In the South, origins serve as magnetic north. Family and history aren’t just components of living, those roots are life itself.
The same applies in music. You can wander far afield, but every now and then you just have to return to the roots to recalibrate your appreciation.
In the classical music realm, that base begins in the Baroque. It’s the foundation of all that became in the Western canon.
To that end, Mobile Symphony Orchestra (MSO) has chosen the first weekend of Lent to take things “Back to Bach.” The concert named for the seminal composer promises to exhibit the genius that gave birth to centuries of excellence.
Though European music certainly existed through the medieval and Renaissance periods, it wasn’t until the early 1600s composers began to implement tonal counterpoints that added complexity to melody and harmony. Combined with the continuous bass lines giving heft to the compositions, the music flowered in a way unseen.
The canzona, a forerunner to the sonata emerged. Themes and variations put further ripples in the musical pond.
Along with a new reliance on keyboard instruments like the harpsichord and pipe organ, vocalists emerged in style far apart from the folk-derived melodies that held sway throughout earlier periods. Of course, the result was the emergence of the opera.
The Baroque pieces highlighted in MSO’s program are Handel’s Occasional Oratorio: overture, Vivaldi’s Motet: “In furore iustisimae,” and the titular giant’s Orchestral Suite No. 2. Other periods – the Classical and post-Romantic, specifically will be touched upon but the appearance of a guest steals the limelight as Grammy-nominated conductor Patrick Quigley takes a turn at the podium.
MSO Music Director Scott Speck is understandably excited about the guest on baton. Quigley’s national reputation for Baroque excellence precedes him.
“He created a choir and orchestra in Florida called Seraphic Fire and together they have produced gorgeous albums and won numerous awards,” Speck said in a press release. “Patrick will transform the Mobile Symphony into a Baroque ensemble, playing music from and inspired by that incredible time.”
A New Orleans native, Quigley studied at the Yale School of Music and the University of Notre Dame, earning sizable accolades well before his 40th birthday. The aforementioned Grammy nominations were for the 2012 honors, one in “Best Choral Performance” and the other for “Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance.” He was world’s only conductor with such a distinction that year.
MSO will join the New World Symphony, the San Antonio Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony’s Community of Music Makers, the Dessoff choirs, the Vocal Arts Ensemble of Cincinnati, Santa Fe Desert Chorale and Vocal Arts Seattle in featuring Quigley as guest conductor.
Along with the baton waver, guest vocalist Kathryn Mueller will appear. The soprano will perform Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate.
A featured performer with symphonies and operas across the nation, Mueller has earned a reputation for Baroque mastery herself. In 2011, she was one of four fellows in the prestigious Adams Vocal Master Class at the Carmel Bach Festival and in her soprano duo Les Sirènes was one of six finalist groups in Early Music America’s 2012 Baroque Performance Competition.
Mueller recorded a pair of Grammy-nominated albums with Seraphic Fire. She was also a featured soloist on Seraphic Fire’s best-selling Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, which reached the top of iTunes’ classical chart.
“Back to Bach” is sponsored by Andra Bohnet in memory of her mother, Erma Cook. The playbill also includes Mozart’s Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro” and Respighi’s “Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite 2.”
If MSO’s rousing January Aaron Copland concert is any indication, this next show will be stirring and unforgettable. I don’t know if it was the magic of the Saenger’s new acoustic shell — which enhanced the visual experience as much as the audible one — or the sheer power, tenderness and expansive tones of Copland’s compositions, but the evening rendition brought the sizable crowd to its feet mid-show.
The entirety of “Appalachian Spring” ran a gamut of emotional cues that made Artifice long for the dance Martha Graham choreographed to accompany Copland’s composition. But, hey, that’s why the Good Lord made YouTube, eh?
The Saturday, Feb. 21 performance of “Back to Bach” begins at 8 p.m. The Sunday, Feb. 22 matinee, at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $20 to $65. Students K through 12 may attend the Sunday matinee for free when accompanied by one paying adult, thanks to the Big Red Ticket program underwritten by the Alabama Power Foundation. College students can purchase tickets for $10 with valid college identification.
Tickets can be purchased by calling the MSO box office at 251-432-2010, in person at 257 Dauphin Street or online at www.mobilesymphony.org.