he announcement of this concert at St. James Place came as a very pleasant surprise. There’s no need to wait until June to hear an Aston Magna Concert! And that is certainly a event much-anticipated among early music lovers and Berkshire residents. Aston Magna regulars, Daniel Stepner, baroque violin, Laura Jeppesen, viola da gamba, Peter Sykes, harpsichord, and Andrea LeBlanc, baroque flute, will play excerpts from a central work by J. S. Bach, A Musical Offering, covering the basic styles of composition contained within it: canons, a fugue (ricercare), and a trio sonata, as well as sonatas—respectively for viola da gamba and violin, flute, and violin—by Buxtehude, Handel, and C. P. E. Bach. The selection from the Offering is especially sympathetic to the other works on the program, with the simpler ricercare (the one Bach was able to improvise on the spot, when Frederick the Great presented him with his theme and the challenge to write a fugue on it) and the Trio Sonata.
A relatively new chamber music series in our area, The Concerts at Camphill Ghent, extending through the rather sparse autumn through spring months, has just recently come to my attention, and it looks well worth a season subscription. Every concert is compelling, and they all fit together as a whole. Clearly some strong consideration has gone into the selection of both the music and the musicians. The series was founded and is managed by a musician, the outstanding pianist, Gili Melamed-Lev, who oversees the programming and participates extensively herself. This is by no means exceptional in itself, but the particular stamp she has put on it stands out.
For some time now, Tanglewood has included a variety of distinguished soloists and groups specializing in historically informed performance practice to play in Seiji Ozawa Hall, which is quite well suited to the less aggressive, more subtle colors of period instruments. Some seasons are more generous than others, and I personally favor liberality in this area, although the Berkshires enjoy one of the oldest and best of the early music festivals, Aston Magna. Tanglewood early evolved into a microcosm of classical music as practiced in America—and to some degree, necessarily, internationally—and HIP has become an essential part of a wider landscape, which embraces Tyondai Braxton, John Zorn, and Bernard Haitink all together. A forum like Tanglewood allows early music to be heard in this extended context. One thing we sorely miss in this—to me most welcome—movement is the ability to hear Bach and Handel on the same program as, say, Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky, and Webern. Beethoven and even Brahms can indeed flourish on period instruments, but the ability to look beyond them to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is lost. And there is one more consideration…Tanglewood’s early music concerts always sell very well. And one more question…should the TMC include an early music component in their program?
It is always a pleasure to be in the Cape Ann harbor town of Rockport and to attend musical events in the beautiful Shalin Liu recital hall with its glass wall looking out to sea. The June 26th concert provided a striking contrast in styles of Baroque era music, with works of Bach and Handel, respectively, in the two parts of the program. The listener was invited into an emotional journey from darkness to light.
Just yesterday I had the pleasure of talking with Jeannette Sorrell, Music Director of Apollo’s Fire, the highly acclaimed period orchestra based in Cleveland, where she founded it twenty-three years ago. Today, rather like the venerable Cleveland Orchestra, Apollo’s Fire tours extensively in North America and Europe, bringing Ms. Sorrell’s warm, expressive vision of Baroque playing to both seasoned and neophyte audiences. Tomorrow, July 2, she will lead them at Tanglewood in a program called “Bach’s Coffee House,” referring to the Café Zimmermann in Leipzig, where first Georg Phillipp Telemann and later Johann Sebastian Bach organised free public concerts. The program will include excerpts from Telemann’s incidental music to Don Quixote, Bach’s Fourth and Fifth Brandenburgs, and short pieces by Handel and Vivaldi.
This spring has been teeming with a dizzying profusion of riches for the lover of early music in the Northeast. In April Carnegie Hall launched “Before Bach,” a month-long festival of Renaissance and Baroque music performed by the the most admired international groups and soloists in the field. Since this was an “on” year for The Boston Early Music Festival, an equally distinguished group of regulars and visitors just now packed about the same amount of musical activity into a week, supplemented by hosts of mostly outstanding comprimarii in its Fringe. This coming weekend BEMF’s western coda, consisting of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and his Orfeo, both performed in the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, will overlap with the first weekend of one of the oldest festivals of early music, Aston Magna.
Sincerity shown brightly in the Berkshire Theatre Group’s A Christmas Carol this year. The show fit beautifully into the Colonial Theatre. It looked stunning. There was no excessive amplification—a thousand thank-you’s for that! Even after several iterations, all cast members from the smallest chirping child to master actor Eric Hill as Scrooge, came right at us with intensity and sweetness. The show is so well-constructed that it completes the novella, makes it richer. Actors of all ages found ways to advance the performances of their peers. This was one of the best productions I have seen this year, because it really did the impossible—it combined scenic opulence with direct, honest playing.