The Utrecht Early Music Festival, perhaps the largest of its kind, just launched its new video platform: EMTV will offer more than 200 concerts, documentaries and lectures recorded at the Festival, energized by an active live-streamed calendar of new concerts, both from the Festival and seasonal tours. Online content has been offered by the Festival since 2018, but from now on, thanks to this new digital home, three new titles will be added each month. Beginning in 2023, EMTV is planning to offer even more concerts by partner organizations, with the ultimate goal to have more than 700 titles available to watch in five years’ time. 

Filming in progress at the Utrecht Early Music Festival
© Utrecht Early Music Festival

I speak to Juliette Dufornee, EMTV's Deputy Director, who admits that the name is “a nod to music television. The good thing,” she explains, “is that for many people it's a nostalgia thing. And for people who don't really know what I'm talking about, it's clear what you're getting. EMTV is a brand on its own.”

Armed with journalism and musicology degrees, Dufornee worked at MonteVerdi Media and BravaHDTV, precursors of EMTV, before coming to the Festival ten years ago. Of those pioneering ventures, she says: “It was way too early. You didn't have the iPhone yet, or Netflix, or apps. But the idea was the same: to make a media platform to promote classical music in every aspect and to create a new mass outlet for classical music. I enjoyed working at it and learned a lot.”

The EMTV catalog is searchable by era – Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque – and genre. The artists come from the Festival ranks, which means the world's finest, including Richard Egarr, Lucie Horsch, Bob van Asperen, Skip Sempé and even the Harmonious Society of Tickle-Fiddle Gentlemen – just to mention a few. The catalog also contains 10 concerts from the prestigious International Van Wassenaer Competitions for young early music ensembles. 

“An EMTV subscription will provide the best early music has to offer,” wrote the European Early Music Network. During this year's festival, scheduled between the 26th August and 4th September with the theme Galanterie, the production team will record five live streams per day and again, between September and June, 15 new video titles from tour concerts. 

Although the artists for this year's Festival have not yet been officially announced when I speak to Dufornee, the theme of Galanterie, with its special attention to Bach and his sons, includes its celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Netherlands Bach Society and its examination of the “gallant (wo)man, from Medieval courtly love to the Renaissance.” 

“We're trying to have Jordi Savall,” Dufornee reveals. “He's come to the festival before and I'm really hoping he will be willing to participate in the live streams. The Bach Society will be the artist-in-residence and we'll have two or three live streams from them. I am almost sure we will have the Orchestra of the 18th Century for our closing concerts and I'm fairly sure that we are going to live stream them too. And many, many more…”

Filming in progress at the Utrecht Early Music Festival
© Utrecht Early Music Festival

Although you might think an early music festival is primarily for cognoscenti, Dufornee sees it in an entirely different light. “The good thing about the Festival is that we present very unknown repertoire, so it doesn't really matter how much you know about early music – or how much you don't know – because most of it really is new old music. Everyone with an open musical heart will enjoy it.”

When Dufornee arrived at the Festival, “early music videos weren't really being recorded anywhere,” she recalls. “You had Mahlers and Beethovens from all different kinds of camera angles but if you were just looking for a little bit of Renaissance music it wasn't really there. And then I thought: we have a festival. We have early music's best artists. Let's get a camera and start filming!” 

And so they did, at the beginning of 2018. “The Festival was ideal for getting up and running,” Dufornee explains. “We had so many concerts, so we could accumulate a lot of content quickly, and then we had a good start with distribution.” But when the pandemic forced the cancellation of both the Festival and the tours, it was a challenge. “We wanted to reach out to our audience to give them some kind of comfort during those strange, hard times,” she tells me. So the government stepped in with funding and the Festival streamed the concerts it had recorded for free. 

“I was surprised at how well and widely it was received. We didn't really put much marketing effort into it,” she says, “but before we knew it, people from India, Argentina and all over the world were watching. We had an international audience for the Festival live but it was not as international as for the online streams. We thought we were, as far as I knew, the only organization which was streaming on this scale, and when it became an international phenomenon it quickly opened our eyes: this was potential early music gold.”

And indeed, while clearly focused on launching the platform and getting through this year's Festival, Dufornee also has prospecting for early music gold on her mind. “We have a developer who is talking to ensembles, record companies and other interested parties for original content or co-created content, including programming for kids. We definitely want to open up the catalog and add things we don't do ourselves, like staged opera productions. Now that we have the platform,” Dufornee continues, “we have a live-streaming stage for all our artists – and for other festivals as well. If we join forces, EMTV can become a great success.”

And EMTV already has an international audience. “The number one country is The Netherlands, as you might expect,” she reveals. “But number two is the United States, number three is Singapore, and number four is Japan. It was a complete surprise! We thought the key markets would be Belgium, Germany and perhaps the UK.” After the initial surprise, Dufornee realized that EMTV was tapping into a different kind of viewing audience, as she tells me, and not only “the audience that you have in the concert hall.” In fact, there was a slight fear that if EMTV presented too many live-streamed concerts people wouldn't come to the Festival anymore. “But that's not been the case. It's really about two different kinds of public.” 

When I ask her, however, if this means that the concerts live-streamed over EMTV are a product apart from the Festival she laughs. “As long as you enjoy the music we're presenting, please enjoy it in whatever way it suits you. I didn't go to concert halls very often when I was young, almost never,” she recalls. “I did listen to a lot of CDs and radio performances, though. And that's what kept my passion going.” And Dufornee believes that online media are a way “to make early music more popular” and is “completely certain” that if you get more people listening to early music, concert attendance will also go up.

Before signing off, Dufornee tells me that at any time during the Festival, we can expect to see “15 or 20 people racing around Utrecht on bicycles carrying equipment to location shoots. They're amazing, flexible, nice and happy to do it,” she said. “Without them, this wouldn't be possible.” 

Click here to see the upcoming live streams on EMTV.

This article was sponsored by the Utrecht Early Music Festival