‘Grand Tour’ highlights the best of Baroque | AspenTimes.com

‘Grand Tour’ highlights the best of Baroque

Susannah Luthi
Special to The Aspen Times

Tafelmusik, a Toronto-based Baroque orchestra, performs Tuesday and Wednesday, during the final week of the Aspen Music Festival season.

The last week of the 2005 Aspen Music Festival and School opens up a window into past time and the immortal music of Bach and Vivaldi.

It’s a week that gives audiences an authentic glimpse of one of the richest periods in music history, courtesy of the “Grand Tour of the Baroque” mini-festival, which starts this evening with the Aspen Opera Theater Center’s 7 p.m. Wheeler Opera House performance of Francesco Cavalli’s Giasone. It continues with a colorful series of programs that includes the Canadian Baroque ensemble Tafelmusik and the a cappella sextet Lionheart.

“Period performance has been tremendously neglected in Aspen,” said festival Music Director David Zinman. “It’s a dream of mine to bring a Baroque group playing on period instruments so that people can hear what is happening in that field.”

So Tafelmusik and Lionheart, two groups oriented toward promoting Renaissance and Baroque music, are coming to the festival to paint a new picture of how the repertoire evolved. As festival artistic advisor and administrator Asadour Santourian said, “We’re heralding this music with fanfares.”

The 26-year-old Toronto ensemble Tafelmusik was recently nominated for a Grammy Award and performs in Aspen twice ” in an 8 p.m. Tuesday recital in Harris Concert Hall, and in the 8:30 p.m. Wednesday concert called “The Grand Tour: A Musical Journey.”

While Tuesday’s Tafelmusik concert focuses exclusively on Bach, in pieces like the third of the composer’s wildly popular Brandenburg concertos, Wednesday evening epitomizes the theme of the mini-festival, carrying the audience members through the Baroque period in a dramatization of “The Grand Tour.” In the 18th century, young British aristocrats would take an educational trip around Europe that would include stops in the great cities of France, Italy and Germany, where Vivaldi, Bach and the other great composers could be seen performing their own works.

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“It’s a really fun program that introduces our music to audiences in a very different way,” said Jeanne Lamon, Tafelmusik’s music director. “Actor Robert Persichini conveys the voices and unique personalities of the 18th century travelers. The excerpts not only place the music in context, but also shed new light on the times and places in which it was performed.”

Concerts like these illuminate Bach’s era. Tafelmusik’s members are scholars of Baroque music and performance, each playing original Baroque instruments or carefully crafted replicas. The orchestra has 18 permanent members, whose dedication to the repertoire has led to international tours and 71 recordings for Sony Classical, Hyperion, BMG Classics and other top labels.

“They’ve been doing it for over 25 years,” Santourian said. “They have been performing their scholarship, challenging themselves and updating themselves.”

The week continues with a concert highlighting the power of the human voice in early repertoire. On Saturday at 8 p.m., Lionheart presents “El Siglo de Oro: A century of vocal music by Morales and Guerrero.”

Lionheart shows the influences vital to the development of Baroque music through Cristobal de Morales and Francisco Guerrero, two of the greatest composers of 16th century Spain. Master and pupil, they composed melodies that were eventually transported to America and even sung in the services of the California missions.

“It’s particularly exciting to think of the legacy of that music,” said Larry Lipnik, one of Lionheart’s founding members. “Basically, in concert, you get the whole spectrum of Spanish music ” it’s like a little window into Spanish music of the 16th century.” Like Tafelmusik, Lionheart digs into its material to introduce its listeners to the universal emotions of the music. Both groups have drawn varied audiences by presenting their concerts in a deeply informed, deeply respectful way.

Lipnik says part of the public’s attraction to early repertoire is that through its counterpoints and textures the listener can see the continuum in which Bach established himself, and also find a point of connection to another era.

“One thing that draws people to early music, and to chant music, is the return to introspection, and more of a feeling of connection to something,” Lipnik said. “I think people are looking for ways to reconnect with something ” with other people, with artistic sensitivity. It’s like pop music rediscovering acoustic music, and of course when Lionheart comes out, we are six voices, six humans coming out to sing, and we don’t have anything ” it’s just us.”

While Tafelmusik explores the rich textures at play in the Baroque tradition, and while Lionheart offers a look to the roots of that tradition, the audiences are left with much to ponder.

“We sing in a way that we feel expresses the music and us, and I think they can have that, and not be bombarded with entertainment, but actually listen to it,” Lipnik said. “People often come to us after concerts and say they’re moved in ways they’re not used to being moved: Modern entertainment puts you in a passive state, but this is more interactive.”

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