Bach never gets old

With antique and modern instruments, musicians of the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra will bring to vigorous life six of Bach’s most beloved compositions on Saturday, April 25.

With antique and modern instruments, musicians of the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra will bring to vigorous life six of Bach’s most beloved compositions on Saturday, April 25.

The Brandenburg Project concert will see 23 RDSO musicians and guests trading off to form various chamber ensembles to perform the complete concertos, No. 1-6, at the Red Deer College Arts Centre.

These are some of the most brilliant compositions of the baroque era — described as “gems” by the RDSO music director Claude Lapalme — yet they languished in obscurity for more than a century.

The works that became known as the Brandenburg Concertos were written by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1708-1717.

Bach presented the manuscripts of these pieces to Christian Ludwig, a military officer of Brandenburg Prussia’s Hohenzollern dynasty, in 1721. But due to a lack of musicians in Ludwig’s cash-strapped Berlin ensemble, the compositions were probably not performed before being sold for 24 groschen (about US$24) of silver in 1734.

Somehow Bach’s autographed manuscripts ended up in Brandenburg’s archives, where they collected dust for many decades. They were rediscovered in 1849, and have become staples of international orchestra and chamber ensemble repertoires ever since.

Lapalme said the RDSO has performed all six emotive and exuberant pieces separately over the years, but has never before tackled them together in one concert. It will be quite the undertaking because of the extremely high demands of the material. “They are very challenging, very technical,” said Lapalme.

He noted solo violinist Naomi Dela

field will be sorely taxed performing Concertos No. 1 and 4. Solo trumpeter Richard Scholz will, likewise, be put through an extraordinary musical mill during the first movement of No. 2. (Notably, this composition’s ethereal third movement was included in a recording of the Earth’s common sounds, languages and music that were sent into outer space with the two Voyager probes.)

And harpsichordist Wendy Markosky will be tasked with a “ludicrously lengthy” cadenza to close the first movement of Concerto No. 5.

Amid all this virtuosity, Bach also included some fairly simple sections that have piqued curiosity and even instigated some forensic musical detective work over the years. For instance, Lapalme believes that Bach’s rationale for including two very simple viola de gamba parts in Concerto No. 6 was that his employer, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen, played this cello-like instrument.

Since Bach’s employer would have enjoyed the chance to play with the orchestra, the canny composer wrote music that the amateur musician could keep up with.

Reproduction viola de gambas will be used during the RDSO concert, along with two differently tuned harpsichords, some recorders, a transverse wooden flute, and other baroque-style instruments.

Lapalme said the first three concertos will be played on modern instruments, while the Concertos No. 4-6 will be performed on period ones. Old and reproduction instruments will be used to help produce the lower, mellower baroque sound.

He predicts this concert will be a real crowd-pleaser because Bach never gets old.

“There’s a great deal of humanity that comes out in Bach … he can grab your heart” with his gorgeous instrumentals, Lapalme added, but there’s also a great sense of fun in his compositions that often incorporate dances and jigs.

Tickets for the 8 p.m. concert are $59.35 ($54.85 seniors/ $43.35 students or the first four rows) from the Black Knight Ticket Centre

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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