Vancouver Playhouse | Map
A Northwest Baroque Masterworks Project *
A co-presentation between the Seattle Baroque Orchestra, the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Portland Baroque Orchestra and the Early Music Society of the Islands
Monica Huggett (violin soloist)
One of the greatest composers of the early classical period was Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier Saint-Georges. Known as “Le Mozart Noir”, he was one of the earliest musicians of the European classical tradition to have African ancestry. Incredibly, this son of a slave overcame adversities of class, race, and prejudice to become a major musical star all over Europe inspired both Mozart and Haydn. Today, he is almost entirely forgotten. This programme includes several of his violin concertos, orchestral works by Mozart and one of Haydn’s Paris Symphonies.
This concert will be preceded by a free screening of a Canadian-made documentary on St George’s life featuring Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. The screening will be open to the public.
(See YouTube video below) Copies of the documentary will be available for purchase at intermission.
Supported by David McMurtry and Glen Patterson
Click here for information about parking at the Vancouver Playhouse.
Concerto for 2 violins and strings op 13/2 in G-major
(Chloe Meyers and Linda Melsted)
Symphony No. 85 in Bb-major “La Reine”
Adagio – Vivace, Romance Allegretto, Menuetto Allegretto, Finale Presto
Concerto for violin and strings op 10/1 in Bb-major
Allegro, Andante, Giga Allegro ma non troppo
Symphony KV Anh 223 in F-major
Allegro assai, Andante, Presto
Concerto for violin and orchestra op 5/1 in C-major
Allegro, Andante moderato, Rondeau
This evening’s programme celebrates the extraordinary accomplishments of Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges (1745-1799), champion swordsman, French colonel, virtuoso violinist, director of Paris’s finest orchestra, and prolific composer.
Birth in Guadeloupe
Born in the French colony of Guadeloupe to the plantation owner George Bologne de Saint-Georges and his African slave Nanon, Joseph Bologne de Saint-George faced a life of oppression and poverty. French law prohibited children of mixed parentage from inheriting anything from their parents, and racial tensions in the colonies prevented free people of African descent from settling in towns and cities. Colonial lawyer Hilliard d’Auberteuil expressed the sentiments of the time when he wrote in 1776, “Policy and security demand that we crush the race of the blacks with such contempt, that whoever descends from it even to the sixth generation should be marked by an indelible stain.” Though young Joseph held an uncommonly privileged position as his father’s cherished only son, his childhood was tumultuous, including a flight to France at the age of 2, when his father was unjustly accused of murder. Eventually, despairing of the possibility of raising his family in peace and security in the Caribbean, George Bologne permanently moved his household to France.
Paternal and Patrician Protection
Seizing the excuse of chaperoning his nieces to boarding school, on August 12, 1753 George Bologne, his two nieces, his son Joseph, and his valet set sail for Paris on Le Bien Aimé. Nanon joined them two years later, and they settled into a spacious Parisian apartment together. Duplicitous French law, while permitting slavery in the colonies, forbade it in France, and permitted fathers of mixed-race children to enroll them in French schools. Provided they could acquire appropriate social graces, such children might even find a place in Parisian high society alongside their fathers. Joseph excelled. He mastered swordsmanship, dancing, and musicianship, those ennobling physical disciplines that were believed to demonstrate an orderly and cultivated mind. He caught the attention of the influential Duke d’Orléans, who also championed nine-year- old Mozart when he visited Paris in 1766. Though no historical evidence survives, it is hard to believe that the duke failed to introduce the two prodigies. Perhaps Saint-Georges was even in the audience for a performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony in F Major, KV. Anh. 223, which a manuscript in Leopold Mozart’s hand dates to 1765. The symphony strongly resembles the work of Johann Christian Bach, who young Amadeus had met and admired while on tour in London.
Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges bolstered his position in Parisian high society when, at the age of 19, he became a Gendarme de la Garde du Roi and received the title of chevalier. Joseph’s peer Antoine Texier de la Boëssiere, the son of his fencing instructor, remembered, “No one had ever deployed more grace, more assurance in the obligatory exercises. His development was superb; his hand held at the highest possible elevation… made him the master of his adversary’s weak point; his left foot, solidly planted, never moved out of position and his right leg remained perpendicular at all times, this afforded him the means to strike with lightning speed.” The dexterity evident in his fencing also characterized his violin playing. The compositions of the Chevalier de Saint-Georges make extensive use of the highest hand positions on the neck of the violin, and the newly invented Tourte bow, longer with the characteristic slight curve and balanced tip and frog, allowed him to achieve bold, détaché strokes and vigorous arpeggiated figuration in fast movements, and long, lyrical lines in slow movements. His virtuosity was so renowned that the early nineteenth-century biographer and music critic François- Joseph Fétis asserted (probably incorrectly) that Saint-Georges must have studied with Jean-Marie Leclair, considered France’s greatest violinist and the founder of the French violin school. Like Saint George’s concerti, Leclair’s Concerto for Violin and Strings in Bb Major, Op. 10/1 demands unprecedented virtuosity from the violinist. Nevertheless, Leclair was most praised for the sweetness he coaxed from his violin. One audience member who heard him perform with fellow Corelli student, Pietro Locatelli, wrote, “Once he and Leclair were at the court of Kassel at the same time, prompting the court jester to say that both of them ran like rabbits up and down the violin, the one playing like an angel, the other like a devil. The first (Leclair) with his practiced left hand and through his neat and lovely tone knew how to steal hearts, while the second (Locatelli) brought forth great difficulties and mainly sought to astound the listener with his scratchy playing.”
“Under the Direction of the Famous Saint Georges”
Verses for the portrait of M.B. de S.***G***
Child of refinement and of genius,
He was born in the sacred valley
Nursling and image of Terpsichore,
Rival to the God of Harmony,
Had he joined his music to poetry,
He would be taken for Apollo
In 1768, the periodical of Parisian elegant society and courtly life, the Mercure de France (1768), published this word portrait of Saint-Georges. Not surprisingly, a few years later in 1772, he made his solo debut with the Concert des Amateurs, an auditioned orchestra of the best noble and professional musicians in Paris. By 1773, he had become their musical director. It was during this time that he composed and published the two concertos that you will hear on this evening’s programme. When the Amateurs was disbanded in 1781 on account of severe financial losses incurred by its members during the American War of Independence, Saint-Georges appealed to his friend the Duke d’Orléans, who reestablished the group as the Concert de la Loge Olympique, part of the exclusive freemason club to which many members of the nobility and the best professional musicians belonged. At the request of the Loge’s grand-master, Saint-Georges commissioned Haydn’s Paris Symphonies, including the Symphony No. 85 in Bb Major nicknamed “La Reine”, because it was a favorite of Marie-Antoinette. Haydn received a staggering 25 louis d’or per symphony from the Loge. In return, he produced his grandest works to date. Saint-George’s orchestra was more than double the size of the orchestra that Haydn led in Esterhaza, having 65 members: 14 first violins, 14 second violins, 7 violas, 10 cellos, 7 contrabasses, 4 horns, 3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassons, 2 clarinets, 2 trumpets, and timpani.
Saint-Georges also led in the fight for political equality. He worked with the young Duke d’Orléans, nicknamed Philippe-Egalité, in the abolitionist Société des Amis des Noirs. During the Revolution, he joined the National Guard and in 1792 became the colonel of the Légion des Américains et du Midi, Europe’s first regiment comprised of citizens of colour, which included Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, father of the novelist Alexandre Dumas. On account of his close connections with France’s nobility, he was jailed for 18 months during Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, but in 1795, succeeded in reestablishing a masonic orchestra at the Cercle de l’Harmonie. The Mercure reported that this orchestra “left nothing to be desired as to the choice of works or the superiority of their execution.”
Alexander Weimann is one of the most sought-after ensemble directors, soloists, and chamber music partners of his generation. After travelling the world with ensembles such as Tragicomedia, Cantus Cölln, the Freiburger Barockorchester, Gesualdo Consort and Tafelmusik, he now focuses on his activities as Music Director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra in Vancouver, Music Director of the Seattle Baroque Orchestra, and regular guest conductor of ensembles including the Victoria Symphony, Symphony Nova Scotia, Arion Baroque Orchestra in Montreal and the Portland Baroque Orchestra.
Alex was born in Munich, where he studied the organ, church music, musicology (with a summa con laude thesis on Bach’s secco recitatives), theatre, mediæval Latin, and jazz piano, supported by a variety of federal scholarships. From 1990 to 1995, he taught music theory, improvisation, and Jazz at the Munich Musikhochschule. Since 1998, he has been giving master classes in harpsichord and historical performance practice at institutions such as Lunds University in Malmö, the Bremen Musikhochschule, the University of California (Berkeley), Dartmouth College (New Hampshire), McGill University, Université de Montréal, and Mount Allison (New Brunswick). He now teaches at the University of British Columbia and directs the Baroque Orchestra Mentorship Programme there. He has received several JUNO and GRAMMY Award nominations – most recently, for the album Nuit Blanches with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and Karina Gauvin.
From age seventeen, beginning as a freelance violinist in London, Monica Hugget has earned her living solely as a violinist and artistic director and, in 2008, was appointed inaugural artistic director of The Juilliard School’s Historical Performance Program, where she continues as artistic advisor. Monica’s expertise in the musical and social history of the Baroque era is unparalleled among performing musicians today. This huge body of knowledge and understanding, coupled with her unforced and expressive musicality, has made her an invaluable resource to students of baroque violin and period performance practice through the 19th century.
Over the last 40 years, Monica co-founded, with Ton Koopman, the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra; founded her own London-based ensemble, Sonnerie; worked with Christopher Hogwood at the Academy of Ancient Music and Trevor Pinnock with the English Concert; toured the United States in concert with James Galway; co-founded, in 2004, the Montana Baroque Festival; and has served as artistic director of Portland Baroque Orchestra since 1994, where she made her first appearance in 1992 playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. From 2006 to 2017, she was also the artistic director for Irish Baroque Orchestra, where she recorded Flights of Fantasy, named by Alex Ross in the New Yorker as Classical Recording of the Year for 2010.
Monica’s recordings, numbering well over 100, have won numerous prizes and acclaim throughout her career. In addition to her baroque violin recordings, she recorded “Angie” with The Rolling Stones in 1972. Monica lives in Portland, where she enjoys cycling and gardening (somewhat compulsively).