Sunday, June 18, 2017

Princeton Festival Baroque Orchestra Chamber Concert. June 17, 2017.

Princeton Abbey, Princeton, NJ.  General Admission ($30.)

Artists (member of PF Baroque Orchestra)
Juan Carlos Zamudio, violin; Reynaldo Patino, violin & viola; Maria Romero, violin & viola; Anna Steinhoff, cello; Gregory Geehern, harpsichord.

Harmonia Artificioso-Ariosa, Partia V in G minor by Heinrich Biber (1644-1704).
Sonata Seconda (a 2) in E minor by Johann Rosenmuller (1619-1684).
Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab G Major, BuxWV 38 by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707).
-        Evelyn Johnson, soprano.
Cello Sonata No. 1 in G major by Domenico Gabrielli (1659-1690).
Trio Sonata, Op. 5, No. 1 in A major, HWV 396 by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759).
Divertimento in B-flat major, K. 137 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).

In an email exchange with our friend David Y we found out about this Princeton Festival, which bills itself as “NJ’s premier performance arts festival.”  During the month of June multiple events scheduled in the Princeton area include lectures, dances, jazz, baroque concerts, a musical and an opera.

We decided to sample the festival by buying tickets to this chamber concert, with musicians from the PF Baroque Orchestra.

Other than Handel and Mozart, all the composers were (mostly) seventeenth century figures, a group to whom I have had only limited prior exposure.  Turns out these were all well-known composers of that period, and the selection traces an arc from Austria and Germany to Italy.  Regrettably I found out after the concert as in the booklet they handed out at the concert there was no program notes to be found.

At least from what the bows looked like, the program was performed with period instruments (of course some period instruments are being manufactured today.)  One generally gets a more “country” (for lack of a better description) tone out of these instruments.  The other fact seems these instruments’ tuning drifts rather readily, there was a lot of tuning between pieces and movements.

The cello and the harpsichord often acted as the basso continuo.  It was interesting to hear in one piece (forget which one) the continuous droning repetition of the cello of an ascending scale that evoked the rhythmic equivalent in the snare drum in Ravel’s Bolero. (I did some research as I was writing this, this occurred in the “Passacaglia” movement of the Biber piece.)  In general, I was impressed with the competency required of the musicians, even though none of the works can be considered “virtuoso” by today’s standards.

The musicians Maria Romero, Juan Carlos Zamudio, Gregory Geehern, Anna Steinhoff and Reynaldo Patino taking a bow after the concert.

I was joking to Anne that the program exhausted all the baroque music in the repertoire.  That of course isn’t true.  But it did give me all the baroque music I wanted to hear in one sitting, even though the one hour program had pieces by Handel and Mozart in it.  Actually, if I had had more time before the concert, and the inclination, it would be interesting to try to analyze the structures of the pieces – that’s what I did as theory students in college, after all.

It takes quite a bit of chutzpah to bill oneself as a “premier” event, and I am not sure if this is an expression of self-confidence, or simply a marketing trick.  Certainly on the classical music side the Festival provides a very limited glimpse, limited to the baroque period at that; and I am not sure it can honestly bill itself as the “premier baroque” event.  Nor the “premier jazz,” “premier musical,” for that matter.

From reading the bios of the artists, there seem to be quite a few graduate students from Indiana University.

The Festival Book has the venue listed as the Princeton Abbey.  The place now calls itself the Princeton Abbey and Cemetery.  It started in the early 1900s as a Catholic Seminary, which eventually closed down in 1992.  Recent zoning changes allow 12 acres be turned into a cemetery and depository for cremated remains.  The facility will be non-religious.  There are no obvious crosses or other Catholic references in the Abbey, although the stained glass windows continue to depict people and events in the Bible, as far as I can tell.  It isn’t air-conditioned, so felt a bit stifling on this warm (not hot) but humid day.  The place was filled, about 150 people.

There will be a concert by the full orchestra this coming Wednesday at the Princeton Theological Seminary, we may go see it.

And we stayed in the area so we could see the musical Man of La Mancha, but that is the subject of the next blog entry.

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