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Old and New

img  Tobias

The new and the old. Mostly seen as opposites, as each other’s antipodes, as mutually excluding poles. Of course, as the Zen master would say, there are no such thing as the “new” or the “old”. Or, as life will show you, they often end up meaning the same thing. Take the fates of Marco Beasley and Guido Morini, so closely intertwined for over twenty years that they are becoming hard to tell apart.

The new and the old are an integral part of the personal story of these two men, as well as of their enduring collaboration. For Marco, an aspiring singer, it first of all meant leaving home and giving up a space of safety for moving to a another city, new influences and new friends. Naples was the old, Bologna the new and his first contact with this slowly unfolding world was one of familarity and estrangement: “I got off the train on a grey October day. I kept asking passers-by information and they kindly told me the direction with that strange accent where all sentences opened up giving the listener a sense of calmness and warm communicativeness. (...) In that foggy morning Naples was really far away: its colours, its sounds, the sea, I missed them so much that I really felt I wouldn’t stand it. I wondered whether it was simply the fear to face the unknown. My home, my far-away home.” Soon, however, he was to meet people who would welcome him, who would make his stay more and more pleasant and who would become a new kind of family.

This inntital state of estrangement was nothing new to Guido Morini. He had started out promising enough, graduated in organ and harpsichord, specialised in early music and made improvisation one of his focal points. He was in close contact with the flow of his time and had well observed that the 20th century marked a decided change with regard to the musical past: Instead of being reduced to the museum, pieces from many ages ago suddenly appeared on new media such as records. Ancient instruments were dusted off and carried into the limelight. History, ist seemed, was indeed the promised land of the future. All of this had caught his eyes and ears and he was on his way of “making it”: “An accommodating character, good preparation and a certain amount of luck have all helped me find a place in the concert world. After a period of hard work rising through the ranks, I began to work with several famous ensembles, those that were useful for my curriculum and my career, without, however, managing to find a path that satisfied me completely. I felt a growing sense of unease and reached the point where I had decided to change jobs. But as often happens when one reaches rock bottom, a way out suddenly appeared.” For him, it meant diverting his interests to theater and of starting all over again. Away with the old, on to the new.


Slowly, but surely, the hearts of Marco and Guido began to beat in sync. But time was not yet  ready for their first meeting. Spurned on by his new surroundings, Beasley was first to make contact with a person who would deeply change his perspective. And again it was an encounter with the old and the new - Cathy Berberian was one of the 20th Century’s most eclectic artists, one of its most perfect epitomes. She had fallen in love with Classical Music as a young child, turned into a singer, married a contemporary composer (Luciano Berio), started composing herself and continued to walk the line between the worlds of “serious” and “popular” music (a collection of Beatles-songs is part of her discography). Just like Marco, she had spent her life between two cultures and two languages, Italian and English. And just like him, she was never satisfied with remaining tied too closely to a single genre or style. After her death in 1983, Marco swore not to let go of this ideal and to keep working to make it real. He was looking to break with the old entirely and to grasp the new, he was looking for like-minded friends. It was the right moment to meet Guido Morini.

Just a year later, they would shake hands for the first time. And, according to the two, they “understood immediately that our different emotional and intellectual characters could positively converge toward a common objective. We had already acquired some experience in Italian early music and were animated by a militant passion for pre-Bach musical literature, for original instruments and for the new musicological approach to interpretation.” The basis for their enthusiasm was the idea that the old could actually be more modern than the new – if it were only played the right way. Their argument, which by now has become a common feat, was based on the thought that many pieces from many centuries ago were not blindly tied to the score and instead asked a lot of creative input from the performer: “The ancient mentality approaches the written page creatively with extemporaneous intervention and great elasticity.” They went as far as to call the general approach of their time “inappropriate”, a claim which must have seemed just as “inappropriate” to most of their contemporaries. Of course, both Marco and Guido knew that it could never be enough to just talk about these things – they would have to make people listen to prove their point. And so they teamed up with another colleague, Stefano Rocco and formed Accordone – an ensemble which would carry their message on stage and on a multitude of recordings spanning centuries of music and an ever-growing openness to the music of our time.

This latter point has taken on a special significance and may seem strange at first – how can an ensemble dedicated to ancient practise become a leading force in the field of contemporary composition? Well, probably because these two terms need each other like the elements: “We could say that we have blazed a new path toward the avant-garde in the vast field of historically informed performance practice, but that is not enough for us.”, Morini remarks, “the inevitable consequence of the above premise is the juxtaposition of performances of early music with the composition of a new repertoire.” So he sits down and starts to write music for Accordone’s performances, which will take on an increasingly theatrical character. At the same time, Beasley contributes lyrics to the pieces, of which the aptly titled “Una Odissea” (2001) will be the first. The duo has decided to embark on a new phase of their collaboration and again it is about the unity of the past, the present and the future: “A plurality of musical languages is present in Una Odissea: the witch Circe unleashes her spells to the sound of ancient and mysterious rhythms and the song of the sirens takes its inspiration from the sounds of modern ships.”

This also brings Marco back into contact with what he has left behind. He realizes that he will never ever be able to leave his past behind him: “I go back to Naples now and then and I realise we have never parted, that it is still a part of myself. Fires still flare on the beach, voices still sing in my dialect, everything is new and unalterable, vital, constantly moving, animated by the same passion, in front of the same sea. But without suffering any longer.” This is a speculation on our part, but quite possibly these sensations pave the way towards the will and the need to express these feelings in music. Accordone sign to a new label, Belgian Cypres Records, again a company dedicated to the old, using the methods of today. The deal involves a total of three discs, of which the first has now been released. “Frottole” takes a trip back to 16th Century Italy and to a time of short, melodic pieces, with an instant appeal. “As for the texts, though the frottola is often linked to popular tradition, some set verses by Petrarch, Michelangelo and the great court poets. Yet such is their expressive power, these frottole go straight to the heart. Accordone has chosen for this homage a broad range of pieces, from the simplest to the most sophisticated. Not for a second are you bored: each frottola is different, each has its own musical character and each carries its own emotion.”

If you like, frottoles work similar to pop songs, which brings us full circle. And of course the old Zen master was right – everything, including words like “old” and “new” looses its importance when applied to a long enough time scale. On a shorter one, though, they have taken on a more than significant meaning for these two protagonists and their musical work. May they never really grow old.

Homepage: Marco Beasley
Homepage: Guido Morini / Accordone
Homepage: Cypres Records

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