In February this year, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) announced their 2020-21 season; The Edge of Reason – the fourth part of their Six Chapters of Enlightenment. Due to ongoing government restrictions, this year the OAE season will be available online through their new digital platform, OAE Player. This series is inspired by the golden age of science and philosophy that gave the Orchestra its name.

When the OAE initially unveiled The Edge of Reason at the start of the year, it was intended as an exploration into some of the great arguments that played out in the life and art of the late eighteenth century. These arguments about faith in science, faith in a democratic system and faith in each other were very quickly reimagined with a freshly minted vigour as 2020 progressed and adopted a completely new meaning with the effects of the lockdown.

Acknowledging the life-altering challenges the year has presented, Crispin Woodhead, OAE Chief Executive, comments:

“Just as the 1790s were littered with cartoons suggesting the new cow pox vaccine would turn you into a cow, today we continue to be surrounded by ideas that challenge our sense of reason. What is more, the effects of lockdown have challenged our sense of artistic possibility. Now we’re here, gripping onto the edge of reason with our fingertips, and the only thing that makes sense to us it to keep on playing.”

One of the first additions to the OAE’s digital season is a heartfelt performance of Bach’s Cantata BWV 82 to reflect on what it might mean to feel like ‘I have enough’ (Ich habe genug), which will be available from November. This concert is directed by eminent baritone Roderick Williams and features soprano Rowan Pierce, an alumnus of the Orchestra’s ‘Rising Stars’ singers scheme. Other concerts to feature in the season include the OAE recreating Don Giovanni’s palace party in London’s Asylum Chapel and international tenor superstar Mark Padmore conducting vocal masterclasses with four of the OAE’s young Rising Stars. The OAE also ponders the absurdity of the comic character, Monsieur Jourdain, through the music of Jean-Baptiste Lully in a unique recording of oboe music from Willards Barn.

Crispin Woodhead says:

“The comic character of Monsieur Jourdain in Moliere’s play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is central to The Edge of Reason theme. Blinded by the folly of social climbing, he would be a fool for all seasons were it not for the unmistakable thread of common sense that’s in there somewhere. He’s an idiot, but not a complete idiot.  In him we see ourselves, struggling with the things we shouldn’t do, but do anyway.”

In response to government guidelines and restrictions, the OAE have evolved its performance practice into an online format, under the name of OAE Player. Rather than performing live in a concert hall or a pub (at its groundbreaking The Night Shift gigs), the OAE have been rapidly creating films of the highest musical and digital quality for their platform since June 2020. Filmed in a multitude of visually unique and stunning settings, such as the ornate Fitzrovia Chapel, The Edge of Reason season will be available on OAE Player throughout the 2020/21 year. While the season would normally cost £650 to watch in its entirety from a front stalls seat, the performances, along with additional touring footage, historical discussions and rehearsal snippets, can now be enjoyed for a £99VAT.

Speaking of the unusual and captivating performance settings, OAE Leader Kati Debretzeni comments:

“The concert recording in Fitzrovia Chapel was such a special and wonderful experience. I didn’t know the sumptuous location beforehand, and was completely taken by surprise. Through this hidden gem in the middle of Bloomsbury I was transported to Ravenna for the day. The settings in these new recordings create a breathtaking atmosphere and a totally different concert experience for performer and listener alike.”

As well as offering for viewers to watch pay-by-view, the OAE have curated an annual pass for their audiences (new and old) which will grant them access to the ever-growing platform of performances, backstage insights and masterclasses for one year. Holders of the OAE’s annual pass will also receive a number of added benefits, including discounted tickets to other OAE in-person concerts, access to additional ‘hidden’ video content and enhanced digital programmes.