Wednesday July 31, 2019 | 7:30PM (Pre-concert talk at 6:45PM)
Christ Church Cathedral | Map
This performance will include concertos No. 1, 3, and 5
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.1
Brandenburg Concerto no. 5
– Harpsichord soloist Mark Edwards
Brandenburg Concert no. 3
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Overture and suite for recorder, strings and basso continuo in A minor TWV 55:a2 (Hambourg, av.1740)
Les Plaisirs I & II
Air à l’italien[ne] (largo-allegro)
Menuets I & II
Passepieds I & II
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. 1 for Two Hunting Horns, Three Oboes and Bassoon, Piccolo Violin Concertato, Two Violins, a Viola with Basso Continuo
This concerto uses four groups of instruments each characteristic of a particular stratum of society: two horns, associated with the mounted hunt, a symbol of aristocracy; three oboes and bassoons, the instruments of the Stadtpfeifer, ceremonial musicians employed by German towns; a string group, the average courtly musical ensemble; a piccolo violin, a folk instrument associated with tavern music-making. At first, these different groups are at odds with one another, the horns playing the distinctive greeting call of Saxon huntsmen in rhythmic and harmonic conflict with the rest of the ensemble. As the first movement progresses, however, the different social groups “learn” to cooperate and play together harmoniously.
Concerto No. 3 for Three Violins, Three Violas, and Three Cellos with Bass for the Harpsichord
In this concerto, Bach avoids designating particular players as soloists. Instead, the strings equitably take turns playing in concertino groups.
Concerto No. 5 for a Traverso, a Principal Violin, a Violin and a Viola in Ripieno, Cello, Violone and Concertato Harpsichord
Perhaps the most historically influential instrumental innovation of the Brandenburg Concertos is Bach’s transformation of the harpsichord from a chording continuo instrument embedded in the ensemble to star soloist, which spurring the development of the keyboard concerto for which his son Johann Christian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and others became famous.
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.
Mark Edwards, harpsichord
First prize winner in the 2012 Musica Antiqua Bruges International Harpsichord Competition, Canadian harpsichordist and organist Mark Edwards is recognized for his captivating performances, bringing the listener “to new and unpredictable regions, using all of the resources of his instrument, […] of his virtuosity, and of his imagination” (La Libre Belgique). Since 2016, he is Assistant Professor of Harpsichord at Oberlin Conservatory.
He has given solo recitals at a number of prominent festival and concert series, including the Utrecht Early Music Festival, Bozar (Brussels), the Montreal Baroque Festival, and Clavecin en concert (Montreal). He has had concerto performances with a number of award-winning ensembles, including Il Gardellino (Belgium), Neobarock (Germany), Ensemble Caprice (Canada), and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Also an active chamber musician, he is the artistic director of Poiesis, collaborates regularly with Les Boréades de Montréal and Les Délices (Cleveland), and has performed with Tafelmusick, Il Pomo d’Oro, and Pallade Musica.
His début solo CD, Orpheus Descending, was released in 2017 on the early-music.com label and was reviewed warmly. Passaggi (ATMA 2013), his CD with the Canadian recorder player Vincent Lauzer, was nominated for an ADISQ award. His performances have been broadcast by American Public Media, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Klara (Belgium), and Radio 4 (Netherlands).
In addition to his success in Bruges, Mark has distinguished himself as a prizewinner in a number of important competitions, including the 2012 Jurow International Harpsichord Competition, the 2011 Concours d’orgue de Québec, and the 2008 Rodland Organ Competition. He is the recipient of academic grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). He studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, where he earned his Bachelor of Music with highest distinction, and completed graduate degrees at McGill University and the Hochschule für Musik Freiburg. His former teachers include Robert Hill, William Porter, Hank Knox, and David Higgs. He is currently a PhD student at Leiden University and the Orpheus Instituut, Ghent, where his research examines the intersection of memory, improvisation, and the musical work in seventeenth-century France.