Brandenburg Concertos

Friday, September 18, 2015 | 7:30pm
The Vancouver Playhouse | Map


Alexander Weimann; Pacific Baroque Orchestra

A co-production with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra

To start our 2015-16 Baroque Series at the Vancouver Playhouse, EMV partners with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra led by Alexander Weimann for a performance featuring Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 2 and 4 as well as concertos for solo recorder and solo trumpet by Georg Philipp Telemann.

Generously supported by Ingrid Söchting

Concert Programme


Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Concerto for Trumpet, Violin, Cello and Strings in D major TWV 53:D5

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Concerto for Oboe and Strings in D minor TWV 51:D1

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 for Violin, 2 Recorders and Strings BWV 1049


Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Concerto for Recorder and Strings in F major TWV 51:F1

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 for Trumpet, Oboe, Recorder, Violin and Strings BWV 1047


Tonight’s program is made up of works that demonstrate the expressive and unique characteristics of the dominant solo instruments of the Baroque as well as the creative genius of two of Germany’s most successful composers: Georg Phillip Telemann and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Though J.S. Bach is clearly the more popular of the two composers today, Telemann was extremely highly regarded by his contemporaries and was definitely the more successful businessman. Significantly, it was Telemann, and not J.S. Bach, who was first offered the job of Cantor at St. Thomas’ in Leipzig . While it seems implausible now, Bach was actually third choice for this important role, after Telemann and Graupner. Telemann declined the position, but shrewdly only after having used it as leverage to pry more money out of his employers in Hamburg. In addition to being a great businessman, Telemann was absolutely prodigious in his output-he wrote over 3000 works! He also played a pivotal role in the development of music publishing practices. By pursuing exclusive publication rights for his works, he set one of the earliest precedents for regarding music as the intellectual property of the composer. Sadly, in the early 19th century, a tradition of Telemann bashing began in musical criticism that still resonates today. The basic argument was that anybody who wrote so much music could not be revered as a serious musician. Though it is true that some of his music can be classified in the pleasant and efficient category, anyone who has taken the time to listen to his great oratorios Der Tag des Gerichts or Der Tod Jesu, for example, will find it hard to argue against his immense skill and mastery of baroque musical rhetoric.

While Bach and Telemann were in competition for some of the same high profile jobs, and inhabited very closely connected worlds, it is worth noting that this competition did not seem to have had a negative effect on their respect for one another. There is plentiful evidence demonstrating that they were in regular and amicable contact for much of their adult lives. J.S. Bach respected Telemann enough that he went so far as to ask him to be godfather to his own son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in 1714. Telemann appears to have made every effort to continue supporting his godson throughout C.P.E Bach’s adult life. The two concertos by Telemann on this programme hold their own beside the revered Brandenburgs and demonstrate Telemann’s understanding and appreciation of the solistic capabilities of the same instruments used by Bach in his concertos no. 2 and no. 4. Though there is obvious comparative value in presenting all of the concertos in one evening or weekend, the cost of such an endeavour is daunting. From another perspective, it is also worthwhile to see these recognizable masterpieces by Bach in the context of comparable works by another major composer of the period.

Composed between 1711 and 1720, the two works by J.S. Bach on this program are part of the collection known as the Brandenburg Concertos. Dedicated in 1721 to Christian Ludwig the Margrave of Brandenburg and younger brother of King Frederick 1 of Prussia, they were not composed specifically for him but adapted and repackaged from previously composed works. They can be looked upon as a sort of audition compilation for a possible job at the Duke’s court.

At the end of his period in Cothen, Bach’s great supporter, Prince Leopold, married a woman who had little interest, and maybe even some disdain for music. It is in this context that Bach saw the writing on the wall, started quietly looking for other work, and sent these pieces off in the mail to the Duke of Brandenburg. It is known that the Duke never acknowledged receipt of the music, never paid Bach for his services, and never had them performed. The title Brandenburg Concertos was only given to the collection long after the fact, when they were discovered in the Brandenburg archives. The cover page simply refers to them as “Six Concerts Avec Plusieurs Instruments”. They are typical of J.S. Bach in that though they represent a staggering feat of technical virtuosity, they are also so full of energy that the individual concertos seem almost improvised when you hear them in concert. Their enduring appeal and popularity of have made them some of the most recognizable and beloved works in the classical music repertoire. All unique masterpieces with different instrumental complements, they represent an incomparable overview of what was possible to include under the name of concerto. As usual, Bach took accepted conventions and made them very much his own. Now, in full awareness of Bach’s enduring genius, it is almost impossible not to cringe when reading the obsequious dedication of these works to the Duke who had never even bothered to look at them.

“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.

Bach did not bet the farm on this potential position. He wisely kept a copy of the manuscripts and re-used movements in the cycle of cantatas that he would begin to write in his next official position as the new Cantor at St. Thomas’s in Leipzig – the same position that Telemann had turned down for a pay raise at home in Hamburg. It worked out well for both of them.

- Matthew White, September 2015

Artist Bios

Alexander Weimann

Alexander Weimann is one of the most sought-after ensemble directors, soloists, and chamber music partners of his generation. After traveling the world with ensembles like Tragicomedia, Cantus Cölln, the Freiburger Barockorchester, the Gesualdo Consort and Tafelmusik, he now focuses on his activities as Artistic Director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra in Vancouver, and as music director of Les Voix Baroques, Le Nouvel Opéra and Tempo Rubato.

Recently, he has conducted the Montreal-based baroque orchestra Ensemble Arion, Les Violons du Roy, and the Portland Baroque Orchestra; both the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra have regularly featured him as a featured soloist. In the last years, he has repeatedly conducted the Victoria Symphony and Symphony Nova Scotia, most recently with Handel’s Messiah.

Alexander Weimann can be heard on some 100 CDs. He made his North American recording debut with the ensemble Tragicomedia on the CD Capritio (Harmonia Mundi USA), and won worldwide acclaim from both the public and critics for his 2001 release of Handel’s Gloria (ATMA Classique). Volume 1 of his recordings of the complete keyboard works by Alessandro Scarlatti appeared in May 2005. Critics around the world unanimously praised it, and in the following year it was nominated for an Opus Prize as the best Canadian early music recording. Recently, he has also released an Opus Award-winning CD of Handel oratorio arias with superstar soprano Karina Gauvin and his new Montreal-based ensemble Tempo Rubato, a recording of Bach’s St. John’s Passion, various albums with Les Voix Baroques of Buxtehude, Carissimi and Purcell, all with rave reviews. His latest album with Karina Gauvin and Arion Baroque Orchestra (Prima Donna) won a Juno Award in 2013, and a complete recording of Handel’s Orlando was released in the fall of 2013, with an exciting group of international star soloists and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra performing.

Alexander Weimann was born in 1965 in Munich, where he studied the organ, church music, musicology (with a summa cum laude thesis on Bach’s secco recitatives), theatre, medieval Latin, and jazz piano, supported by a variety of federal scholarships for the highly talented. In addition to his studies, he has attended numerous master classes in harpsichord and historical performance. To ground himself further in the roots of western music, he became intensely involved over the course of several years with Gregorian chant. Alexander Weimann has moved to the Vancouver area with his wife, 3 children and pets, and tries to spend as much time as possible in his garden and kitchen.

Pacific Baroque Orchestra

The Pacific Baroque Orchestra (PBO) is recognized as one of Canada’s most exciting and innovative ensembles performing “early music for modern ears.” PBO brings the music of the past up to date by performing with cutting edge style and enthusiasm. Formed in 1990, the orchestra quickly established itself as a force in Vancouver’s burgeoning music scene with the ongoing support of Early Music Vancouver.

In 2009 PBO welcomed Alexander Weimann, one of the most sought-after ensemble directors, soloists, and chamber music partners of his generation, as Artistic Director. Weimann’s imaginative programming and expert leadership have drawn in many new concertgoers, and his creativity and engaging musicianship have carved out a unique and vital place in the cultural landscape of Vancouver.

PBO regularly joins forces with internationally celebrated Canadian guest artists, providing performance opportunities for Canadian musicians while exposing West Coast audiences to a spectacular variety of talent. The Orchestra has also toured B.C., the northern United States and across Canada as far as the East Coast. The musicians of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra have been at the core of many large-scale productions by Early Music Vancouver in recent years, including many summer festival performances led by Alexander Weimann.