When is an orchestra not an orchestra? When it’s a self proclaimed ‘musical laboratory’ that’s when. That is the prefered two-word term for the musicians of Spira mirabilis, but who exactly are they? A bunch of people playing instruments in long white coats? Or something more?
Yes, that’s right, Spira mirabilis are conductor-free. Instead of following a baton-wielder with their back to the audience, the collective prefer to follow what they term ‘the third way’. In this approach, the musical interpretation of the piece is the responsibility of each individual musician. Each member comes to the first rehearsal having studied the complete score intently and with as much information about the piece as possible.
When the group rehearse all of the musicians are invited to input on the performance, though it doesn’t always go as smoothly as in the clip. As Spira mirabilis confirm on their own website the process brings strong debates, sometimes even arguments, until a unified musical consensus is reached.
Getting such an intelligent and talented group of individual musicians to find a common interpretation doesn’t happen instantly. Sometimes it can take days to get an agreement on a single line of score, but it is a process which all in the group are committed too, and one which they enjoy; learning a piece together and from one another.
Because their approach can be very slow, Spira mirabilis will only dedicate themselves to one piece of music at a time. Doing so enables the collective to delve as deep as possible into the score, enabling them to develop a very special and intimate experience of a musical masterpiece.
Because of the many inputs and influences, Spira mirabilis never see an interpretation as final, more a snapshot of where the group were at that moment in time; making each project and performance unique to them. On occasion a piece can even evolve during a concert, if one musician elects to spontaneously take a different approach, the rest of the group simply must follow; a testament to the talent of the members of the group, and their understanding of each other.
Keen to play to audiences with no preconceptions of their pieces, and to pursue their approach outside the mainstream music circuit, Spira mirabilis have built a reputation for playing in more unusual locations. For Suffolk’s Aldeburgh festival, the group pitched up and performed unannounced on the steps of Ipswich Town Hall on market day, and they’ve also been captured performing Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in a Frankfurt Metro station.
Since their inception, Spira mirabilis have held six or seven intense rehearsal periods annually, in Formigine in Italy; more often basing themselves in the town’s sports hall. So enamoured with the group is the town, that in 2013, it built them a concert hall of their own, the Auditorium Spira mirabilis
Incredibly, the generosity of Formigine goes beyond the establishment of a dedicated performance space. Though rehearsals are long and intense, nobody in Spira mirabilis is paid for their time. But such is the affection from the town that living expenses are covered for them, with musicians staying with local families during rehearsal periods and meals provided by a very friendly restaurant.