KSO fits a Bach concerto alongside Vivaldiâ’s well-known Four Seasons
by Alan Sherrod
Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi have one rather unfortunate thing in common: They and their music fell into a period of obscurity and neglect following their deaths. It took composer Felix Mendelssohn in 1829, 79 years after Bachâ’s death, to spur a Bach revival across Europe with a performance of the St. Matthew Passion. In Vivaldiâ’s case, his dismissal lasted from his death in 1741 until the 1920s, when collections of his manuscripts began to see the light of day. But in those years of neglect, the world and its music changed. Gone were the social and musical contexts in which Bach and Vivaldi composed, leaving only notes on a page. Today, the continued life of their works rests in the hands of contemporary musicians who bear the responsibility of finding the spirit of the Baroque era, while inevitably, even unconsciously, filtering their performance through a modern sensibility.
That conjunction of Baroque music and modern sensibility can be heard this week in three performances by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra in their Masterworks and Chamber Series concerts. Antonio Vivaldiâ’s immensely popular concerti The Four Seasons will be performed at all three, while Johann Sebastian Bachâ’s Concerto in C Minor for Oboe, Violin, Strings, and Continuo, BWV 1060, will be heard at the Sunday concert. The soloists in the Bach will be KSO principal oboist Phylis Secrist and violinist Lisa Muci.
In programming this monthâ’s Chamber Series concert of Baroque works, Maestro Lucas Richman asked Secrist to suggest a work for oboe that would work well in the intimate chamber-music setting of the Bijou. Rather than opt for a solo work, Secrist thought a collaboration with Muci, her longtime friend and KSO colleague, would be a way to maintain the small ensemble feel. Although they considered works by Vivaldi, Telemann, and Handel, they kept coming back to Bach.
â“Lisa has a great love for Baroque music and Bach,â” says Secrist. â“We kept returning to the Bach Double as one of our favorite pieces.â”
Muci adds: â“Unlike the popular Bach Concerto for Two Violins, which at times feels like dueling fiddles, the Concerto for Oboe & Violin, because of its dialogue between the two solo instruments, offers each soloist the opportunity to shine in his or her own virtuoso moments.â”
Neither Secrist nor Muci is a stranger to virtuoso moments, or virtuoso teachers. Secrist, who has been principal oboe with KSO since 1974, received a bachelor of music degree from the University of Tennessee and a master of music from Yale, where she studied with Baroque expert Robert Bloom. Later she studied with Cleveland Orchestra oboist and noted educator John Mack. Muci, who has been with the KSO since 1990, received her bachelor of music from Wichita State University and her masters of music from Northwestern University. Sheâ’s also studied period performance practice at Canadaâ’s Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute and has appeared as a soloist for works by Bach and Vivaldi with the KSO Chamber Orchestra.
With the programming set, a musicianâ’s attention turns to interpretation and performance. Secrist pointed out one particular challenge with the Bach Concerto: â“I think the oboe timbre can be heard through the string sound very consistently. The difficulty comes in enabling the solo violin to shine through the [accompanying] string color.â” This is particularly true in the first and third movements. In the slow second movement, however, the strings are relegated to the background, allowing the soloists to engage in an intimate dialogue, a dialogue that is one of the most poignantly lyrical duets in all of Baroque music.
That collaborative dance for two, sharing the music with another soloist, can be easier said than done. â“You must agree on phrasing, style, and tempi, etc., and then get out of the way when necessary,â” says Muci.
One link to the past in the performance of Baroque music can be the use of period instruments. Although Muci has extensive training with period instruments, and she and Secrist agree that both approaches are valid, theyâ’re all sticking to modern instruments for this performance of Baroque works. â“Period instruments are beautiful, if you have them,â” Muci says. â“But weâ’re using contemporary instruments, in a contemporary ensemble, for a contemporary audience.â”
What: K.S.O. and Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra
Where: Tennessee Theatre and Bijou Theatre
When: Thurs., Jan. 17 and Fri., Jan. 18, at 8 p.m. and Sun., Jan. 20, at 2:30 p.m.
How Much: $10-$78 and $10-$28.50
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