Classical Music World: Viva Baroque!

Red Priest. Courtesy photo
Classical Music World

Have you noticed the posters around town advertising the Los Alamos Concert Association’s next event featuring Red Priest? Maybe you assumed that the rock star poses, leather pants, and crazy hair mean they will be playing something other than classical music. Look again! You will see a recorder, a violin, a cello and a harpsichord. Not an electric guitar or amp in sight.

This flamboyant ensemble from the UK has taken the vibrant artistic spirit of the 17th  and early 18th centuries very much to heart. Below are the program comments that they have provided for their performance in the Smith Auditorium Jan. 9. The notes are a lively account of where Red Priest is coming from and where they will take you!

Concert details at

Viva Baroque!

Baroque music revels in the extravagant. The very word “baroque” implies bizarre, irregular and over the top, and the leading musicians of the day were true pioneers, riding the seas of change with wild abandon, ever searching for new musical ideas to titillate the ears and move the souls of the public. Boundaries between high art and street music were yet to be fully established and composers were free to draw inspiration from myriad sources, resulting in a wild and colourful carnival of musical styles.

In tonight’s program we make a journey through the highways and byways of this fascinating era, culminating in a complete performance of the most celebrated work of the time, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Along the way we encounter well known works by two of the greatest masters of the day—Bach and Telemann–alongside strange and fascinating works from the early 17th century, by composers whose names have not stood the test of time: Castello, Cima, Cazzatti and Van Eyck, whose daring stylistic innovations paved the way for the luminaries who followed them.  A pair of gorgeous late-Baroque string laments, by cellist Salvatore Lanzetti and folk violinist Niel Gow, complete the bill.

The inspiration of folk and dance music is ever present in music of the Baroque–not just in the bucolic revelry of the Four Seasons, but also, for instance, in the music of Telemann, who collected numerous folk melodies from Eastern European gypsies and employed them in his sonatas and concertos.

Many of the works in tonight’s programme have been arranged and adapted for the instruments of our ensemble, a procedure which was common throughout the baroque era; Bach, for instance, adapted the works of Vivaldi and others for solo keyboard, and Vivaldi’s Seasons appeared in numerous arrangements (in some 80 different publications) in the century following their composition – including a French transcription for recorder, violin, cello, harpsichord and hurdy-gurdy, the inspiration for our own adaptation.

The balance between authenticity and innovation is always a delicate one when performing music of the past. An ensemble such as ours, with a fixed instrumental line-up, would have had limited purchase in the baroque era, and a touring career would have been out of the question. Music was much more a product of its time and place, and outside of the formality of church services, was largely a casual affair: people would walk in and out, drink, talk, gamble; farmers were even known to pass through with their goats!  The music often went on for hours and hours…so today’s formal concert set-up – 90 minutes of music performed to a silent audience seated in rows – is entirely inauthentic. For this reason we err on the side of innovation, and hope in the process to capture a little of the raw, earthy spirit of the Baroque!

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