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New Year, Old Sounds

Eugene ensembles go Baroque and before
Alessio Bax.
Alessio Bax.

In the past few years, Eugene’s Baroque music scene has blossomed beyond the annual Oregon Bach Festival. This month boasts a trifecta of early music concerts performed as closely to the styles, tunings and instrumentation of what the original composers intended.

On Sunday, Jan. 20, Oregon Bach Collegium performs Italian Baroque music at United Lutheran Church at 22nd and Washington. The string ensemble, composed mostly of University of Oregon graduate students who have studied the latest developments in our evolving understanding of historic performance practice, will be led by one of America’s Baroque music pioneers, violinist Michael Sand, who founded the country’s preeminent early music ensemble, San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and OBC’s music director, veteran Oregon harpsichordist Margret Gries. They’ll play music by Domenico Scarlatti (who composed some of the finest keyboard music ever written) and his father Alessandro; trio sonatas by one of the progenitors of the Italian Baroque style, Arcangelo Corelli; a late Baroque work, Francesco Geminiani’s celebrated variations on the most famous tune of the era, “La Folia”; and more.

On Friday, Jan. 25, at Central Lutheran Church at 18th and Potter, UO prof and renowned early music singer Eric Mentzel leads his Vox Resonat vocal ensemble in winter music of the past half millennium. We Oregonians could learn from those medieval and Renaissance Northern Europeans, who realized just one holiday isn’t enough to get us through the dark winters, so the early music specialists will sing rarely heard music from not only the feast of St. Nick but also holidays devoted to St. James, St. Thomas, Mary and the Three Kings.

On Sunday, Jan. 27, at First United Methodist Church, 13th and Olive, another group of Baroque music veterans, Cascade Consort, travels a further back in time to play English music from the early 17th century around Shakespeare’s time. The most famous composer on the bill is John Dowland (Sting recently took up his music), whose melancholy music always touches the heart. The concert also contains music by composers who worked for the royals (just as the Bard himself did): Robert Johnson (the lutenist, not the American bluesman), who wrote songs for some of the first productions of Shakespeare’s plays, and William and Henry Lawes. The musicians include veteran Portland Baroque Orchestra cellist and viola da gamba player Joanna Blendulf, keyboard player Julia Brown, singer Aaron Cain and lutenist David Rogers all of whom have played and recorded this music for years.

There’s also music from later eras onstage this month. Thursday, Jan.17, the acclaimed Italian pianist Alessio Bax joins the Eugene Symphony at the Hult Center for one of the greatest works for keyboard and orchestra, Mozart’s darkly dramatic Piano Concerto No. 24. Danail Rachev also leads the band in one of the most popular 20th-century symphonies, Prokofiev’s fifth, and Rossini’s overture for the Lone Ranger, er, William Tell.

At the UO’s Beall Concert Hall, on Monday, Jan. 21, the national award-winning UO Gospel Singers will celebrate the legacy of a modern martyr and a sort of secular saint, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., with songs and speeches from musical and religious guest performers. Also at Beall on Sunday, Jan. 27, the great Warsaw-based Szymanowski Quartet plays music by its namesake, the early 20th-century Polish composer, Mendelssohn and Dvořák. That last composer’s Brahmsian Piano Trio in F minor, which vibrates with the yearning you’d expect from a Romantic piece written after the composer’s mother’s death, tops the bill the next day in Chamber Music Amici’s concert at Springfield’s Wildish Theater on Monday, Jan. 28, when more current and former UO music faculty members (cellist Stephen Pologe, violinists Sharon Schuman and former Symphony concertmaster Kathryn Lucktenberg, pianist Victor Steinhardt) play it and a string trio by Haydn.

Finally, the terrific Irish band Solas, featuring multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan, returns to The Shedd on Jan. 24 to play its contemporary and traditional Celtic sounds including music from their new concept album, Shamrock City, that traces the life and early violent death of a young Irish immigrant to Montana in the early 20th century.