Orchestra Roster and Program Notes for
December 4 & 5, 2004 Musica Bella Concerts

Concerts Nos. 15 & 16

Conductor: Phillip Gaskill

Saturday & Sunday, December 4 & 5, 2004
Church of the Blessed Sacrament
ALL-BACH CONCERTS
Bach: Double Violin Concerto
      Michelle Des Roches and Yolanda Wu, violins
Bach: Violin Concerto No. 1 in a minor
      Gregory Harrington, violin
Bach: Violin Concerto No. 2 in E
      Jane Chung, violin
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G
      Craig Devereaux and Shoji Mizumoto, flutes
      Sarah Kapustin, violin

Click on a musician’s name to see his/her bio and photo.
* indicates soloist.


Violin
Jane Chung*
Michelle Des Roches*
Gregory Harrington*
Sarah Kapustin*
Claire Smith
Yolanda Wu*

  Viola
Ken Clark
Daniel Hedinger

Violoncello
Stacy Frierson
Anahit Harutyunyan-Gaskill
  Contrabass
Toshio Mana

Flute
Craig Devereaux*
Shoji Mizumoto*

Harpsichord
Dominic Eckersley

Manager   Anahit Harutyunyan-Gaskill
Assistant Manager   Thomas Crane
Music Director/Conductor   Phillip Gaskill


ABOUT OUR SOLOISTS

Please click on our soloists’ names above; doing so will take you to their biographies.

PROGRAM NOTES

During the late Baroque—the era of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, and Corelli—the concerto occupied a position comparable in importance to the symphony in the Classic and Romantic periods. The very name, from which our word “concert” derives, originally denoted a joining of forces in mutual agreement. As such, it is a somewhat loose term, embracing not only works for a solo instrument with orchestra, but pieces with two or more soloists and, in the concerto grosso, an intimate interplay between a small ensemble and the orchestra. (The term “concerto” was even applied to solo keyboard and chamber works that imitated the genre’s solo-versus-orchestra style.) Today’s concert will present examples of all three categories.
      At the core of the typical Baroque concerto is the concertato principle, by which one or more solo lines are pitted against the main string ensemble and (in the case of multiple soloists) against each other. Each movement opens with a full-ensemble ritornello, a distinctive theme that recurs throughout the movement, usually to mark an arrival at a new key. These recurrences, consisting of either the entire ritornello or simply one of its component phrases, are separated by contrasting solo material designed to show off the performer’s skill while modulating to a new key. The foregoing scheme applies to the fast first and third movements, while the soloist and ensemble are generally more integrated in the slow movement. The term concerto grosso, or “big concerto,” generally denotes a work in which a small group of instruments (the concertino) is set off against the ripieno (literally “full”), which normally consists of a string orchestra and harpsichord. The soloists of the concertino are frequently integrated into the ripieno, especially in the statements of the ritornello theme.
      In our information age, in which even the slightest change to the most trivial memo can be traced, it may seem incredible that so little is known about the origin of many beloved musical works. In Bach’s day a concerto, chamber work or cantata was more likely to be considered “all in a day’s work” than a great artistic creation. Bach filled several musical positions in his lifetime, and his employment contracts required a regular output of certain types of compositions. The pieces heard today date from Bach’s tenure as Kapellmeister (court music director) to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, from 1717 to 1723.
      In 1721, Bach sent a set of six concerti grossi to Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg (the region encompassing Berlin), apparently in fulfillment of a commission but probably also as an attempt to obtain employment. There is no record of the duke’s response, or of whether in fact the pieces were ever performed in Berlin. It is amusing to read the obsequious dedication, in wooden court French, in which the composer speaks of his own “minor talents” and “most humbly” begs the Margrave not to judge the works’ “imperfections” too harshly; the “Brandenburg” Concertos today are considered the apex of the concerto grosso, so well known that some of the themes are available on cell-phone ringers! The fourth concerto of the group sets a virtuosic violin solo against a string orchestra with two recorders, performed by flutes on today’s concert. The flutes constantly change roles, darting between the ripieno (in which they anchor the statements of the ritornello) and the concertino, where they join the soloist while the ripieno retreats to a subsidiary role. The first and second movements adhere to the pattern described earlier, while the last movement is an elaborate fugue whose constantly recurring theme fills the role of the ritornello. Near the end, the contrapuntal web is several times interrupted by moments of silence—a technique well known to early jazz musicians as “stop-time.”
      As noted above, musical works were often treated with startling casualness or even discarded. To gauge just how many pieces are lost forever, one need only consider that of Bach’s estimated 500 sacred cantatas, only about 200 are still extant. The violin concerti in A minor and E major are his only solo concerti to survive in their original form, whereas many others (first conceived for violin, oboe, oboe d’amore and perhaps other instruments) were later “recycled” by Bach as harpsichord concerti and were only reconstructed in the twentieth century. The two works follow the typical concerto format. The first movement of the E major concerto provides a good illustration of how a ritornello can fall into contrasting segments: the fanfare-like opening phrase, in vigorous quarter notes on the chord of E major, can be readily picked out whenever it recurs.
      The concerto for two violins, probably also from the Anhalt-Cöthen period, is the most overtly contrapuntal of the concerti and contains several rather unusual features. The first movement’s ritornello is treated as a fugue from the outset; when the two violins first appear as soloists, they are given a new and distinctive theme, characterized by large leaps. The long flowing lines of the Larghetto are similarly fugal, while the ritornello of the energetic finale has the two principal parts in close canon (i.e., playing exactly the same music, but one beat apart).
      —Notes by Thomas Crane