Goldbergs, with strings attached

This weekend the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado performs a brand new version of the Goldberg Variations for strings and continuo, arranged by our own violist Alexander Vittal. He is a superb arranger whose string arrangements of a wide variety of music are often performed by the Sphere Ensemble. I caught up with Alex to ask him a few questions about the Goldbergs while he was taking a break from his latest project – a medley of Dolly Parton songs!

  1. What did you find most interesting and enjoyable about this project? Most challenging?

Probably the most enjoyable part  was getting to know the Goldberg Variations on a very intimate level. There is nothing like hearing a masterpiece for the first time, and this project provided an incredible opportunity to really dive into the score, many recordings, and to open my creative thinking into how I could orchestrate this for BCOC in a way that is completely respectful to the original and Bach, but perhaps adds new dimensions with the introduction of strings and different groupings of players. Both most challenging and enjoyable about the project was realizing that I could really take some risks and maybe push boundaries a little further knowing that we have outstanding musicians who will be able to handle anything I throw at them!

  1. How did you approach each variation, and decide what forces to use for each?

When it comes to orchestrating an already existing score, my process has a few established steps. First, read the score and follow along while I listen to a few different recordings to get a few takes on existing interpretations of the music on harpsichord, and also piano. While listening and reading, I am already hearing possible musical phrases played on different instruments based on the “personality” of the music. Next, I carefully examine the ranges of the notes to see if any particular sections exclude any instruments.  From there, it is a process of imagination- hearing and seeing BCOC and the specific musicians on stage performing the music.

  1. What are you hoping the audience will experience through your arrangements?

As an avid listener, I am always most powerfully drawn to music where I can really understand the musical phrasing and structure. I am hoping that my arrangement will amplify both the bigger picture of the musical phrasing as well as the subtle and fleeting beautiful moments that are everywhere in Bach, yet so easy to miss. Also, I am hoping that the ever changing ensemble will keep the audience’s ears fresh and focus attuned to the next unexpected turn!

  1. It seems like your arrangement was especially well suited for our ensemble and the personality of our orchestra. Can you comment on that and whether that entered into your thinking?

This is a great question, and one I think about often, especially when studying chamber or orchestral works.  When writing a new cantata every week, with very limited rehearsal time, I am certain that J.S. Bach made specific compositional choices based on who he knew would be playing the part the following Sunday. Another great example is Mozart. I took a class on Mozart operas in college, and learned that the orchestra in Prague had a very strong viola section, and I can personally attest that the viola part Mozart wrote for Don Giovanni (which was commissioned for a performance in Prague) is really challenging- much more so than the viola part in The Marriage of Figaro (which was composed for Vienna). We could also consider Vivaldi, who wrote many of his works for his students at the Ospedale della Pietà. Likewise, when arranging, the specific performers always factor in to my decisions. As I know all these musicians closely, I have a sense for how to draw on our strengths as a full group, as members of sections, and individually to produce the best results that also hopefully feel good to play and like everyone is being utilized to their full potential.

  1. How do you think this project, and the performance when it happens, will change your perspective on the Goldberg Variations going forward?

Whenever I have done an arranging project, on future hearings of the original work, I can’t help but hear my version in the performance of the original.  In some cases, I hear a unique or different take on the phrasing that I really like and think, maybe I should revisit my arrangement and consider how to work that in.  The process is really never finished for me!

Goldberg Variations

On February 29 and March 1 the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado will perform an exciting new arrangement of the Goldberg Variations ( We will also perform the concert on February 28 in Tabernash ( I’m very excited to share this program with our audiences! Below are my program notes.

Legend has it that Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the so-called Goldberg Variations for Count Kaiserling, who asked his private harpsichordist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg to perform the variations late at night to cheer him up during sleepless nights. It’s an attractive story, but modern scholars say there’s no evidence and find two issues with the account: Goldberg would have been 13 years old at the time Bach wrote the variations, and Bach did not inscribe the title page with a dedication to the Count, which protocol would have required. Bach’s title of the work, translated to English is, “Aria with diverse variations for a harpsichord with two keyboards.” The name Goldberg Variations has nevertheless stuck through the centuries.

Whether or not the story of sleepless nights has any truth, it’s fruitful to dig deeper and look at the “Aria with Diverse Variations” in the framework of a large, multi-year project for Bach: the publishing of the Clavier-Übung (Keyboard Practice). Between 1731 and 1741, Bach published four keyboard collections as a summation of his work as a player and composer of keyboard music. There were four volumes (with the Goldberg Variations as the final volume) encompassing most of the types of keyboard music and all the national styles prevalent in Europe that Bach would have been familiar with. “With this kaleidoscope of published keyboard music,” according to Christoph Wolff, “Bach had erected nothing short of a monument to his own artistry, anticipating the Obituary’s declaration that he was ‘the greatest organ and clavier player that we have ever had.'”

Although the Goldberg Variations were circulated widely in and after Bach’s time, there is no record of public performances until the 20th century. The harpsichordist Wanda Landowska made several pioneering recordings beginning in the 1930’s, using an instrument quite different from the harpsichords of Bach’s time. Pianist Glenn Gould made iconic and best-selling recordings on the modern piano in 1955 and 1981. His eccentric but captivating performances brought the Goldberg Variations to light for modern audiences, and later began a debate about which of the two recordings was best (a debate in part about youth vs. maturity!).

With the evolution of the early music movement, a number of notable harpsichordists have performed and recorded the Goldberg Variations from the 1980’s to the present day, bringing a new focus to the work’s original purpose with the unique sound of two-manual harpsichords made in the 18th-century tradition, along with a wide range of interpretation. At the same time, there have been a number of transcriptions for other instruments and ensembles during this period  ̶  everything from jazz trio and guitar to digital synthesizer. This is not too surprising given the popularity of the work and the fact that much of Bach’s music can migrate convincingly to different instruments and sounds.

Hearing the Goldberg Variations as a whole, one can delight in the simple yet beautiful aria, and enjoy Bach’s ingenuity in probing that melody in 30 different ways, then concluding with a return to the aria. Every third variation is a canon, a form that relies on strict imitation of melodic lines. (Think of a round like “Row, row, row your boat” to understand how a canon works). As if that wasn’t enough, Bach raises the level of the canon each time: canon at the unison, canon at the second, canon at the third, and so on. Other variations draw on a variety of styles and dances familiar to Bach and his listeners, and others stretch the technical demands on the keyboardist beyond anything seen to that point.

In all of this, we can see Bach’s continual pursuit of musical perfection. Wolff points to the principle of unity, derived from the concept of the harmony of the spheres, as a driving force in Bach’s musical career. “Individually and collectively Bach’s works demonstrate the musical realization of unity in diversity, of musical perfection.”

However, if that seems too lofty as a way to hear the Goldberg Variations, one can still think of them as a wonderful way to calm and cheer a restless night!


Our ensemble has been exploring the Goldberg Variations for several years now, trying out different ensemble arrangements of specific variations. As the next step in this journey, we wanted to create a new performance of the Aria and all the variations in order, one that would honor the genius of Bach’s original for harpsichord while creating a new dimension through the addition of strings. The resulting performance includes 9 variations played by the solo harpsichord, 12 variations for a full ensemble of strings and continuo, and 9 variations for smaller subsets of instruments. I am grateful to our violist and arranger Alex Vittal, who has created a fresh, adventurous arrangement of the Goldbergs that reflects the unique personality of our orchestra and its players. And to my friend and colleague Katherine Heater, who has selected nearly a third of these virtuosic variations to perform in their original splendor on  two-manual harpsichord.

Any performance or hearing of the Goldberg Variations feels like a journey in itself. We’re glad you’ve joined us for the journey!

Frank Nowell

Dido and Aeneas

The Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado will begin 2020 with a new production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. I’m very excited to come back to this gem from the English Baroque after 10 years. There are so many things to like in this opera! It’s just about one hour long, with a simple but compelling story told with a wonderful sense of timing and pacing. It’s in English, so no need for translation or supertitles. And finally there is Purcell’s inventive and very accessible music, beginning with an almost breathless overture that draws you right in, and concluding with one of the most popular songs in classical music – Dido’s Lament. Purcell managed to fill an hour-long opera with so much – a tragedy with a little comedy and satire, touching on themes of love, lust, politics and gender.

We have a wonderful cast for these performances. Emily Marvosh (contralto) will sing the role of Dido and her nemesis the Sorceress, which brings an interesting twist to the production! Andrew Garland (baritone) will sing Aeneas. He is a multi-dimensional artist who has recently joined the faculty of University of Colorado at Boulder; I’m thrilled to have him join BCOC for the first time. Danielle Sampson (soprano) has performed with BCOC often, including the last year’s Orfeo. She was also our first Dido during her student days in Denver. Danielle made the switch along the way from being an alto to now singing soprano, so I asked her to be our Belinda this time around!

We are taking a first step toward doing some staging, but it will be minimal and focused on the four main roles. The whole concept of a “semi-staged” production can be a little vague – there is a wide range of possibilities. But I think semi-staging can be very effective, especially with Baroque opera. Without all the elements of a fully staged production, an opera like Dido and Aeneas can communicate in other ways – through gestures, facial expressions, and body language. And the performers can connect with the audience in a powerful way, allowing it to focus on the visceral human emotions.

Finally, I wanted to mention a special project that is happening around our production. Heather Delzell, a Denver artist who painted a new portrait of Arcangelo Corelli featured on the cover of our recent CD, Corelli’s Circle, asked her art students at Regis Jesuit High School to paint portraits based on Dido and Aeneas. “The majority of the students painted portraits of their most revered character,” according to Heather. “Some felt called to depict Carthage’s landscape, or a dramatic scene of Dido and Aeneas in a deep embrace. The larger goal was to ferret out the deeper truth of their subjects. Beyond likeness, capture and uncover the interiority of their subjects.”

The results will be shown in a special exhibit in the lobby at our January 12 performance at Central Presbyterian Church in Denver, with the work of some 25 students on display.

Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado presents
Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas
Saturday, January 11, 2020 at 7:30 pm
St. Luke’s UMC, 8817 S Broadway, Highlands Ranch
Sunday January 12, 2020 at 3:00 pm
Antonio Brico Stage, Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman St, Denver

Orfeo and the Power of Music

A big thank you to all who joined us for Monteverdi’s Orfeo to close out the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado’s 2018-19 season. For me it was an incredible thrill to perform this early masterpiece, a culmination of a two-year journey, and the perfect conclusion to a season that called “Music that Moves.” I was in awe of the entire cast, the wonderful early wind specialists, and of course our own BCOC musicians, all led and inspired by guest conductor-lutenist Stephen Stubbs.  (To view bios from our principal guest artists, see BCOC’s Guest Artists page).

From our vantage point in 2019, Monteverdi’s Orfeo can be viewed through various lenses. The work is often considered as the first great opera, and has secured a place in both the mainstream opera repertory and the historical performance scene. Monteverdi and the early experimenters in the art form we now call opera were concerned with reviving principles from ancient Greek theatre and music, which makes the resulting works something like “early music times two” for us! “We are evoking a performance of 400 years ago that itself sought to evoke a performance more than a millennium earlier still.” (Tom Kelly)

In its time Orfeo was sometimes called a fable in music (Favola in Musica), which points to Renaissance themes and philosophy that would have been familiar to the work’s first audience in Mantua, 1607. But Orfeo is at its heart a classic, timeless love story, resounding through the centuries to Monteverdi’s astonishing music. It also speaks to the power of music itself. After all, Orpheus himself is the legendary musician who “drew wild beasts to him by his singing.” And Monteverdi significantly begins the entire work (after the signature opening toccata) with an extended monologue delivered by the personification of Music herself, including this verse:

I am Music, who in sweet accents
can calm each troubled heart,
and now with noble anger, now with love,
can kindle the most frigid minds.

In the words of John Eliot Gardner, “the truth is that Monteverdi’s ‘musical fable’ is a brilliant and compelling manifesto for the inalienable power of music – to complement and mesh with good verse, but also to take over the moment when words prove inadequate.”

Early Music Month

For some of us, every month is Early Music Month! But as it turns out, March is specifically designated that way. Early Music Month is a national, grassroots campaign designed to raise awareness of early (Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque) music throughout the North American music community.

I agree with Thomas Forrest Kelly that early music is “beautiful and intriguing; it expands our horizons and nourishes our souls.” In his wonderful book, Early Music: a Very Short Introduction, Kelly talks about two key trends of the early music movement:  a rediscovery of little-known repertories, and the effort to recover lost performing styles.

The Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado is certainly shaped and influenced by these two trends; in fact they are a vital part of why we exist. BCOC lives within a rich and vibrant early music “scene.” This scene is, at the same time, local and national (or really, international).

Locally, the growth and vitality of early music in the Denver area has been exciting to watch. This local scene includes ensembles and organizations like Seicento, Boulder Bach Festival, Colorado Bach Ensemble, and the Denver Early Music Consort, to name just a few. It also includes chamber-music groups like Semplice, Parish House Baroque (based in Colorado Springs), and the new viol consort Byrd on a Wire. A wonderful chamber series, Happy Hour Concerts, spotlights a wide variety of early-music artists and small groups in an intimate, casual setting.

A number of local universities enhance the scene and help cultivate the players and audiences of the future through their early music programs and ensembles. This school year the University of Colorado in Boulder inaugurated the Eugene D. Eaton, Jr., Chair in Baroque Music Performance with renowned harpsichordist Robert Hill, who came to CU after serving as professor for historical keyboard instruments and performance practice at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik Freiburg in Germany.

As important as the local early music scene is, BCOC also benefits from, and contributes to, a lively national scene. About a quarter of our core members and a number of our guest artists are from outside Colorado. This enriches our ensemble with different perspectives, new research, and new insights. And the collegiality and friendships multiply as we play with each other and expand our own networks. (A positive aspect of social media is being able to keep up on what each other is doing!)

I have the honor of serving on the board of directors of Early Music America, and am inspired by their work to “develop, strengthen, and celebrate early music in North America.” In addition to sponsoring Early Music Month, that work includes awards, scholarships, grants, web-based resources, and an annual Young Performers Festival & Emerging Artists Showcase. I encourage you to become a member of EMA if you love early music. It will enable you to tap into a wider network while supporting the good work they do to cultivate the future of early music.

And, I hope you will celebrate Early Music Month: attend local concerts, listen to your favorite recordings (and buy some new ones), and above all expand your horizons through this beautiful and intriguing music.


Tales of Two Cities

I’m very excited about Tafelmusik’s Tales of Two Cities program, which will be presented twice in the Denver-Boulder area next week as part of the Canadian Baroque orchestra’s national tour. Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House is a multi-media exploration of the rich musical tradition and innovation of 18th -century coffee houses in Germany and Syria. The program was conceived  by Tafelmusik double bassist Alison Mackay, who also designed previous multimedia presentations for the ensemble. I had the opportunity to ask Alison some questions via email to find out more about this extraordinary program.

How did the concept of Tales of Two Cities come to be?
I had been preparing an earlier project on the subject of J.S. Bach and his material world — it was a celebration of the artisans, performers and community members whose labour made it possible for Bach to realize his musical inspiration in actual performances.  One topic was the family who for five years had supplied the paper on which Bach wrote out some of his most beloved works.  The paper is identifiable from its watermarks, the trademark designs made in thin wire which were placed in the molds which shaped each sheet of paper at the time.

In doing research about eighteenth-century watermarks I came across some fascinating work being done at the library of the University of Leipzig about European papers which had been used in the Refaiya Collection, a body of manuscripts, most of them from the 17th and 18th centuries, from a private home in Damascus.  The collection, which contains poetry, travel literature, love letters, and scientific, legal and religious texts came to Leipzig University, because of its department of Arabic studies which dated from  the time of Bach.

One of the treasures in the collection was a set of performance books owned by a storyteller who performed tales from the Arabian Nights in the coffee-houses of Damascus in the eighteenth century.  Because of the importance of coffeehouse culture in Bach’s tenure in Leipzig, and because, as I learned along the way,  both Damascus and Leipzig were importance centres of scholarship, commerce and music in the 18th century, I thought the two cities could make a fascinating setting for an evening of classical music from Europe and the Arabic world.

How does this project differ from your previous multimedia programs?
This project is blessed with the participation Trio Arabica,  a wonderful ensemble of players of Arabic classical music who have worked with me to establish points at which we could juxtapose pieces linked by theme or by rhythmic structure, or points where we could actually play together.  The playing of our guests gives the concert a unique character and is an invigorating source of musical inspiration for us in the orchestra.  Also, some small sections of the narrated script are spoken in Arabic.

What is the significance of the “coffee house,”  in terms of music, history and culture?
Both Damascus and Leipzig had lively coffeehouse cultures in the eighteenth century. The coffee plant, coffea arabica, is native to Ethiopia but is first known to have been cultivated as a crop in Yemen, where it was consumed in Sufi worship.  Coffee gradually traveled north from Yemen to Syria, to Istanbul and then to Europe through the city of Venice.

The earliest coffeehouses in Damascus became places of refreshment, story-telling and musical entertainment. Quite a bit is known about the actual stories that were told and the instruments that were played in the coffeehouses in Syria in the mid eighteenth century when our concert is set.

The first coffeehouses were opened in Leipzig around 1700, just after public street lighting was introduced into the city.  For the first time, ordinary people who didn’t have servants or carriages to protect them  could walk in safety in the streets after their working day and enjoy the new exotic products of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.  By 1740 there were eight of these establishments in Leipzig and several of them became associated with performances of music.  For a number of years Bach directed concerts in Zimmermann’s café on Friday evenings from 8 until 10.

Have there been surprises as your vision of the program became a reality?
I had wanted to choose a story for our actor to tell in the course of the concert from the collection of stories which had been owned by the real eighteenth-century storyteller from Damascus.  I had chosen a story about a refugee; the original tale had appeared in the writings of a 12th century scholar and mystic named Al-Ghazali (it’s a story that by the eighteenth century had been absorbed into the loose collection of tales told by Scheherezade which became known as the Arabian Nights.)

At the same time, I was working with a scholar from the Dresden State Museums who was supervising the restoration of an exquisite reception room with decorated wooden wall panels from an eighteenth-century house in Damascus. This room had come into the possession of the museum in Dresden and had been recently restored by Dr. Anke Scarrahs.  She and the museum became partners in the project and provided the beautiful high-resolution images of the historical room which were used in the design of our theatrical set-piece with its projection screen.

One of the features of Damascus reception rooms was the painting of beautiful panels of calligraphy high up on the walls.   There were important Muslim and Christian and Jewish communities in Damascus in the eighteenth century.    In the houses of members of each of these faiths, the calligraphy would always be in Arabic but the texts in Muslim homes would usually be from the Koran or from devotional poetry; in Jewish homes they would be from the Torah and in Christian homes they would usually be from the Psalms or the New Testament.  It turned out by a complete coincidence that the calligraphy in “our” room depicted poetry by that same 12th c. scholar and mystic, Al-Ghazali, who had written the story about the refugee.

So there we were, on our modern stage in Toronto, portraying by a fluke,  two works of an 800-year-old writer in narrated storytelling and in visual art.   It wasn’t until Anke Scharrahs came to Toronto and attended some rehearsals that she realized that the coffeehouse story and the poetry in the calligraphy came from the same author.


Something for Everyone

Our February concerts will have a little something for everyone.

In the words of Ruth Carver in her preview article for With pieces voted on by listeners at their recent December concerts, and a mix of other classics, this “A Taste for Baroque” program is sure to have something to suit every palate. As Artistic Director Frank Nowell explains, the program reflects a desire to have a “shared experience of live music” with the performers and the audience. The sheer variety of Baroque-era music means there is something for everyone offered in BCOC’s trademark un-intimidating style.
Check out the full article here.

Here are four things I’m particularly looking forward to with this program:

  1. The Telemann Concerto for Three Violins from his Tafelmusik Collection.
    I’m surprised this terrific triple concerto doesn’t get more airplay, and am excited to feature our own Martin Davids, Stacey Brady, and Brune Macary as soloists. You will likely recognize the opening, which mirrors the theme of Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. Handel likely “borrowed” the tune from Telemann rather than the other way around. The two were lifelong friends, and what’s a little borrowing among friends?
  2. Our first BCOC performance of the Pachelbel Canon in D (yes, that one!).
    The piece that became ubiquitous in the 70’s and 80’s still endures, and was the #1 vote getter our  audience voting. For our performance I asked the same three violinists from the Tafelmusik concerto – Marty, Stacey and Brune -to play the Canon as one of the “appetizers” on our musical menu. I hope you enjoy our spin on this ultra-familiar piece… and will then check out Johann Pachelbel’s other wonderful music (yes, he wrote other music; ask me for recommendations!)
  3. Welcoming Adam Knight Gilbert as guest artist. Adam is director of the early music program at University of Southern California and my colleague on the board of Early Music America. He is especially known for his performances and recordings as a Renaissance wind specialist. Don’t miss his pre-concert talk one hour before each performance, with a demonstration of early instruments including bagpipes and shawm. For this program we’ll showcase the Baroque side of Adam’s artistry, with a virtuoso recorder concerto by Telemann.
  1. Original improvisations on Greensleeves and La Folia.
    Adam is also known for his masterful improvisations. I took this opportunity to ask him to lead us in group improvisations on two popular tunes from the Baroque. Improvisation is such an integral part of stylish Baroque music-making, and we are always seeking to push the boundaries in that direction!

It’s always a pleasure to feature our core ensemble of strings and continuo players. Martin Davids (usually our principal second violinist) will serve as guest concertmaster for these concerts. Leader-violinist Cynthia Miller Freivogel returns to Denver in May for Monteverdi’s Orfeo – more information on that very soon!

Note: The superb Canadian Baroque orchestra Tafelmusik comes to Denver and Boulder in early March as part of their intriguing “Tales of Two Cities” (Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House) tour. I highly encourage you to attend one of these performances if you can! The week of February 25th, visit this blog to read my interview with some of the artists involved in this wonderful multi-media production.

A New Portrait of Corelli

Heather Delzell is a Denver-based artist and art teacher whose figurative paintings of men and women “project a courtly international sensibility with rich symbolism,” according to her website. When I decided to have a new portrait of Arcangelo Corelli made for the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado’s third album, Corelli’s Circle, she was the natural person to ask. Fortunately it did not take much to persuade Heather, for whom Baroque music (and other musical genres) is a big part of her life!

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Heather about the project of painting a portrait of Corelli as if he were alive and making music in 2019.

What are you currently involved in as an artist/teacher?
I refer to myself as a figurative representational painter. I predominately paint females, and my subject matter is “transcendence.” I portray people who live now, but the costumes, the settings, the colors, the gestures are all echoes of Baroque painting. I also teach privately and at the Regis High School girls’ division. My main interest there is teaching old masters’ drawing and oil painting techniques. I’ve actually learned many of my teaching techniques from music teachers. Like music, to learn art you need to learn nuts and bolts… and then how to be expressive.

What interested you about this project?
I love Baroque music, and nothing delighted me more than doing a CD cover for BCOC and this incredible group! So much of my painting is a modern take on Baroque work. I love the fact that “Baroque” is a Portuguese word for a misshapen pearl. In painting, this manifested itself in depicting the human figure as flawed and messy, very real… sometimes even frightening. I love to paint people who have been through difficult times and are able to come out the other side and hopefully help others. I saw Corelli as that type of person. No one can create with that much depth without experiencing a lot of pain and joy.

What is similar or different from your other art?
The main difference is  the person portrayed  is male! I don’t paint males often because I am not male myself, and I want to be authentic. For me to tell men’s stories – I need to be very sensitive in how I do that.  It wasn’t difficult though, because musicians have to harness their female and male sides to create something that is their own.

How did you go about developing a concept of a “contemporary Corelli?”
I thought of him as if we were great friends. We would talk about the things that old friends do:  life and love, what we are making,  what’s hard and what’s going well, our insecurities and our triumphs. I wanted to see if I could portray some of that, and one of the ways you can do that is in the human face. I wanted him to look directly at us. A hooded eyelid gives a more pensive and reflective quality; a mouth looks most human when it’s not perfectly symmetrical. The use of blue was a nod to the Baroque. Ultramarine blue was the most valuable color since lapis was so rare, and it was used especially when depicting Mary and the celestial. The position of the violin in the portrait is very modern… and very masculine, like a tie or a cross.

What music do you listen to? Does music influence your art?
I have really eclectic tastes. I listen to jazz and classical and lots of older music from France and Spain; it absolutely affects my work. If I knew how, I wouldn’t have to paint it!  I always listen to music while I paint, 100 percent of the time.

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

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