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Indie Baroque

Ensembles assemble in Eugene
Musica Maestrale

It used to be rare to hear Oregon musicians play Baroque music the way composers intended rather than in the anachronistic styles that dominated performances till the end of the 20th century. Now, it’s happily becoming commonplace — but no less a delight. Institutions like the UO and Portland Baroque Orchestra harbor scholar-musicians well-versed in the styles, tunings and instruments (or replicas) that make the music lean and fleet, and more transparently expressive than it’s been in centuries. 

But these days, it’s not only the big institutions that feature period-instrument specialists revealing the beauties obscured by centuries of uninformed misinterpretation. This month offers a pair of delicious opportunities to savor these formerly seldom-heard sounds, performed by what might be called indie Baroque ensembles. On Sunday, Jan. 8, at First United Methodist Church, several Baroque specialists convene under the name Musica Maestrale to play and sing some ravishing music by Monteverdi, Castello, Barbara Strozzi and other composers from 17th century Italy.

Sunday, Jan. 15, finds the Oregon Bach Collegium (including soprano Catherine Olson, who’ll also sing with Musica Maestrale) at United Lutheran Church, where it will perform 17th century broadside ballads and dance tunes for violin, lute, fiddle, harpsichord and voices. Both concerts should strip away any outdated sense of stuffiness to reveal — and revel in — vivid musical responses to human passions that persist in the loveliness of Baroque music and the instruments that originally played it. 

First Methodist is also the site of a Jan. 14 free concert (kids encouraged) by members of the Eugene chapter of the American Guild of Organists that shows how those remarkable mechanisms called pipe organs work. Not only will the mighty Hochhalter — which we’re lucky to have in our city — be used; also on hand will be a little portative organ similar to the instrument whose agreeably reedy sound graced so many delightful works by Bach, Handel and other composers. 

I confess that I used to detest organ music, probably because of forbidding associations with tedious church music. But as innovative 20th century composers like Olivier Messiaen and Lou Harrison and colorful young performers like Cameron Carpenter are demonstrating these days, the instrument is becoming hip again.

Another keyboard is key in the Oregon Mozart Players’ concert Saturday, Jan. 7, at the Hult Center, when UO faculty member Dean Kramer takes the solo role in Mozart’s sparkling Piano Concerto No. 23. Mozart wrote those pieces to perform himself, and his mature concerti are some of the finest of all his music. The chamber orchestra will be conducted by another pianist, Kelly Kuo, an Oregon native currently auditioning for the OMP’s music director position. Kuo will also lead the band in Beethoven’s not-so-often heard Symphony No. 2 and Aaron Copland’s frequently performed but always welcome music from his great 1944 ballet, Appalachian Spring. 

Additionally, Kuo will lead a free master class 1 pm Friday, Jan. 6, in the UO music building’s Schnitzer Hall, and it’s open to the public. Also on campus Tuesday, Jan. 10, at Beall Hall, the superior flute virtuosa and modern music maven Molly Barth joins fellow faculty member David Riley in a recommended recital of attractive music for flute and piano by J.S. Bach and Paul Hindemith, as well as solo flute works by 20th century composers Robert Muczynski and Andre Jolivet.