Tuesday July 30, 2019 | 7:30PM (Pre-concert talk at 6:45PM)
Chan Shun Concert Hall at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts | Map
This performance will include concertos No. 2, 4, and 6
The Six Brandenburg Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) are universally regarded as some of the greatest musical works ever written. Full of joy and almost unfathomable creative genius, Bach sent the scores to the Margrave of Brandenburg, Christian Ludwig, in Berlin on March 24, 1721 as a sort of audition portfolio.
Though Bach never heard back, the music was preserved in the Brandenburg archives. When rediscovered in the 19th century, they quickly became some of the most beloved and oft-played collections of orchestral music of all time. Join Montreal’s Ensemble Les Boreades for two performances of the complete concertos over two nights performed alongside lesser-known orchestral works from the Baroque era.
“The individual soloists are remarkable… a perfection of intonation, articulation and homogeneity.” – Répertoire Magazine (France)
This concert is generously supported by Eric Wyness, Jocelyn Pritchard, Dr. Katherine E. Paton, and Melody Mason
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto no. 2
-Horn soloist Alexis Basque
Concerto for violin, strings and basso continuo in A minor BWV 1041 (Coethen, v.1720, ou Leipzig, v.1730)
– Violin soloist Olivier Brault
Brandenburg Concerto no. 6
Brandenburg Concerto no. 4
In 1721, Johann Sebastian Bach offered a collection of his finest instrumental music, carefully copied in his own hand, to Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt. With florid rhetoric, Bach’s dedicatory preface honoured the Margrave and positioned himself as a modest servant-craftsman.
As I had the good fortune a few years ago to be heard by Your Royal Highness, at Your Highness’s commands, and as I noticed then that Your Highness took some pleasure in the little talents which Heaven has given me for Music, and as in taking Leave of Your Royal Highness, Your Highness deigned to honour me with the command to send Your Highness some pieces of my Composition: I have in accordance with Your Highness’s most gracious orders taken the liberty of rendering my most humble duty to Your Royal Highness with the present Concertos, which I have adapted to several instruments; begging Your Highness most humbly not to judge their imperfection with the rigor of that discriminating and sensitive taste, which everyone knows Him to have for musical works, but rather to take into benign Consideration the profound respect and the most humble obedience which I thus attempt to show Him.
But, the Margrave never read that dedication. Despite a personal appreciation for the music of the Prince of Köthen’s kapellmeister, Christian Ludwig likely did not have a court ensemble capable of executing the demanding music, and Bach’s gift lay unopened until the Margrave’s death in 1734, when it was sold for the equivalent of about $30. The reception history of the Brandenburg Concertos is but one of their surprises. They are not concertos as we normally define that term. They are not for the standard ensemble that we call an orchestra. In fact, they use instrumental combinations that Bach’s own colleagues would have considered highly irregular.
Today, a concerto is typically understood as a large-scale composition for solo instrument and orchestral. However, the term derives from the Latin word concertare, meaning both to contend or dispute, and to work together with someone. Bach’s cousin Johann Gottfried Walther gave a very broad definition of “concerto” in his Musicalisches Lexicon
In a strict manner of speaking, this word is often taken to mean chamber music for both voices and instruments… and more strictly still, pieces for strings composed in such a way that each part in turn comes into prominence and vies, as it were, with the other parts; hence also in such pieces … where only the uppermost part is dominant, and where among several violins one, called violino concertino, stands out on account of its especially rapid playing.
Antonio Vivaldi was, perhaps, the most famous composer of concertos in the early eighteenth century. He developed a musical form that juxtaposed a large instrumental ensemble, the ripieno, with a single soloist or a small group of soloists, the concertino. The large ensemble played recognizable, recurring thematic material – a refrain (or ritornello in Italian). The small ensemble played more virtuosic, freer, episodic material between the refrains. Bach encountered Vivaldi’s concertos in 1713, and they revolutionized his approach to composition. He combined concerto ritornello form with the German preference for contrapuntal rigour and the French love of dance music. So, in Bach’s instrumental concertos, the soloists often explore and unfold the thematic material presented in the ripieno’s ritornellos, rather than indulging in purely virtuosic figuration. To the three movement, allegro-adagio-allegro, scheme typical of Italian concertos, Bach added dance movements, so his Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 looks rather like Telemann’s Orchestral Suite TWV 55:a2.
Perhaps most unusual are instrumental combinations of the Brandenburg Concertos. Bach often treated instrumentation flexibly, reworking music for different players. His Violin Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041, for instance, he later revised as the Harpsichord Concerto in G Minor, BWV 1058. The titles of the Brandenburg Concertos, however, are extremely specific. Each concerto employs a different ensemble, and the instrumental combinations often overturn conventional orchestral hierarchy in a way that scholar Michael Marissen has interpreted as deliberate social commentary.
Concerto No. 2 for One Trumpet, One Recorder, One Oboe, One Violin Concertati, and Two Violins, One Viola and Violone in Ripieno with Cello, Bass for the Harpsichord
Here Bach combines traditional outdoor instruments – trumpet and oboe – with quiet indoor instruments – flute (or recorder) and violin to form the concertino group. Much has been made of the extraordinarily high and virtuosic trumpet part in this concerto. However, parts copied by Bach’s student Christian Friedrich Penzel assign the trumpet part to the “Tromba, o vero corno da caccia” (trumpet or hunting horn). The hunting horn, sometimes called the Jaegertrompete, would sound the part an octave lower than the natural trumpet. The result is less brilliant but creates a more satisfyingly unified ensemble sound. Further, in Bach’s day, horn and trumpet were often played by the same musician, a “musician of the stables” employed for the prestigious task of playing military and hunting signals.
Concerto No. 4 for Principal Violin, Two Echo Recorders, Two Violins, a Viola and Violone in Ripieno, Cello and Continuo
Again, Bach challenges instrumental stereotypes. In this concerto’s title, he assigns the recorders the role of echoing the solo violin. By this time, the recorder was considered somewhat outdated, having been supplanted as melody instrument by the traverse flute, violin, and oboe. It was a secondary instrument of oboists used for occasional colouristic effects. Here, however, the recorders play important thematic material, even gaining the upper hand over the violin in the Andante movement. Meanwhile, the violin, that esteemed leader of the court orchestra, plays technically demanding, but thematically unimportant material.
Concerto No. 6 for Two Violas, Two Violas da Gamba, Cello, Violone and Harpsichord.
Bach counters orchestral hierarchy, giving complicated solo lines to two violas, normally charged with playing inner accompanimental parts. (When you have a spare moment, google “La Serenissima viola cam” to experience how marginalized the viola sometimes is in Vivaldi’s concerto writing.) By contrast, the violas da gambas, instruments with a long history of courtly solo and chamber music playing, are given basic inner parts.
These celebrate the combination of different national styles and musical genres, the collaboration among unusual instrumental ensembles, the mixing of music from different social spheres. Lowly and outdated instruments receive exalted roles, while prestigious ones act as supporting servants. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are marvels of integration.
— Notes by Christina Hutten
Francis Colpron, music director
Recorder and traverso player Francis Colpron is recognized as one of the most talented musicians of his generation. During the past three decades, the public, critics, and cultural authorities have acclaimed his abilities to innovate as an artist and performer. In 1991, he founded the ensemble Les Boréades de Montréal, of which he is the artistic director, and which puts on a very successful annual concert series in Montreal, performs in North America and Europe, and records on the ATMA Classique label.
Les Boréades has performed with world-renowned artists such as Hervé Niquet, director of the Concert Spirituel de Paris; Skip Sempé, harpsichordist and director of Capriccio Stravagante; violinists Manfred Kraemer and Adrian Butterfield; harpsichordist Alexander Weimann; conductor Eric Milnes; cornettist William Dongois; recorder player Stefano Bagliano; as well as with tenor Charles Daniels, and Canadian singers Matthew White, Karina Gauvin, and Laura Pudwell.
On stage, Francis Colpron, with Les Boréades, has explored the theatrical and musical worlds of the 17th and 18th centuries in shows such as Acis et Galatée (2015), La belle danse (2013), Tabarinades (2010), and Molière en Musique (2008). He has also acted in theatrical productions for young people such as Garde-Robe(2007) and La nuit de la Patate (2016). Noteworthy collaborators with Francis Colpron have included the directors Joël da Sylva and Jean-François Gagnon, and the actors Carl Béchard and Sophie Faucher.
Francis Colpron was associate flutist with Trinity Consort of Portland from 2000 to 2009. He has been a guest soloist with groups such as Apollo’s Fire of Cleveland, the Edmonton Symphony, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Opera Atelier, Thirteen Strings, the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal, Les Violons du Roy, the Nova Scotia Orchestra, and L’Harmonie des Saisons. As well as teaching at the Université de Montréal, he is frequently invited to share his experience as a teacher at well known summer music camps such as Amherst in the United States, CAMMAC in Quebec, and Boxwood in Nova Scotia. His discography consists of more than 40 recordings.
Les Boréades de Montréal
Founded by Francis Colpron in 1991, Les Boréades focuses on early music. The ensemble has chosen an interpretative approach in keeping with the spirit of the Baroque era, by adhering to the rules of performance practice of the past and playing on period instruments. Critics and audiences alike in Canada and abroad have been unanimous in hailing the group’s energy and spontaneity as well as its theatrical, expressive and elegant playing, indicative of a unique flair for Baroque aesthetics.
The group has received many grants from the Québec and Canada governments and has toured extensively in Canada and abroad, taking part in several renowned festivals. The musicians also performed at the Frick Collection of New-York, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Salle Gaveau in Paris, Vancouver Festival, Musikfest Bremen and at the Alter Musik Regensburg.
Les Boréades has performed with world-renowned artists such as Hervé Niquet, director of the Concert Spirituel de Paris; Skip Sempé, harpsichordist and director of Capriccio Stravagante; violinists Manfred Kraemer and Adrian Butterfield; harpsichordist Alexander Weimann; conductor Eric Milnes; cornettist William Dongois; recorder player Stefano Bagliano; as well as with tenor Charles Daniels, and Canadian singers Matthew White, Karina Gauvin. The ensemble Les Boréades owns a solid discography of 25 titles, on the Atma Classique label, which are distributed around the world.
Alexis Basque is a graduate of the Conservatoire de musique du Québec, where he received his formal training in modern trumpet performance and began his first foray into composition and orchestration.
He picked up the Baroque trumpet in 2005 in an attempt to better understand the origins of his instrument and in order to familiarize himself with historically-informed performance practices. He was then able to deepen his knowledge by attending the Mozarteum Sommerakademie of Salzburg with Susan Williams in 2012, and was introduced to the world of natural brass playing while working with renowned trumpet and natural horn players Graham Nicholson and Jean-François Madeuf. The discovery of the practice of instrumental doubling, as commonly seen in the baroque period, compelled him to add the baroque horn and tromba da tirarsi to his arsenal of instruments.
Alexis is an avid performer of Baroque music, playing and recording regularly with Montréal’s most active and innovative ensembles, including the Ensemble Caprice, the Bande Montréal Baroque, les Idées Heureuses, the Theater of Early Music, la Nef and the Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal. He also performs with various orchestras at Bourgie Hall as part of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ multi-year project of presenting the complete cycle of Cantatas by J.S. Bach.
Outside of Quebec, he has performed with the Toronto’s Schola Cantorum, Arradia Ensemble, Thirteen Strings and the Pacific Baroque Festival Orchestra. In 2013 he was invited to play in the Ensemble Barrocade of Tel-Aviv’s Israeli tour of the music of J.S. Bach, and performs with the Bach Society of Minnesota since 2016 on both horn and trumpet.
As an early music soloist, he performed in Ensemble Caprice’s Vivaldi project, The Return of the Angels (Analekta, 2012). He can also be heard playing both trumpet and horn in the complete recordings of the Bach Cantatas by the Bande Montréal Baroque (ATMA Classique), a project which began in 2014.
Alexis also performs actively on the modern trumpet in various orchestral settings. He has performed as Principal trumpet with the Grands Ballets Canadiens, and also holds Principal trumpet positions with the Orchestre symphonique du Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean since 2014, and with the Orchestre symphonique de Trois-Rivières since 2017.
Olivier Brault has enjoyed an international career for almost thirty years. Baroque violin teacher at McGill University, he is the director of Sonate 1704 (Québec) and of the ensemble Les Goûts Réunis (Luxembourg), principal violin with the Four Nations Ensemble (New York) and Les Boréades de Montréal and has been concertmaster of Apollo's Fire Baroque Orchestra (Cleveland) from 2011 to 2018. He can be heard on more than sixty recordings. In 2007, he completed a doctorate at the Université de Montréal on French music for violin and figured bass, an expertise that leads him to give lectures and masterclasses in prestigious institutions such as the Conservatoire royal de musique de Bruxelles and the Conservatoire de musique et de danse de Paris. In 2011, he was awarded the medal of the Assemblée Nationale du Québec. In 2016, an article from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation placed him among the ten Canadian violinists that must be known.