8. Robin Pharo

Another overview in my Performers series, this time a youngish player with great taste and technique, Robin Pharo.

Robin is a founder member of the coolest baroque ensemble on the planet at the moment, Nevermind,  and has also been working with jazz musicians, while also being a fine composer.

I first encountered his playing in the video of music by a composer I had not heard of before, Le Sieur de Machy. Being a lute player I’m used to knowing the music of lesser-known composers, so it is of little surprise to me that Machy is a good composer, and equal to the Gaultiers and Moutons of the precious French lute music of the 17th century. Machy’s music was published in 1685, and HERE is a pdf of that publication.

Listen to Robin’s mastery of the rhetorical approach to phrasing in the Prelude, and the rhythmical nuances of the chaconne – never an easy dance to get “just right”.


He also introduced me to another fairly obscure composer, Charles Dollé (fl. 1735-55), of a generation after Machy. Dollé moved the French viol away from an early Marais influence to adopt a more Italianate colouration and musical form.


But neither of the above videos will prepare you for this magnificent performance of music by the living Bulgarian composer, Yassen Vodenitcharov. Here is the viol in a very contemporary setting, and sounding perfectly at home in it. Robin is the director of this ensemble, Près de votre oreille (near your ear). Listen with a free and open mind…


Here is one of Robin’s fine compositions, for three voices and guitar – to a poem by Guillame Apollinaire:


Another contemporary piece, a setting by Fabien Touchard of William Butler Yeats‘ poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made; Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee, And live alone in the bee-loud glade. And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, And evening full of the linnet’s wings. I will arise and go now, for always night and day I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart’s core. William Butler Yeats


Clearly this is no blinkered violist, stuck in the 17th century. Far from it. Robin Pharo has deep respect for the tradition that brought forth the viola da gamba, yet has given it a contemporary voice, one which feels perfectly natural to it. His viol is no museum artefact, but an instrument that is alive today, resonating with contemporary concerns. As such, that might be this performer’s greatest contribution. Long may he follow his own spirit. I for one look forward to seeing where this still young musician takes us over the coming decades. We need more Robin Pharos.


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