Tuesday, January 24, 2012

If it Ain't Baroque, Don't Fix It!

January 29th brings the next KSO Chamber Classics series concert to the Bijou, this time with Baroque music taking the stage in a well-balanced program that will feature Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum in a different role.

I’m remembering from school that the word “Baroque” originally had quite a different meaning from what we have come to accept these days. From Spanish, French or Portugese origins, it was derived from a word meaning “rough or imperfect pearl.” Initially it was a derogatory term that dealt with an artwork’s “eccentric redundancy and noisy abundance of details.” As a means of differentiating between music of the leaner and cleaner Renaissance and Classical periods that preceded and followed the Baroque, the term is apt in its description of the ornate melodic display and counterpoint that characterizes the music of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and that crowd. The Classical period’s very streamlined, simplistic musical constructs (see last week’s Masterworks concert) were a reaction to the rampant ornamentation that was prevalent in the Baroque (and even more intensely so later in the Rococo). Baroque music was not called such until the 20th century, as late as 1940 in English. For the most part, the term is used simply to correlate the music to other disciplines’ time frames.

J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 is a piece that goes back a long way for me. As an 8th-grader I played it with some kids in my high school’s chamber orchestra. I always loved the syncopated finale rhythm; you know, Minnesota Public Radio uses a snippet of it for their jingle just before Prairie Home Companion comes on. Maestro Fellenbaum will be playing cello on this work, which is more of a septet than an orchestral work per se. Just a half-step away, Bach’s Orchestra Suite No. 2 in B Minor is about as excellent a piece there is in B Minor, with the Schubert Unfinished Symphony (coming up on our April Masterworks) and Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet being up there also. Additional works by Vivaldi, Handel and Purcell will alternately soothe and dazzle with their beautiful “noisy abundance of details.”

Speaking of Baroque, our principal trombonist Sam Chen spent this past weekend in Memphis where the U. of Memphis Low Brass Workshop took place. Sam has had a project of learning the Solo Cello Suites of J.S. Bach on the trombone. I have heard him play them and I can vouch for them as very listenable. Sam was a guest artist in Memphis and he performed several movements of Bach there, as well as leading a masterclass and panel discussion. Way to go, Sam!