Click to hear the excerpt from the rehearsal…
Article by Ethan Sadoian:
“It is a very special thing. Each one has different keys, different moods, different combinations of instruments—to me that makes it fascinating, because nobody had written concerti with such different groups of instruments until Bach. They are wonderful, wonderful pieces of music,” says Bridget de Moura Castro of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti.
De Moura Castro will be a guest performer on harpsichord and one of many featured soloists when the Connecticut Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra performs Bach’s complete Brandenburg Concerti later this month. For many of the musicians, as well as the Orchestra itself, the upcoming performance is a special occurrence because it is the first time they will be performing all six at one time. “[A challenge is] to differentiate and to find the intricacies and differences in each concerto, because by sonority and by scoring they are so different, actually,” says CT Virtuosi Artistic Director Adrian Sylveen.
Maestro Sylveen would normally be found directing the Orchestra from the conductor’s podium. For the Brandenburg concerts, however, he will be trading-in his baton for his bow, performing from within the ensemble on violin and viola. “With the violin, you have a direct impact on the phrase and the sound … whereas with conducting, your responsibility is to shape a much bigger form. What is interesting is that as I conduct, and as I gain experience with the larger form, I am sometimes able to transfer that back into my playing, and hopefully into the ensemble playing in this particular case,” Sylveen continues.
“It’s about communication with the other musicians, it’s about coming up with your own interpretation, it’s about reconciling that interpretation with your fellow musicians’. You’re not looking at the conductor, you’re looking at each other,” says Julia Caruk about the chamber music setting of the Brandenburg Concerti. Caruk, the principal trumpet player of the CT Virtuosi, will be a featured soloist on the second Concerto, the trumpet part of which is still considered one of the most difficult in the repertoire. “It’s kind of an undertaking, and there’s a high risk of failure in it. I think of [the preparation] as sort of like athletic training!”
The Brandenburgs, a collection of previously composed works compiled by Bach in 1721 and presented to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, inhabit a musical area somewhere between the older concerto grosso form, and the newly-emerging genre of chamber music. The intimate nature of a small group of musicians performing together led chamber music to be characterized as “the music of friends.” As the scope of society got larger in the following centuries, so too did the scope of the chamber music being composed, with tremendous, sublime, profound works being composed by the likes of Beethoven and Brahms in the 19th century, or Olivier Messiaen in the 20th. But even today, at its core, the reason for making and performing chamber music remains the same as it always has been. Says Sylveen: “Chamber music is not that much different, in terms of ideas, from any other form of music. What is different, however, is the ability of an individual to work that idea … Glenn Gould said that the purpose of music is to include the humanity, not to create a temporary excitement of the concert. We do play concerts, but we have to keep in mind that … chamber music serves the first purpose. In other words, it is the joy of working with musical and intellectual ideas at its core, and that will never go away as long as there is curiosity on the part of the people to explore it.”
De Moura Castro reflected more specifically on the reason why ensembles continue to regularly perform the Brandenburgs, nearly 300 years after they were compiled: “They are classics. There are so many wonderful pieces of music that should be performed always, and these are some of them.”
The CT Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra performs the six Brandenburg Concerti by J.S. Bach on Saturday, February 27th at 7:00 PM, at St. Cyril and Methodius Church of Hartford; and on Sunday, February 28th at 6:00 PM, at First Church of Christ in New Britain. Admission is free, with donations accepted. For more information, please contact the Virtuosi at (860) 325-2826 or firstname.lastname@example.org.