The Fantasia Factor

Thank you to all who attended to our season opener The Glories of Venice last weekend. The BCOC core ensemble thoroughly enjoyed working with some of Denver’s finest early-music singers to perform gems by Claudio Monteverdi. It was also wonderful to welcome bassist Anne Trout, filling in for our principal bassist David Crowe for this concert weekend. Anne told me that Monteverdi is her “mantra,” so having her for this particular program was a treat. One of the basses she regularly plays in Boston is an Italian instrument from 1610 that may have actually been played in the first performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers.

A highlight of the weekend for me was welcoming music students from El Sistema to our Saturday concert. Soprano Kathryn Radakovich, BCOC violist Alex Vittal, and I had an opportunity to chat with them briefly before the concert about the instruments, voices, and what it’s like to play music that is over 300 years old.

Though the Monteverdi selections were thrilling, I keep coming back to the violin sonata by Fontana performed by Cynthia Miller Freivogel. A free fantasia of a sonata, this piece unfolds over six minutes in a way that seems entirely out of time, alternating between moments of intimacy, whimsy, and passion. It was a reminder of Baroque’s exploratory and improvisational roots. This “fantasia factor” became an animating force, even as Baroque music evolved and became more structured over time.

And back to Monteverdi. I am excited to announce that we are laying the groundwork for a concert production of his monumental opera Orfeo in 2019!

Musical Mavericks

The origins of the word Baroque probably began with an insult. The Portuguese word barroca means misshapen or oddly shaped pearl. When applied to music it wasn’t meant as a compliment. For those who valued symmetry and order in music, the Baroque style in music represented something strange and even grotesque.  

Standing at the dawn of the 17th century in Venice, Claudio Monteverdi was one of several Italian composers exploring bold new dramatic forms of musical expression. He found himself in a fierce controversy as a result. A music theorist attacked him for breaking the time-honored rules of counterpoint, for taking too much license, and creating music that was crude. Monteverdi responded primarily through his music, not words. In his madrigals, operas, and sacred music, he continued to explore new musical paths, tapping into the depths of human emotion. In the words of Robert Hollingworth, “There’s very little artifice in Monteverdi’s music. It’s his own blood directly on the page.” 

Fast-forward a couple of generations in Venice, and Antonio Vivaldi was making a statement of his own. In a period where Arcadian values of balance and restraint were popular, Vivaldi in 1725 published the collection known as Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione, with 12 concertos including The Four Seasons. The title suggests a hypothetical contest between Harmony and Invention. “Harmony” referred to the science of composition, the accepted rules of composition, whereas “Invention” referred to the composer’s (and performer’s) inspiration and free imagination. Like Monteverdi, Vivaldi spoke through his music; it’s clear from these 12 concertos that he came down firmly on the side of Invention. 

So here’s to the rule breakers and musical mavericks of the past, and the odd-shaped pearls they created. Their music still has the power to astonish and move us!

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As we enter October (or “Rocktober” for Colorado baseball fans like me), the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado is hard at work preparing our season opener The Glories of Venice on October 13-15. The first concert of a new season of the BCOC always evokes memories for me of our debut 12 years ago. Our core ensemble has evolved and grown since then, and includes both charter members and newer colleagues. I am always excited to work with these wonderful collaborators! I’m also looking forward to sharing the stage next week with some of the area’s finest early music singers in works of Monteverdi, complemented with instrumental works by Fontana and Gabrieli. The second half is all Vivaldi, culminating in a fiery violin concerto from Harmony and Invention, with Cynthia Miller Freivogel as soloist. I hope you will join us! Find out more on our Concerts page.