The Clarion Music Society is a period-instrument orchestra committed to performing lost or neglected works from the 18th and 19th centuries in addition to well-known masterworks from these periods that are rarely heard on authentic instruments.
Unlike most other American period-instrument orchestras, Clarion includes in its repertoire music from not only the Baroque, but also the Classical and Romantic periods. Clarion performs these works on period instruments and following the performance practice of the time.
Clarion frequently features international soloists of the highest caliber, particularly young artists who have not yet had the chance to perform in New York.
A period-instrument orchestra allows listeners to hear what compositions would have sounded like in their day. For instance, stringed instruments in their current form are an invention of the 20th century. The Vienna Philharmonic, for example, did not begin using metal strings until the 1930s; up until that point they always steadfastly played with gut strings. Mahler, when he conducted the New York Philharmonic in the early part of the 20th century, would have expected to hear the sound of gut strings in the orchestra. Woodwinds and brass have also metamorphosed over the last two centuries.
The first period-instrument orchestra with a regular concert season in New York, the Clarion Music Society was founded in 1957 by Newell Jenkins, a renowned musicologist and conductor. Pursuing his research in music libraries and archives throughout Europe, he uncovered and catalogued the entire opus of Giovanni Battista Sammartini (1700/1-1775), the great Italian master who taught Gluck, influenced the classical style developed by Mozart and Haydn, and whose works had been lost for centuries. His research on Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was vital in reviving that composer’s works and public image in the United States during the 1960s and 70s. During his nearly 40 years at the helm of the orchestra, Clarion performed more than 70 world premieres, which represented only a fraction of the fruits of his research.
Following the death of Newell Jenkins in 1996, and a brief tenure by harpsichordist Frederick Hammond, the Clarion board decided to transform the organization into a grant-giving foundation for projects in Early Music. A two-time recipient of Clarion grants was Steven Fox, the founder and conductor of Russia’s first period-instrument orchestra, Musica Antiqua St. Petersburg, which now is also under the Clarion Music Society banner. In fall 2005, he was invited to lead Clarion into the 21st century.