Discovering Musical Treasures of the Baroque

A preview by Marc Shulgold

The century-and-a-half known as the Baroque Era (1600-1750) has its undisputed musical superstars: Bach, Handel and Vivaldi. As great as they were, and as often performed as they are, those three tend to overshadow the hundreds – who knows? maybe thousands – of other composers of that day who are worthy of attention.

So, part of the fun in attending a concert such as the season-openers by Seicento on November 8 and 10 is discovering new music and, certainly in this case, new composers. After all, have you ever heard of Vinko Jelić or Ivan Lukačić? Don’t be embarrassed – the Baroque Ensemble’s leader, Amanda Balestrieri never heard of them either.

Amanda Balestrieri

“I received an email from a retired Croatian architect named Petar Velnić, who had found (Seicento’s) Web site. He wanted to send me scores by Jelić (pronounced YELL-itch), but he didn’t know how to get them to me as PDF files – he wanted to mail them.” After a series of “linguistic misunderstandings,” as she put it, connections were made and the scores of several choral works were finally delivered. Balestrieri was not only impressed with the music by Jelić, but she was excited to receive some works by Lukačić, another Croatian unknown to her. Call it serendipity. As she put it with a chuckle, “There’s the plan, and then there’s life.”

The surprise of that discovery turned out to make for an ideal addition to Seicento’s concerts, titled “Praise and Lamentation.” The two Croatians found themselves sharing the bill with the North German organist Franz Tunder, the Italian Salamone Rossi and the eccentric Austrian/Bohemian Heinrich Biber.

Daniel Hutchings, Tenor

Seicento’s program will offer works sung in Hebrew, Latin and German, performed by a choir of 33, with guest tenor Daniel Hutchings, and an instrumental ensemble consisting of two violins, two viola da gambas and chamber organ (the latter played by associate conductor Gerald Holbrook). Previously serving as soprano soloist with Seicento, then associate conductor and associate artistic director before stepping up as artistic and executive director this year, Balestrieri focused on building “a choir that people would want to join.” It seems to have worked: Her volunteer singers were recently augmented by 10 new members. Building a choir accessible to its members extends to her audiences, she said. The goal is for listeners to go with the flow of her intriguing musical mixture.

Sarah Biber and Ann Marie Morgan, gambas

Referring to the program’s blending of choral and instrumental works, the conductor jokingly described the selection process as “the spaghetti-against-the-wall approach.” As she sees, it, “The theme is not that important. What matters is the music. I think audiences can relate to the emotions in pieces like Tunder’s setting of the lament By the Waters of Babylon. When I looked at the Croatian music I’d received, I knew it would work with the Tunder.” The concerts are dominated by choral works, but Balestrieri was careful to include some instrumental pieces, “to give the audience a change of pace.”

As for the rarity of the works she’s selected, Balestrieri doesn’t feel guilty about shying away from known works by household-name composers. Quite the opposite, in fact: “Performing unfamiliar music is one of our primary missions.” Her goal is to engage listeners in fresh ways. “I’m saying to them, ‘Listen to this.’ And I want their response to be ‘Wow – I just found this music!”

Salamone Rossi

Looking at the bigger picture, she pointed to the mission of Seicento, a group she describes as “evangelists for the music.” Sure, the glories of Baroque music should be the main attraction. “But all this is about people,” she stressed. “We want to focus on the human side, to let our audience know who these composers were, what their back stories were. We’re in a human place. For me, it’s how we use the music.”

Seicento Baroque Ensemble will present Praise and Lamentation at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 8 in First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10 in Our Merciful Savior Episcopal Church, 2222 W. 32nd Ave., Denver. Tickets are $25 ($15 for students) Information: https://www.seicentobaroque.org/currentseason/  

Join us for an exhilarating program exploring sacred music of early baroque composers: Croatian composers Vinko Jelić and Ivan Lukačić, German/Austrian composers Franz Tunder and Heinrich Biber, and Italian composer Salamone Rossi. Jelić and Lukačić, were itinerant throughout the classical music diaspora in Europe, Tunder was a North German born in Lübeck who traveled to Italy and returned home to found the tradition of Abendmusiken (free cathedral concerts financed by businessmen), Biber was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and violinist who eventually settled in Salzburg, and Rossi was an Italian Jew from a minority community in the Mantuan court of Northern Italy. This will be a challenging program with texts in Hebrew, Latin, and German. With the help of tenor soloist Daniel Hutchings, we will bring alive for modern audiences the musical language of these composers with historical instruments and baroque performance practice. Our interest in performing Rossi follows our inclusion of three of his works in our Baroque Pairings concert in November 2018, a powerful set that drew a strong positive response from our audiences and our musicians. Seicento Baroque Ensemble will once again present an intimate and nuanced chamber program with chamber choir and vocal and instrumental soloists.

Friday, Nov. 8 @ 7:30 pm 
First United Methodist Church
Boulder (map)

Sunday, Nov. 10 @ 3:00 pm
Our Merciful Savior Episcopal Church 
Denver (map)

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