Corelli’s Grandchildren

A Note from Frank: This journal entry is written by BCOC’s leader-violinist and guest blogger Cynthia Miller Freivogel, with reflections on musical “genealogy,” early music influences, making music beautiful, and passing knowledge to the next generation. I hope you enjoy this amazing essay… and our new album, Corelli’s Circle!

Americans are obsessed with genealogy.  It was something that I took for granted before I moved to Europe. I met a Belgian who lived in exactly the same house that his ancestors had owned for generations. He was fascinated by the mystery of an American’s roots, particularly that mine could be partly known back to the Mayflower and partly lost in Germany in the 1880s.  I never thought of that as particularly exotic, though I at a certain age I loved going through the old photographs and looking at the silly names in my grandma’s attic. Now that you can have your DNA tested there has been another big resurgence of interest in America. Especially interesting seems to be finding out which parts of your history have been left out as they got passed down the generations.

A Musical Family Tree

If you are not a musician, you may be surprised to find out that there is a thing called “teacher lineage.” It’s the idea that you trace your teacher back to her teacher back to his teacher until you get to Galamian (the great American pedagogue who taught Dorothy DeLay). But Galamian actually goes further back to Lucien Capet at the Paris Conservatiore. Or, you can get quickly from Joseph Silverstein to Gingold to the great violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe.  Any Wikipedia article about a famous violinist will mention at some point the “family tree” of teachers back generations from the same four or five roots. My teacher from my masters program in San Francisco, Camilla Wicks, had a whole orchestra in Norway which she referred to very affectionately  as the orchestra of her “grandchildren” (the students of her students).

Well known is the debt that we all owe to our music teachers, but few people really understand how much can not be passed down in written form or in the form of recorded music. We are completely dependent on the knowledge that is handed down from one generation to the next from the experience of lessons and playing chamber music. It is how we understand what we are reading on the page and how to turn it in to a performance. That is the craft of our art form. We might think of recording as a record of how things were done in a certain moment, but it is impossible to hear how one is the wrestling with the musical decisions and the mindset of how we come to the conclusions that create that performance. A recording is also missing the component of learning  how to engage the energy of the live audience.  The oral history of violin pedagogy is particularly important as we grapple with how this simple wooden box with metal strings can be made to stir the emotions of audiences in so many different styles and genres over generations.

The Spirit of Early Music

The Early Music movement – the wrestling with old manuscripts and experimentation on old instruments – began in the late 1960s as a natural out growth of the counterculture movement. We are in danger of forgetting that now that it has become so mainstream. But the reason I got into it was for that very spirit. I had to break away from the 19th century mentality (particularly the sort of worship of the aforementioned Galamian).

For me the problem was that as the holders of this oral history – the teachers themselves and the lineages became so heroic and overly important that no one was thinking for themselves any more. When Bach wrote a chord and indicated “arpeggio” in the score,  Galamian wrote exactly which notes to play and how you should bow it. Any other possibility  was considered heresy in the 1980’s in the US. But with “historical performance practice” we started looking at manuscripts and seeing how Corelli broke chords, how Geminiani taught violinists to improvise arpeggiation and different bowing combinations how far sometimes ornamentation could go and we suddenly had so many more options.  It was like the DNA testing of today where we suddenly could see things from a new perspective with real information instead of the story that was passed down to us.

There is always this paradoxical dependence on told stories and necessity of self discovery that is the journey of life.  Particularly for an artist the tension can be considerable. For me, while my modern violin stylistically and pedagogically was very prescribed (Silverstein-Gingold school) early music was entirely the road of self discovery for the first 10 years. The founders of the movement in the Bay Area of San Francisco were my colleagues.  Only when I moved to Holland (in 2012) did I have suddenly access to the first pedagogues in this field – the founders of the movement  such as Gustav Leonhardt, Ton Koopman, Frans Bruggen, Anner Bijlsma, Lucy van Dael, Vera Beths, the Kuijken brothers and the sort of splits in the branches the “family tree” that create the different schools of thought.  This generation of musicians who these great pedagogues influenced are musicians my age.

However, coming from my Californian early music cultural vantage point, they sometimes seem like they are dangerously repeating the hero worship of the 19th century teacher lineage.  I have this perspective just because circumstance meant that I came about it from the other direction. I was completely free of an early music genealogy.  Of course, I am not without humble respect for those that came before me in my field and also always grateful for the advice of a mentor and teacher. However, I felt so lucky to encounter someone like Lucy van Dael after establishing my own road of inquiry. I could come to Lucy and ask “but what questions were you asking, how are you looking at these manuscripts?” “What were your debates with your colleagues like on this subject?” “How do you come to the working out of your own ornamentation?” “How do you go about performing ornamentation that you find in the sources?”

Corelli’s Children… and Grandchildren

When I started this project about Corelli’s circle with BCOC, Lucy went in to her closet and pulled out a stack of manuscripts which she handed over to me.  It was all of the ornamentation she had collected on Corelli op. 5 Sonatas over her whole career. People had sent her manuscripts before they were published, sent her thesis defense programs on the subject along with the collected new McGibbons divisions. There were little slivers of music history stuffed in amid the thousands of little scribblings that were themselves windows in to the private musings of the great 18th century violinists Geminiani, Tartini, Dubourg and Roman. Neat English handwriting and crazy Italian blotches all to be deciphered.

I decided for this project with the F major sonata I would include as much as humanly possible from these manuscripts. They are designed of course only as examples for students, or possibly as sketches for different possibilities for improvising. They are supposed to be used as models for our own decorations. But just as Jazz musicians transcribe solos from the great masters and learn them first, so do we have to begin with these models. And so for this recording- for this record of history – I have chosen to use for the most part only ornamentation from the manuscripts. What you hear are various versions patched together in a way that I thought said something about how far violinists were willing to depart form the original line, and also made the line the most beautiful. They were, in short, all of my favorites.

Because I had so much material to experiment with, I also wanted to try to share some of it with my violin section colleagues in Colorado. The Geminiani D major Concerto Grosso is directly based on the 1st of the Op. 5 violin sonatas. So I imported ornaments me and for Martin Davids from the manuscripts in the opening Adagio and for the whole section in places like the middle slow movement.

So with a nod to the great Lucy van Dael, who provided me with the manuscripts and the great gift she gives in her lessons of the discipline of never-ending curiosity and inquiry, and equal nod to the my inspiring colleagues in California who taught me never to lose sight of making a beautiful performance out of that inquiry, out of both of those branches of my on early music influences equally, comes this experiment. In the spirit of Corelli, and his “children” and his “grandchildren.”

A Moment in Time

When you hear something beautiful, and in a moment it moves you – to tears of sorrow or joy, how do you hold on to that? It is such a deep human desire. The whole history of recording equipment grew out of it. So many of our audience members come out of a concert and say “can you please record that piece, I want to take it home.” Paradoxically, you can not possibly take it home, music is something that happens in a time and in a moment that passes. We can only hold on to it by passing the knowledge of how to make people feel that moment on to the next generation. But of course, I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t take this recording home now. It was its own moment in time.

 

The London Connection

I’m always incredibly excited this time of year as the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado begins a new season. It always brings back some of the eager anticipation of our very first concert as an ensemble.  (As a baseball fan, I have to say the excitement doubles when my favorite team makes it to the postseason!)

This year our season opener features music of Handel and Purcell in a concert I call “The London Connection.” I’ve had fun reading up on these two composers. The two had very different personalities, and lived in different times (Handel was about 10 years old when Purcell died). Purcell was London-born, and Handel an immigrant from Germany. But they both actively participated in the life of London during times of social and political change (in the case of Purcell, a time of turmoil), and helped shape the cultural landscape there. Both interacted intimately with Londoners of all backgrounds – from royalty and officials of church and state, to musicians, actors, and the common folk in taverns and homes.

In her recent biography, George Frideric Handel: A Life with Friends, Ellen T. Harris writes that Handel’s music offers a tapestry of eighteenth century culture and society. “In London, the sound of his music reached from court to theater, from cathedral to tavern, and was performed by the greatest virtuosi of the era as well as the lonely spinster sitting at her keyboard. It served not just at coronations but as a background to daily life.”

And these words about Purcell by Nicholas Kenyon: “Both worldly and spiritual, he was above all a great humane composer who understood the pangs of love, the glory of ceremony and the tumult of war.”

I hope you’ll join us for our first concert of the 2018-19 season, and often throughout the year!

Handel and Purcell: The London Connection
October 6-7, 2018

Program
Handel, Grand Concerto, op. 6 no. 1 in G major
Purcell, Overture and Rondeau from Abdelazer
Purcell, Three Parts Upon a Ground
Purcell and Matteis, A Collection of Scotch and Irish Tunes
Purcell, Chacony in G minor
Handel, Largo from Xerxes (Ombra mai fu)
Handel, Allegro from Il Pastor Fido
Handel, Grand Concerto, op. 6 no. 4 in A minor

Favorite Brandenburgs

“Subtle and brilliant at the same time, they (the Brandenburg concertos) are a microcosm of Baroque music, with an astonishingly vast sample of that era’s emotional universe.” — Ted Libbey

A big thank you to the over 800 people who joined us over the weekend to hear J.S. Bach’s six Brandenburg concertos. I can’t think of a better way to conclude our 2017-18 season!

At the Sunday concert we took an informal poll via post-it notes in the lobby for people’s favorite Brandenburg concerto. The winner in this particular vote was Concerto #4, followed closely by #3 and then #5. The final three — but still getting solid support — were #2, #6 and #1. I especially liked this audience member’s response: “My favorite Brandenburg is whichever one I heard most recently: bright trumpet notes; mellow cello and viola; marathon harpsichord part. All great!”

If you want to add your vote, email me at artisticdir@bcocolorado.org. Let me know what your favorite Brandenburg is, and (more importantly) why!

It was an epic week for our BCOC musicians and guests. We leave Bach for a while, knowing we will be returning to him before too long.

Binge Listening

If you can binge-watch your favorite TV show (mine’s “The Crown”), is it possible to “binge-listen” to the Brandenburg Concertos?

Some friends have told me their favorite way to experience Bach’s masterful collection is to listen to them all at once, whether on their favorite recording or live. I agree! Live performances of all six concertos (especially on period instruments) are few and far between, and we can’t wait to provide that opportunity for listeners this weekend.

The BCOC is primarily a string ensemble, but we are always thrilled to invite period wind players to join us. (They are like our favorite cousins that we get to see once a year!) Joining us for the Brandenburgs are several musicians that have played with us often over the last several years, including Kathryn Montoya and MaryAnn Shore (oboes), Todd Williams (horn), and Keith Collins (bassoon). Also returning are flutist Tamara Meredith and recorderists Linda Lunbeck and Michael Lightner, all three of whom have played with us since our first season.

Joining us for the first time are horn player Linda Dempf for Concerto #1 and trumpeter  Josh Cohen on Concerto #2 (a piece that Josh performs frequently throughout North America). Joining Todd on horn, these superb specialists will display their amazing talents on natural brass instruments!

Since its beginning the BCOC has been committed to nurturing and highlighting young talent in the early music field. This week we expand that focus with our new Young Artist Spotlight. We are delighted to welcome Stephen Gamboa-Diaz to perform the harpsichord solo in Concerto #5 and to share the continuo duties with me for these concerts. Stephen is originally from Oxnard, California, and now lives in Connecticut after recently receiving his Artist Diploma from Yale University.

Thursday’s performance at Broomfield Auditorium will feature four of the Brandenburg Concertos (#1, 3, 4 and 5); the slightly reduced program will allow us to provide concert commentary, a demonstration of some of the instruments, and a short introduction to Baroque improvisation (using the “slow movement” of the Concerto #3 as a departure).

The remaining performances — Friday evening in Highlands Ranch, Saturday evening in Cherry Hills Village, and Sunday afternoon in downtown Denver — will each include all six Brandenburg Concertos in one program, with a minimum of talking and a maximum of music-making. Definitely a binge listening experience!

I look forward to seeing you this weekend.

Brandenburgs

A few years ago musicians from the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado came together to brainstorm our ideas and dreams for the next 10 years. One of the ideas that was especially compelling was to perform all six of the Brandenburg Concertos on one program. Doing even one of them on a concert program is always a joy for us. In the words of our concertmaster Cynthia Miller Freivogel, “Every time we start a rehearsal with a Brandenburg everyone is immediately in a good mood – even after sitting in traffic on 36 or I-25. I can’t count the number of times I’ve started a rehearsal with one of these pieces and had someone say. ‘Now, that certainly is a nice way to start the morning!’”

That is why there is a particular excitement in the air as we prepare for our Complete Brandenburgs concerts and send emails between us to discuss tempos, performance notes, and interpretation ideas.

So what makes the Brandenburgs so special to perform? For me at least, it has to do with virtuosity… in a multi-layered sense of that term.  The first layer is the compositional virtuosity of Bach himself, his seemingly limitless ingenuity and his daring instrumental combinations that somehow still sound new. Then there are the many opportunities for solo virtuosity: the amazing feats of the natural horn and trumpet players in the first and second concertos, the dazzling violin passages in the fourth, and the astonishing harpsichord fantasia in the fifth are just a few examples. The final layer is a kind of shared virtuosity of the entire ensemble, along with the subtle, delightful interplay between the solo groups and the full orchestra.

And this makes me think of what I treasure the most about the opportunity to play all the Brandenburg concertos – collegiality. These concertos evoke the best in our collaborative spirit of making chamber music together. Bach gives us the opportunity to work and play together in new ways, and makes us appreciate each other more deeply.

So, in the spirit of virtuosity and collegiality, we all are very excited to bring you the Brandenburg Concertos on May 17-20!

Off Road

Thanks to all who joined us for Dessert and D’Amore last Sunday, with Matt Dane and Ann Marie Morgan as featured artists. It was a great opportunity to shine the spotlight on the viola d’amore, an exotic instrument that has its own alluring sound, with a fascinating if somewhat opaque background.  On a personal level, it was an amazing experience for me to have a chance to play Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel (composed in 1978, and an example of the composer’s mystic minimalism) on viola d’amore and harpsichord. It may be the first time this exquisite piece has ever been played on that combination of instruments!

This program was part of our Baroque Out of Bounds series, which allows us to explore programming off the beaten path. There are lots of fascinating “off roads” within the Baroque repertoire itself, but we go even further by exploring new compositions for old instruments and finding intersections with art forms very different from our own. The series is also a way to replicate that special, intimate “house concert experience” in a public space.

Stay tuned for more Baroque Out of Bounds events – we have two planned for next season that we think you will enjoy!

Dessert and D’Amore

For our next Baroque Out of Bounds Learning Lab, I am delighted to be joined by two wonderful musicians, Matthew Dane and Ann Marie Morgan, that have been featured often over the years on BCOC concert seasons. Our April 8 program focuses on the sensual sound of the viola d’amore!

On his website, Matt talks about what attracted him to the viola d’amore, and how he came to own the two instruments he will play on our Learning Lab program:

“The viola d’amore is an instrument that long fascinated me for its mysterious but persistent history and its sweet, uniquely resonant tone. Four years ago I finally had the opportunity to borrow an instrument for two months and was hooked. In 2013 I commissioned well-known luthier Martin Biller to build one, which arrived at the end of that year. What a thrill to get to know it!

“In the summer of 2017 I was fortunate to acquire another instrument: a J. U. Eberle built in Prague in 1731. It is very different from my Biller – shorter string length, thinner neck, smaller distance between the strings, and steeper curve of the bridge. The sound is altogether different as well: radiant and darkly luminous, with lots of flexibility in the lower register.”

Matt has assembled an eclectic and fascinating program that includes both Baroque and modern pieces, including a suite by Conor Abbott Brown. (Conor’s commissioned work for BCOC, Down from the Verge of Heaven, was premiered in our recent program The Muse Project.)

As with all our Baroque Out of Bounds events, we will include some time for questions and informal conversation with the musicians. And to top it all off, some favorite desserts made by BCOC fans and musicians to complement the sweet sound of the period instruments!

Program:
Christian Petzold, Partita in F major
Conor Abbott Brown, Suite for solo viola d’amore (2017)
Arvo Pärt , Spiegel im Spiegel (1978)
Attilio Ariosti, Lesson No. 4 for viola d’amore and basso

Musing

Our collaboration on The Muse Project included five original poems and stories written especially for the occasion by five exceptional writers from Lighthouse Writers Workshop. I found these pieces astonishing in their range and power!  (We plan to add copies of these poems and stories to our website soon.) The writings explored the concept of muse and memory in various ways, and all of them had an immediacy and relevance that made me feel that myth and meaning are always present in everyday life.

I know that most of the writers (if not all) listened intently to the musical piece that their writing was paired with before beginning their writing. I am intrigued by this process of working across art forms for inspiration, with the aim of creating of something new and perhaps surprising.

For those who attended a performance of The Muse Project (and those who weren’t able to), what are your thoughts about collaborations like this? As an audience member, it’s sometimes hard to know what to expect coming into a collaborative event. Is that a positive factor… or not so positive? What role does surprise play (for good or bad)? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Collaborate and Create

I believe that Colorado’s art scene is so vibrant and innovative partly because of an openness to creative collaborations and their possibilities. I also believe the music that the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado plays is transformed with entirely new dimensions and insights when we partner with artists engaged in art forms that are different from our own. In past seasons, our collaborations with choreographers, dancers, puppet artists, and writers have been richly rewarding and revelatory.

With these beliefs in mind, I am thrilled to be partnering with Lighthouse Writers Workshop and Stories on Stage for The Muse Project. These two outstanding organizations join the BCOC this weekend to create a performance that combines beautiful Baroque music, original work by five of Denver’s best writers, and the power of storytelling.

Our theme focuses on the muses – both ancient and modern – who ignite our imagination. And fittingly, the program will include new five new poems and stories created just for this occasion, as well as a new musical work composed for our ensemble. The creation of new art is one of the joys of collaboration!

Of course, at the heart of our program is the timeless and inspiring music of Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Geminiani, O’Carolan, Eccles, and Fischer. I hope you will join us for one of three performances this weekend!

Frank Nowell

 

A New Work for Baroque Ensemble

Our upcoming concerts (The Muse Project) feature the world premiere of a new composition by Colorado composer Conor Abbott Brown. I’m very excited to play this new 10-minute work composed especially for the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado!

I asked Conor what it’s like to compose new music for a Baroque ensemble. Here is an excerpt from our interview.

Frank Nowell: What do you find “Baroque” in this new composition?

Conor Abbott Brown: There is a propulsive and cyclical feel to a lot of my favorite Baroque music that I drew on for inspiration while writing this piece. I also rhythmically reference the Baroque dance form known as the Siciliana. And I’m always excited by the ornamentation of Baroque music – as a listener, I am aesthetically aligned with the asymmetry and “mystery” of this ornamentation practice (which, sadly, much of which was lost of “straight-jacketed” later in Western music.)

What do you find very different from “Baroque?”

I use scales/modes in this piece that are quite removed from what Baroque composers used.

Is this the first time you have composed for Baroque period instruments? What was it like?

This is the second time – last year I wrote a piece for solo viola d’amore. I approach writing for period instruments just as I would writing for “modern” ones, which is to try to align what is idiomatic on an instrument with what is exciting for me as a composer during the composition process.

What would you like audiences to know about your piece? What should they listen for?

I really had fun with unequal temperament while writing this piece. Temperament describes how instruments are tuned. In the Baroque era, unlike today, there was no standardized temperament, and the distance between intervals was not the same in every key. The implications of this as a composer are that the ratios between scale degrees… can vary dramatically depending on what key you are in. I take advantage of this in Down from the Verge of Heaven by rotating the piece through a sequence that takes it into some very distant keys. In the equal temperament that most contemporary Western musicians play in, this wouldn’t really be a big deal… But in an unequal temperament, as the pattern rotates, we start to hear some strange and mind-bending new intervals!