Passion Unbound with Boulder Bach Festival
A Preview by Gwen Gray
Love and passion, in their most intense and concentrated expressions, are the ties that bind the eight works to be presented in Boulder Bach Festival’s upcoming “With Love from London,” set to debut on Valentine’s Day. The program is brimming with tantalizing Purcell, Vivaldi and Händel selections, and a little-known work by Robert Valentine.
Filled with romantic arias that were in vogue in London — “Sweeter Than Roses,” “Oh Let Me Weep” and “If Music Be The Food of Love” — and contrasting instrumental works, the evening promises to be high on emotion.
“There is never a dull moment in this program,” says BBF artistic and executive director Zachary Carrettín. “We’ve freely swapped arias and concerto movements (as was quite common in the 18th century) in a way that we hope will delight the senses and enchant the spirit.”
With passion in the air this time of year, it might be observed that, in the most ardent of romantic affairs, lovers are prone to abandoning all convention, rules and expectations to follow their hearts. And it could be said that the musicians of the Boulder Bach Festival have an ardent love affair with Baroque music. The group is known for a willingness to sway from rigid convention in favor of pursuing an artistic vision (as well as the most pleasing musical journey for the audience).
“What makes the Boulder Bach Festival concerts special is the shared intention of the artists to look beyond the nuances of the written music and beyond its original context in time and place, and to let it breathe again as a life form,” says Carrettín. “Naturally, examining the details in the score and studying the practises of yore are prerequisites to achieving great ensemble amongst ancient instruments and voices.”
Audiences seem to appreciate the invigorating approach. With the festival enjoying ticket sales that have tripled over the last five years, BBF has the budget to raise the musical stakes. The organization brings in high-caliber guests from around the world, has built a core festival baroque orchestra and a festival chamber orchestra, and has founded a fellowship artist vocal ensemble. They have also invested in their own historical instrument collection.
Attendees may savor the fruits of these investments in the upcoming concerts on Feb. 14 (Broomfield Auditorium) and 16 (Longmont Museum).
Let’s start with the notable lineup of soloists, which includes soprano Szilvia Schranz, a favorite with Colorado audiences. Schranz has appeared with many regional orchestras and choruses, was at one time a section leader in the Boulder Bach Festival Chorus and has appeared with the Grammy-winning Takács Quartet. Her always-luminous voice will highlight the arias within the program’s opening piece, Henry Purcell’s Abdelazer Suite.
Guy Fishman, BBF audience favorite and principal cellist of Boston’s famed Händel and Haydn Society Orchestra, is expected to thrill audiences in performances of Vivaldi Concerto for Cello in A Minor. Fishman’s recordings of Vivaldi cello have received international praise and critical acclaim.
Claire McCahan, who opera audiences may recall from the Eklund’s Opera’s rousing production of Händel’s Ariodante, will sing “Dry Those Eyes” from Purcell’s The Tempest. She has joined the Boulder Bach Festival Chorus as section leader and sings in BBF’s fellowship ensemble.
Presenting a harpsichord improvisation near the end of the program is well-known opera conductor and keyboard continuo player Nicholas Carthy. Carthy is CU’s Eklund Opera music director, a treasured collaborator with the BBF and a guest leader for February’s program.
Carrettín himself will co-lead with Carthy, performing as Concertmaster, joined by Jubal Fulks, Magee Capsouto, Brune Macary, Jennifer Diaz Spera, Tom Yaron, Renée Hemsing, Joseph Howe and Brett Armstrong. Ysmael Reyes will be on flute. All artists play on historical instruments, with gut strings and baroque bows.
BBF has taken to revealing a previously un-performed (in Colorado or the world) work at nearly every one of its concerts. In this case, it will be Robert Valentine’s Concerto Grosso, a composition uncovered by Nicholas Carthy in an archive in Sweden and believed never to have been performed in modern times.
In keeping with BBF’s philosophy in artistic freedom, the selection of such a work affords a certain sovereignty. According to Carrettín, “When presenting a new or unfamiliar work, we have an unmarked canvas upon which to paint in sound. There is no expectation. When we are involved in delivering such a work, we are engaging in a truly authentic practice of the eras that pre-date recorded sound, when most music was newly composed, and therefore unfamiliar.”
Those unfamiliar with the Boulder Bach Festival’s repertoire may note a conspicuous lack of Bach on the program. Carrettín explains that that’s not unusual for BBF (or many other Bach, Mozart, Mahler or single-artist-inspired festivals across the country). “We navigate the waters of music history with Bach as our compass, across time and across cultures,” he says. “We also present other music for the sake of presenting other music. When someone hears our performance of George Antheil or Gabriela Frank, they might become curious to attend a concert of Barbara Strozzi and J.S. Bach.”
There will be two opportunities to catch the Boulder Bach Festival’s “From London With Love.” The first is at Broomfield Auditorium on Thursday, February 14, 2019 at 7:30pm. The second takes place at Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum in Longmont on Saturday, February 16, 2019 at 7:30pm. Tickets are available here