The Rose and the Briar

On March 24-26, 2023, Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado will present a special Confluence concert, Appalachian Roots. This program fits perfectly into our season theme of “Musical Migrations!” It is co-curated by BCOC guitarist Paul Holmes Morton and guest soprano Fiona Gillespie. Fiona and Paul will be joined by three BCOC musicians and two of their bandmates for a magical evening of music and story, told through through interwoven ballads, songs, and dance tunes from the theaters of London to the porches of Appalachian homesteads. Here’s a sneak preview of the program notes:

The direct transmission of tunes and ballads from England, Scotland, and Ireland to the eastern United States during the many waves of mass emigrations in the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in the unique preservation of a musical tradition that later functioned as the tributary to the 20th century’s flowering of what we think of today as American music. Aside from the major influence of myriad African-American cultures upon our artistic identity, there is perhaps no stronger musical thread between the old and new worlds than that of British Isles and Celtic folk music. The music brought over by those Scotch-Irish and English settlers in the 17 and 1800s traveled through the port of Philadelphia, south into the Appalachian Mountains, where it carried on generation to isolated generation, changed by its new home and evolving people, but also vastly unchanged, for the next two centuries. When English ballad collectors from the budding field of ethnomusicology arrived in the southeastern United States in the early 20th century, chasing rumors of the presence of the “old songs”, they found a treasure trove of ballads which were often closer to the oldest traceable variants in remote corners of the British Isles than the versions of the songs that were being sung by the majority of old-world folk singers at the current time. 

In many cases the songs had changed somewhat. Often, they had dropped verses, usually the ones providing contextual background and the lengthier elements of narrative development, leaving only fragments of conversation, or the core, juiciest portion of the bigger story. If a song had contained a supernatural component, this was almost always removed from its American counterpart. But some ballads remained amazingly the same. Barbara Allen is one such example. In fact, this ballad shows remarkably little variety in form, story, and verse anywhere it has been found, its hundreds of variants having only minor differences. One reason for this might be the potency of the story of Barbara Allen. In a corpus of ballads full of strange events and fairytale-like scenarios, Barbara Allen offers us a very relatable story, even if the consequence of the character’s behavior is exaggerated in an extreme outcome. Barbara Allen is a tale of warning applicable to every one of us, and a story of redemption desperately attractive to all of us. 

At the beginning of the 20th century the ballads and tunes began to be collected, published, and recorded. They grew into newer versions, with outlying stylistic influences, and they inspired the composition of new songs. Over the years and geographic regions, these Old Time songs and their companion tunes have become our bluegrass, frontier, and country western music, and eventually led to the popular singer-songwriter folk revival blossoming that began in the 1960s and continues in a cascade of output today. 

We built this program around the narrative of Barbara Allen, telling the story in prose and verse, through five melodic variants from the Child Ballads collection (published 1860, London); one English, two Scottish, and two American. The program is fleshed out with songs and tunes from the old-world Celtic, but mostly new-world Appalachian repertoire that bring the story to a life representative of the rich legacy from which it comes. We also include Playford tunes, and two arias from Henry Purcell’s operas – a nod to the somewhat thinner line that existed between “folk” and “art” music up through the Baroque era. The Playford tunes that come down to us through John Playford’s collection, The Dancing Master are old English country dance tunes that were transcribed for broad dissemination and eventually imported to the American colonies, intermingling on both sides of the Atlantic with the rawer forms of folk music to form the continuing stream of this ancient tradition. 

Fiona Gillespie and Paul Holmes Morton

Nature’s Voice

Each year Cynthia and I plan our summer directors’ concert, thinking about what music and composers are especially on our minds, and who we might invite to join us. It’s always a fun conversation!

This summer we are thrilled to be joined by soprano Laura Heimes, a favorite guest artist of BCOC over the years. BCOC fans will remember her extraordinary performances in La Susanna, Bach’s Wachet Auf, and Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate. For our directors’ concert this week, we are excited to have her sing five of the exquisite Nine German Arias by Handel!

The German Arias are unique in Handel’s output. It was rare for him to set his native language to music, but when he did he turned to the poetry of his longtime friend, Barthold Heinrich Brockes. Handel selected poems from  Brockes’ collection, Iridishce Vergnugen in Gott (Earthly Comforts of God), celebrating the joy and spiritual connections found in the natural world. The arias (both text and music) radiate with beauty and inner joy.

Our music-making always takes place in the context of “now” — our lives, our communities, even our planet, in the present moment. Part of that context is an increasing disconnectedness of human society from the natural world. To this context the German Arias speak to us across the centuries. As a sort of counterpoint, Bach’s Chaconne in D minor for solo violin taps into the experience of lament and related emotions we may feel in the present moment.

We have also selected three brief poems by Mary Oliver to help connect past with present. Oliver devoted much of her work to being closely attentive to nature.  I believe she would have agreed with Brockes that the “language of nature…speaks to us everywhere.” Listening to that language, and those voices, may lead us to new and hopeful pathways.

Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado
Directors’ Concert: Nature’s Voice
Thursday, July 21, 2022 at 7:00 pm
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
2201 Dexter St., Denver (Park Hill Neighborhood)
Tickets available at the door.

Laura Heimes, soprano
Cynthia Freivogel, violin
Frank Nowell, harpsichord


Handel German Arias
Singe Seele, Gott zum Preise
   Die ihr aus dunklen Gru£ten
Sü£er Blumen Ambraflocken
Poem: When I am Among the Trees
Handel, Adagio from Suite for Harpsichord in F major  
Purcell, Tis Nature’s Voice (from Ode to St. Cecilia)
Poem: Lead
Bach, Chaconne for Solo Violin from Partita in D minor, BWV 1004
Poem: Daisies
Handel, German Arias
Sü£er Stille, sanfte Quelle
Meine Seele hört im Sehen

Bach in March

There is never a bad time of year to play Bach, but March – as his birthday month – is an especially good time! (March is also Early Music Month and Women’s History Month… more on that in my next blog post!)

Here are some concerts I’m involved in this month and next featuring the music of Bach. And it’s thrilling to be playing live music for audiences again!

An Evening of Baroque Music with the Fittz-Nowell Duo
Saturday, March 5 at 7:00 pm
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 2015 Glenarm Place, Denver
Suggested donation: $25 at the event (credit card option available)
The concert is a benefit for Rocky Mountain Refuge, a wonderful new non-profit organization providing dignified end-of-life care in a safe environment to our terminally ill unhoused neighbors. I’m honored to partner with good friend and colleague Jim Fittz to support this very good cause. In addition to three Bach pieces, two sonatas for cello and harpsichord by Geminiani and a solo harpsichord suite by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre.

Discover Baroque: Zimmerman’s Coffee House
Wednesday March 16 at Noon
Not a concert, but a one-hour presentation on Zoom with recorded musical examples as part of BCOC’s Discover Baroque series for life-long learning. Some of Bach’s most enduring and beloved instrumental works, as well as his comic “Coffee Cantata,” received their first performances in the intimate surroundings of Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig. Learn more about this unusual music venue and what Bach performed there. 

Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado presents Bach’s Coffee Cantata
Sunday, March 20 (the day before Bach’s birthday) at 7:00 pm
Wildcat Mountain Auditorium, Highlands Ranch
An instrumental ensemble from BCOC will be joined by three Colorado favorites – soprano Danielle Reutter-Harrah, baritone Adam Ewing, and tenor Joseph Gaines, for a new production of the cantata staged as a comic mini-opera. Rounding out the program is music of Telemann: Concerto Polonois and Flute Concerto in D major, with Tamara Meredith as soloist. A good time will be had by all!

Happy Hour Concerts: Complete Gamba Sonatas
Moving into April, I will be appearing on the wonderful Happy Hour Concert series on April 8 with gambist Benjamin Cline for Bach’s three sonatas for viola da gamba and obbligato harpsichord. This is my first opportunity to play all three of these amazing sonatas in one concert. I look forward to playing them with Ben in an intimate space for the Happy Hour audience on April 8 at 6:00 pm, and also for the Cottonwood Festival in Hays, Kansas on April 2.

Thinking of the gamba sonatas reminds me of this quote from Bach scholar Christoph Wolff:
Perfectly constructed and unique in sound, Bach’s compositions offer the ideal of bringing into congruence original thought, technical exactitude, and aesthetic beauty, Whatever the category of music and whatever the level of achievement, …individually and collectively Bach’s works demonstrate the musical realization of unity in diversity, of musical perfection.

Sweet and Savory

The Directors’ Concert has been a mainstay for the Baroque Chamber Orchestra over the years. This informal and (almost) annual event has been an opportunity for Cynthia and me, as BCOC co-directors, to perform some of our favorite chamber music and some aspects of Baroque music that each of us have been exploring, on our own or together. It’s also been a chance for us to talk about what we are especially excited about in the season to come.

This Thursday our Directors’ Concert takes on special meaning as a key event in our transition back to live music-making… with an audience! Our program  “A Sweet and Savory Mix,” is one that we have had to postpone more than once  to the pandemic. We are more excited than ever to share this program with you now!

At the heart of our program is Arcangelo Corelli, with three of his iconic sonatas from opus 5 for violin and continuo. One of the three is the composer’s famous variations on La Folia (we may add a few variations of our own!). Rounding out this decidedly Italian program is an extraordinary sonata by Isabella Leonarda, a long-neglected predecessor of Corelli (their lives actually overlapped by about 50 years), whose unique compositional voice can be heard in her instrumental sonatas as well as her sacred vocal music.

To celebrate the joy of live music-making in the moment that we have all been missing, we will also include an original improvisation on this program. I am excited to welcome my continuo partner and BCOC lutenist-guitarist Paul Holmes Morton to our directors’ concert this year.

I hope you can join us for this concert! It will be great to see so many of you in person again, and Cynthia and I look forward to a wonderful evening together… with sweet and savory music from the Baroque!

Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado presents
A Sweet and Savory Mix
Cynthia Miller Freivogel, violin
Frank Nowell, harpsichord
Paul Morton, theorbo
Thursday, July 29, 2021 at 7:00 pm
Wellshire Presbyterian Church
2999 S. Colorado Blvd.

Please purchase your ticket online in advance, and bring your paper receipt or display it on your phone.

The Future of Baroque

Our first Discover Baroque series last May was on “The Story of the Early Music Movement.”  I ended that presentation by talking about current and future trends in the movement and wondering, where do we go next? Our upcoming Discover Baroque, on November 4, may answer some of those questions as we spotlight four young performers who are making careers in the Baroque performance scene.

Each of these artist has in some way been part of the circle for the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado.

Chloe Prendergast was our apprentice violinist in the 2014-15 season. She also served BCOC as an organizational intern, helping to develop a new “Envoy” program for expanding our audience, and previously played in our Baroque con Brio youth ensemble. She is now based in the Netherlands, where she is artistic director of the Beethoven Festival of the Hague and a member of Holland Baroque and the Butter Quartet.

Stephen Gamboa-Diaz was the winner of our first Young Artist Spotlight in May 2018, when he played with us for the complete Brandenburg Concertos (many of you will remember his wonderful performance of the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto!). He is a church musician in Connecticut and is in demand as a soloist and chamber musician as harpsichordist and organist.

Paul Holmes Morton is familiar to BCOC fans as a member of our continuo group (on theorbo, lute, and guitar), most recently for our January 2020 performances of Dido and Aeneas. He is a musician of wide-ranging interests, blending music of the Baroque and earlier periods with other genres that include Celtic and Appalachian styles.

Karin Cuellar Rendon is new to our BCOC circle, but is a violinist who we hope you will get to know better in the coming months! A native of Bolivia who currently pursuing a musical doctorate at McGill University, she is helping to bring to 21st-century light the music of Pedro Ximinez Abrill, a Pervian-Bolivian composer of the late 18th and early 19th century.

I look forward to having an informal conversation with these four young artists. I will be asking them to talk a little about their careers and current projects, and to share their thoughts on what’s next in historical performance.

I hope you will join us!

Discover Baroque: “The Future of Baroque”

Four young performers in BCOC’s circle join an informal conversation with Frank Nowell, talking about why they chose a career path in Baroque performance, some of their current music-making projects, and what they envision for the future. Join us for this special edition of Discover Baroque, a series of monthly learning sessions on Zoom. Come and be inspired!

Wednesday November 4 at 12 noon MT 
Register here for this free program.
There is no need to register again if you have participated in earlier Discover Baroque sessions. A recording will be available after the live event.

Hearts Resounding

Music is always placed in time, and has a meaning that is particular to that time.

Of course when we play historical music that is especially true; the music has a context in its own time period. But playing Baroque music in the 21st century also taps into the context of our present day. I re-read Pablo Casals memoirs, Joys and Sorrows this summer and was moved by how Casals always viewed music in the context of his own time and place, including the struggles for freedom, peace and human rights.

Our season opening concert, Hearts Resounding celebrates the power of music – in this present moment – to evoke our brightest joys and tap into our deepest longings. The music I chose for this program expresses both joys and sorrows (as so much of Baroque music does!), but also our longings to connect – to connect with each other across our divides… and with something larger than ourselves.

For the musicians of Baroque Chamber Orchestra this concert was the first time we had made music together since March 1. As we rehearsed and recorded through the week, I felt there was a deep gratitude present to be able to be together again… and to have the opportunity to play music together. Of course, we were missing something very important – having an audience in the room with us. For now we will have to rely on technology to help us make that connection.

We were also missing some of our core musicians who were unable to be with us for this concert. Unable to travel at this time, violinist Cynthia Miller Freivogel will be featured in our November program Salzburg 1715, recorded in a beautiful Amsterdam church (this is a virtual concert not to be missed!).  Lara Turner was also unable to be with us, but recorded a beautiful rendition of the Bach Prelude in G for Hearts Resounding.

This program is a blend of the familiar and not-so-familiar. Bach’s Air and Gavotte and the Cello Prelude in G major are familiar friends, and the Handel Passacaille and Gigue has been a signature piece for BCOC concerts over the last 15 years. The Telemann viola concerto (with Emily Bowman as soloist) is to me one of the happiest pieces in the repertoire!  In the new and unfamiliar category we have a new chaconne for solo violin composed and performed by concertmaster Martin Davids, plus an Air and Variations by Michael Festing, an English contemporary of Handel.

I hope you will join us for Hearts Resounding!

This virtual concert begins at 5pm Mountain Time  Oct. 18, 2020, with a live chat, and will be available on demand for one week.
Click here to register
Suggested donation $20. A link will be emailed to all who register and to subscribers shortly before the concert.

Program Listing:

Bach, Air and Gavotte from Suite in D Major, BWV 1068
(preceded by a harpsichord prelude by Fischer)

Handel, Sinfonia in B-Flat Major, HWV 338                     

Davids, Chaconne for Solo Violin

Telemann, Concerto in G major for Viola, Strings and Continuo, TWV 51:G9

Bach, Prelude from Suite in G major for Solo Cello, BWV 1007
Festing, Air and Variations from Sonata in G minor for violin and continuo

Handel, Passacaille and Gigue  from Terpsichore, HWV 8b  

Singular Voices

Singular Voices began with a desire to go deeper into a distinctly beautiful corner of the Baroque repertoire: solo unaccompanied works for violin, cello, and many other instruments. Most people think immediately of the monumental works by Bach in this genre, but a number of Bach’s predecessors and contemporaries also explored this musical territory.

Unaccompanied music for one player can draw us into new terrain emotionally, and achieve an intimacy that is distinctly different than chamber works involving two or more musicians. To delve deeper into this musical world, I invited three collaborating artists representing very different art forms to listen (with their own ears) to musical selections… and see where their imagination took them.

• Juan J. Morales was born in the U.S. to an Ecuadorian mother and a Puerto Rican father. He grew up in Colorado hearing family stories that inspired much of his first book of poetry. He is the Director of Creative Writing and an Assistant Professor at Colorado State University-Pueblo, and also teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. What especially attracted me to Juan’s poetry was the way he imbues the details of everyday life with a larger, mythical quality.

• Jessica Robblee refers to herself as a “theatre-maker,” which can include the creation of new theater pieces as writer, producer, and performer. She has appeared often with Buntport Theater and Stories on Stage, and is the recipient of the Westword Mastermind Award for Innovation in the Performing Arts. I am struck by Jessica’s ability to use humor as an opening to shed new and surprising light on our shared humanity.

• Joseph Gaines has a dual career as an operatic tenor and photographer, and is winner of the 2019 Historic Denver Photography award. I am captivated especially by Joe’s photographs of two very different subjects – Western landscapes and urban architecture, and his desire to “map the intersections of time and eternity” through his work.

I am excited to feature in this program the “singular voices” of Stacy Brady (violin), Sarah Biber (viola da gamba) and Linda Lunbeck (recorder). With three musicians from BCOC’s circle and three collaborating artists assembled, we embarked on a unique adventure! The music is selected from solo fantasias and sonatas by J.S. Bach, Telemann, and Abel.

Special thanks to Museo de las Americas for hosting us for this virtual concert. Their current exhibition in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum, “Rhythm and Ritual: Music of the Ancient Americas,” is available for viewing until October 17. It was an honor for us to be able to record our concert in the midst of this special exhibit, which connects us in the 21st century with the ancient roots of music-making in the Americas.

Singular Voices
Sign up to register to watch Singular Voices:
After you register, the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado will email you the link shortly before the concert, to watch the Premiere of Singular Voices on our new YouTube channel. The chat will be open when the concert begins at 7pm on Thursday, October 1, and will close at the end of the concert. The link will be available to access the video on-demand for one week.


The Waves, or, Las Olas and The Dream of Acceptance
written and performed by Juan J. Morales
with Violin Fantasia no. 10 in D major and Recorder Fantasia in no. 8 in G minor,
by Georg Philipp Telemann

A Very Particular Lady Has an Evening at Home
written and performed by Jessica Robblee
with Violin Sonata no. 2 in A minor: Grave and Allegro, by Johann Sebastian Bach

Supernal Geography: photographs by Joseph Gaines
with Sonata in A minor for viola da gamba by Carl Friedrich Abel

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