Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Happy (Branden)Birthday, Mr. Bach!

I played all six Brandenburg concerti yesterday. I don’t feel exhausted, just... enlightened. It really was a Brandenburg-athon; I used that word last week and didn’t realize that the Tuesday double rehearsal was ALL SIX. Two of the slow movements were tacet for me, (honestly, what could I add?) but except for that, 17 movements involved me. It's a different sort of program for the Tennessee Theatre stage, contrasting the orchestration chops of Leopold Stokowski channeled through Bach with the ultimate in Baroque ensemble composition. As you remember from our last episode, Thursday night’s concert will conclude with Brandenburg Concerti 4, 3, and 1, while numbers 5, 6, and 2 will be played Friday, which is Bach's 329th birthday.

The orchestrations were considered quite daring at the time; the combination in No. 2 of flute, violin, oboe and trumpet is like the Free Bird of Baroque concertante music. Gabe Lefkowitz (violin), Phyllis Secrist (oboe) and Ebonee Thomas (flute) are joined by guest trumpeter Ryan Beech, who is playing notes I didn’t even know existed on the trumpet. Brandenburg 6 in particular is a lush, intimate snapshot of the potential beauty that Bach knew was dwelling within all of those old European string instruments. Violists Katy Gawne and Eunsoon Corliss are reprising their awesome performance of a couple of years ago. Most of his contemporaries relied on formulas and templates for their compositions, but Bach took on the challenge of writing pieces that employed the Fibonacci sequence in a beautiful way.

Speaking of chops, you will be amazed to learn (if you don’t know already) that all of the notes we play in the Toccata and Fugue and the Chaconne were originally intended to be played by one person. An organist or a violinist, specifically. True tests for their respective soloists, for sure, but in their orchestrated forms, they are somehow not much easier to play. Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum is right on top of things, leading the full orchestra through these dramatic, iconic tours de force.

I’m not sure if this book was on the syllabus or not, but Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel Escher Bach would be a good thing to take a gander at before either (OR BOTH) of the concerts this week. If you can’t find that, just look at some fractal art, or even a map of the coast of England, then look at some Escher prints, and then take in the concert. You will gain some understanding of what sets Bach apart from the rest of the Baroque crowd.

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