Boulder Bach Festival, Brandenburg Concertos, cantata, chorus, concerto, continuo, Corelli, Handel, harpsichord, improvisation, organ, ornamentation, pedal, Sonata in G minor, St. John Passion, viola da gamba, Vivaldi, Zachary Carrettin
Edward McCue (EM) Now that we’re starting a new season, how do you feel about last year’s season and its theme, “Brandenburg and More?”
Rick Erickson (RE) I loved it, and I know that other people did, too. It was so much fun to do the complete Brandenburg Concertos over the season, plus the cantatas and everything else. As an instrumental ensemble and chorus, we all got to know each other, and this season is the direct result of all the great ideas that developed as we walked through last season together.
EM That reminds me of what I’ve always said about moving to a new place. You really have to experience the seasons a second time before you can claim a new city or new ensemble to be your own. So, Rick, I figure that, after this second season with the Boulder Bach Festival, Boulder really will be your place, too.
RE Look, I’m Swedish enough to already be completely positive about the Boulder Bach Festival. It already feels very natural and very good, and I’m so excited about this new season. Just look at what we’re taking on. We’re starting with ambitious Chamber Concerts this fall, and then it’s the St. John Passion (BWV 245) in the spring and Bach Camp! in the summer.
The program for the Chamber Concerts later this month is going to be so much fun for our players and the audience. It’s all about context. It’s all about Bach’s world. That to me is both exciting and gives a clear picture, too, as to who Bach was. To be lining up Bach with Corelli, Vivaldi and Handel and hearing concerti in the context of Bach’s time is really exciting and will be just phenomenal. I think we’re all going to have a ball.
EM You know, what surprises me is how radical, fresh and new Bach’s idea of the keyboard concerto was. He took other composers’ works for other instruments and turned them into keyboard concertos, and, to complement that, you’ve selected to also feature a Handel organ concerto during the upcoming Chamber Concerts.
RE Handel was in England where the organ was not perceived to be a primary contrapuntal instrument, unlike in Germany. It had very little in the way of a pedal division, and yet, in spite of that instrument’s incredible limitations, Handel wrote this elaborate keyboard game with lots of room for piles of ornamentation and expansion on a basic idea. It’s almost as if all keyboardists looked at each other one day and said, “Our time his here. We’re soloists, too.”
It’s pretty amazing just how quickly writing for keyboards evolved during the Baroque period, and already last spring, Zachary Carrettin and I began investigating this when we performed the Sonata in G minor (BWV 1029) at the Gala Benefit. The harpsichord is a full-fledged participant in the language of that sonata and equal to the viola da gamba in every sense. That had to have been really important for continuo keyboardists after years and years of just quietly filling in the harmonies.
But, actually, here’s the really interesting thing.
I’ve been to helping to edit some historical materials on continuo improvisation that suggests to us modern folk that continuo playing during the Baroque period was actually never any neutral kind of “fill in the chord, fill in the harmonic blank and stay out of the way” sort of thing. Instead, these caretakers of the bass line were producers of melody in their own right. The continuo keyboardists weren’t simply sitting there filling up time with pleasant harmonies, but they were freely improvising and highly involved with what was going on. That, of course, is incredibly appealing to me, and it makes perfect sense that, as the concerto form took on broader and broader language, it would be a natural inclination for the keyboardists to take their turn as soloists. I very much resonate with this argument.
But back to the topic of our upcoming season.
I’m so honored to make music with these amazing artists we have in the community, and I’m thrilled that later this month we get to perform the Chamber Concert three times in Longmont, Denver and Boulder. This is absolutely terrific. Think how unified in sound and approach we’ll have become. I think that, after the third concert, we should dash into the recording booth and lay down every bit of this really great program.
I can’t wait. Here we go!