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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 4, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 45
Pacific MusicWorks & Seattle Baroque Orchestra present fabulous concerts
Arts & Entertainment
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Pacific MusicWorks & Seattle Baroque Orchestra present fabulous concerts

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN A&E Writer

You would have to live in Boston to find an early music scene as good as Seattle's - but then you would have to put up with six months of sleet and snow instead of six months of gentle rain.

The last days of October were particularly fruitful in the Emerald City, with fabulous concerts by the two leading early music organizations in Seattle (and, arguably, the nation): Pacific MusicWorks, ensemble-in-residence at the University of Washington School of Music, led by director and lutenist Stephen Stubbs, and the Early Music Guild, which presented the Seattle Baroque Orchestra led by music director and harpsichordist Alexander Weimann. Both concerts were a delight to their audiences' eyes as well as their ears.

'STYLUS FANTASTICUS'
PACIFIC MUSICWORKS &
UW SCHOOL OF MUSIC
FACULTY RECITAL
MEANY THEATER
October 20


When I asked Stephen Stubbs what this title meant, he said that 'fantastic style' referenced a kind of improvisational imagination that characterizes music of the thirteen different composers whose work they played, including Farina, Fontana, Schmelzer, and Biber, who were born between 1550 and 1644. This overlaps with the early part of the baroque period - which extended from approximately 1600 to 1750 - and the music has an old feel to it, as if played in remote castles rather than gilded palaces. The musical forces that supported Tekla Cunningham's baroque violin and Director Stubbs' baroque guitar and six-foot chittarone (theorbo, archlute) - were the lovely baroque harp of Maxine Eilander and the stacked harpsichord and organ of Henry Lebedinsky. Except for the organ, all of the instruments are strings, whether plucked, bowed or strummed, and I had the feeling in several pieces that I was listening to a string quartet.

In the first half, the concert moved through compositions without stopping, as though one piece was the prelude to the next. The audience was awash with soft, melodic music that suddenly swirled and whirled, as though a peaceful walk through the woods was interrupted by the abrupt excitement of wind-torn leaves. I found myself resorting to metaphors as I listened, thinking of musical journeys that don't circle back on themselves, but that go on to different landscapes with every shift and change. This quality is what I suppose 'fantastic style' means - imaginary journeys of music that set the imagination free. Watching these marvelous musicians play their ancient instruments - all of which appear to belong in museums - added to the sense of being on a wonderful journey into the past that, by the virtuosity and scholarship of these performers, was brought into the present for the listener.

The second half of the program featured sonatas, partitas and toccatas that gave each instrument a chance to show its individuality and range of possibilities. I kept writing the word 'Charming!' in my program next to one piece after another. My favorite, however, was by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (1620-1680) - a lovely violin melody with variations and harpsichord accompaniment that kept increasing in speed, but that retained a sweetness that I found very moving. English major types like me use Shakespeare as an anchor to place other events and disciplines in time, so I was sad that the Bard, who died in 1616, would not have heard Schmelzer's music. And yet you and I get to hear this splendid music just because we live in the same city as Pacific MusicWorks! It was one of those concerts - so typical of this great group - that left me feeling enriched, entertained, and lucky.

'TAFELMUSIK'
SEATTLE BAROQUE ORCHESTRA &
EARLY MUSIC GUILD
NORDSTROM RECITAL HALL
October 29


'Tafelmusik,' as explained in the Seattle Baroque Orchestra program notes, is a term that describes music played at banquets and feasts - 'table music' rather than programmatic or formal stage music. In this visually and musically marvelous concert the sixteen-piece orchestra presented selections from Georg Philipp Telemann's two volumes of tafelmusik, along with one concerto in the same genre by Christoph Graupner.

One reason it was a visual pleasure was the Chinese-red harpsichord that took center stage, played with impressive energy and drama by Alexander Weimann, who managed to conduct at the same time - with a hand, an elbow, his head, or even a jump up from the harpsichord's matching red stool. Since the orchestra members stood in a semi-circle around the harpsichord, allowing the audience to watch the technique and whole-body movement of the players, I was reminded that all music of this period was visual since you had to be there to hear it. To see Kris Kwapis manage trills on an early-style trumpet with fixed loops and vents, or to watch Curtis Foster play his wooden oboe conjuring the forest of Arden, added dramatic performance to musical performance. Just as Shakespeare's plays should be seen rather than read, so baroque music should be seen rather than heard on a recording.

Another joy in baroque music that this concert brought out was the organic quality of music played on instruments made of natural materials. Yes, the baroque trumpet is brass and has vents, unlike the 'natural trumpet' of the period, but compared to a modern trumpet it has a soft, round, human quality that industrial instruments lack. The baroque violin is similar in that its highly arched bow and its gut strings produce a softer, more organic sound.

Though it's difficult to point to a favorite piece in this concert of delights, Telemann's 'Concerto for Four Violins' showed exactly why baroque music needs to be seen in order to be heard. Four violinists stand together and face the audience. Three begin to play single notes to create chords while the fourth waits before entering with the melody. Just when you say to yourself 'I get it, there's a first violin with three back-up violins, like Diana Ross and the Supremes' the melody suddenly passes to the second violin and the one you thought was the soloist takes up playing chords. Then you see the melody moving back and forth among the four violins as each player seamlessly picks up the harmony where the last left off - a phenomenon you can't possible hear on a recording since the art of it is that it only seems like a soloist and a chorus. As the piece moves from the opening Largo through the Allegro, Adagio, and Vivace movements, Telemann explores different ways of using the four voices together, apart, chasing each other, imitating each other, and dancing all around each other. It has to be seen to be fully appreciated - which is true of all early music.

And there are multiple opportunities to see early music concerts in Seattle. 'Stylus Fantasticus' and 'Tafelmusik' were just the two concerts I managed to attend in October. I was surrounded by audience members who were discussing a plethora of other early music events - Gallery Concerts and Handel's Castrati, the Early Dance Costume Ball, and Gregorian chant at St. Thomas's were a few events I heard mentioned. Check out the Early Music Calendar at earlymusicguild.org/calendar/ for the full menu of upcoming events - and take a tip from me: the upcoming Christmas season is particularly rich for this style of music because so much of it was written to celebrate the twelve days of Christmas.

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