally we all speak the same language. In AAM everyone treats the repertoire as chamber music – there’s good contact and communication between us, but not necessarily through words. I heard a jazz musician say once that thought is the enemy of the flow. This is very true. You practise and work on yourself, but in a concert situation, you have to create something exciting together, otherwise you get bored, especially when repeating the same programme many times.

What is it like working with Laurence?

We all speak the same language and Laurence has a vast breadth of knowledge, so it will be interesting to see how our sound changes with him. Colleagues who were in AAM a long time ago say that the orchestra sounds like it did 20 or 30 years ago. He trusts the players and lets us play. Often with conductors, especially those who tend to conduct modern orchestras, there’s a tendency to micromanage – you have to perform the way they want rather than the way you instinctively feel the music. With Laurence, the players are free to express themselves, because they won’t be judged. This relaxed sound will remind people of the old AAM. It feels like we’re going back to our roots.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in pursuing Early Music?

Play for as many people as you can. If you have a passion, follow it, but increasingly, my advice would be not to do just one thing. It’s risky to specialise, these days, unless you’re prepared to work on the continent and travel. There’s not enough work to survive as a purely freelance musician with only period instruments, unless you’re teaching or have other means of earning money, in film and studio recording, for example. I see the younger generations being able to do both historical and modern playing much more easily, though – it’s not an issue for them.

As an instrumentalist, it’s quite hard to make a name for yourself outside orchestral settings, especially in Early Music – I admire anyone who manages. More famous players are doing baroque CDs and tours and it’s hard to compete with mainstream violinists who have a huge following for their modern work. I see more and more people starting quartets and being very successful, so there is obviously a market for that.

England is not a country that gives opportunity to baroque solo violinists – it’s a rare thing to be a soloist in Early Music – only my old teacher Rachel Podger has managed it. This is not new, though, and musicians struggled in the 17th and 18th centuries just as much as today. When I made a CD of Carbonelli sonatas, I learnt that he was a very successful leader of orchestras in London, such as Theatre Royal Drury Lane, but became a vintner because there was more money in that. In his 30s and 40s, he also realised that he couldn’t compete with the influx of new Italian violinists coming to London with their more modern and progressive style and techniques.

Another example is Viotti, who was regarded as the most famous violinist in his time, but according to the autobiography of Spohr, who wrote to Viotti to ask for lessons, Viotti wrote back, ‘I’m sorry, I no longer play – I’m a wine merchant. People here appreciate me more for that than for my art.’ I don’t know if that’s a myth or if he was being sarcastic, but he could thrive as a wine merchant better than the violinist in London.

So, stick to your passion, or get involved in many different music styles in order to find one. Just go out and do it, but remember that in music, acknowledgment might arrive after many years of trying. We all did it, so can you!

Photo: Benjamin Ealovega