Vancouver Bach Festival will explore how Scottish traditional music influenced the masters of the Baroque

Music lovers in the 21st century don’t normally associate Scottish fidgeting and jigs with great Baroque composers like Johann Sebastian Bach or Antonio Vivaldi.

It is heretical for those who associate classical music with grand concert halls and tuxedo-wearing conductors.

But in fact, some fashionable Baroque composers of the 17th and 18th centuries have joined these violinists from Scotland. And this left a lasting influence on the Baroque, a complex style of music that includes harmonic language and requires many more instruments than Scottish folk songs.

Suzie LeBlanc, a highly regarded soprano and Artistic and Executive Director of Early Music Vancouver, tells the Straight ahead by telephone that Scottish violin music and jigs inspired several Italian Baroque composers, including Francesco Geminiani.

In addition, these violinists influenced the German Georg Philipp Telemann and the French George Muffat, who was of Scottish descent on his father’s side.

“They were just immersed in it,” LeBlanc says. “So the ties are very, very close. It’s really nice to look at baroque music through that lens.”

That’s exactly what Early Music Vancouver will be doing this year at the Vancouver Bach Festival, which runs from July 26 to August 6. Taking a closer look at Scottish Baroque and other traditions, the festival is breaking new ground this year.

It is also an admission that the “Old Wig”, as Bach was called, employed musicians who often played in taverns.

“It’s historically very good to talk about it,” LeBlanc says. “It can change the way people approach a composer like Bach, for example.

“Most of Bach’s music consists of dances,” she continues. “And where do these dances come from? They are into traditional music.”

Early Music Vancouver has two artists in residence who will reinforce this year’s theme at various concerts during the Vancouver Bach Festival

One of them, the Scottish keyboardist and senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow, David McGuinness, is a scholar of Scottish musical traditions.

The other artist in residence, Baroque violinist and Cape Breton violinist David Greenberg, is ideally suited to interpret the links between Scotland and Baroque music that first emerged in Italy and spread across Europe. In the 1990s, he weaved Scottish, Cape Breton and Baroque music into three recordings with Puirt A Baroque.

Video of Bach Meets Cape Breton

Bach meets Cape Breton: Puirt A Baroque performs Bach in a video directed by Joel Goldberg, which also features step dances from the island.

LeBlanc says the two Davids have not played together since the start of the pandemic. According to her, they are very much looking forward to the opening concert of the festival, Ebb and Flow, on July 27 at the Chan Center for the Performing Arts.

“They are musicians who are at home in what we call HIP – historically informed practice – in Baroque music,” says LeBlanc.

They will celebrate water together with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, led by Alexander Weimann. Together they bring George Frideric Handel’s water musicTelemann’s Hamburg ebb and flowand Alasdair MacLean’s The Silken Water is weaving and weaving

LeBlanc says this show will also feature Fiona T. Lam, Vancouver Poet Laureate, with verses interspersed with Greenberg’s improvisations.

“It’s all about the importance of water to humans…something we cherish and care for on our planet,” says LeBlanc. “There are many beautiful messages there.”

Vancouver Poet Laureate Fiona T. Lam will provide verses as part of the concert highlighting the importance of water.
Rebecca Blissett

This year, Early Music Vancouver also invited soprano Ellen Torrie and violinist Marie Nadeau-Tremblay to be the first members of the emerging artists program. On August 3, they will perform at Pyatt Hall at the VSO School of Music with theorbist Sylvain Bergerson in a show called The Next Generation: Baroque Innovations.

LeBlanc, who taught at McGill University until the end of the 2020-21 academic year, is impressed by how many young singers also master popular instruments from the early music period, such as the lute and harp.

“Ellen Torrie has learned to play baroque guitar and will accompany herself,” added LeBlanc.

Another young musical star, BC violinist and Juilliard School grad Chloe Kim, will perform with Tremblay and last year’s Early Vancouver Music artist in residence, baritone Jonathon Adams, in a show called Out of the Deep on August 4 at Christ Church Cathedral. They are joined by Margaret Little on viola da gamba, Lucas Harris on theorbo and Avi Stein on keyboard.

Kim returns to Christ Church Cathedral the following evening for Bach: Four Sonatas and a Concerto, with Stein again on keyboard and Christina Mahler on cello.

The talented Chloe Kim will perform at two Vancouver Bach Festival concerts at Christ Church Cathedral.
Kelsey Goodwin

LeBlanc is also looking forward to several other concerts, including Ensemble Arkora’s exploration of connections between new Canadian works and old pieces by Hildegard von Bingen at Christ Church Cathedral on July 28. Lan Tung on erhu joins the group.

One of the world’s greatest horn players, Pierre-Antoine Tremblay, who will attend a concert called The Last Rose of Summer at Christ Church Cathedral on July 29 with Weimann.

Alexander Weimann is musical director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra.
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Another highlight of the festival is Contrasto Armonico’s concert, entitled Les Nations, at Christ Church Cathedral on July 29. LeBlanc describes the group’s founder, Palermo-born harpsichordist and organist Marco Vitale, as “a shaker and a mover” in Baroque music. In 2017 he became music director of Denman Baroque.

Vitale is also one of four harpsichordists – along with Weimann, McGuinness and Christina Hutten – who will be at the Chan Center for the Performing Arts on August 5 with Pacific Baroque Orchestra for Bach’s revered Concerto for four harpsichords in A minor† It was an adaptation of Vivaldi’s Concerto for four violins and strings† Greenberg and Chloe Myers will play the violin.

Violinist Chloe Meyers discovers what it’s like to play Bach’s music alongside four harpsichords by Craig Tomlinson.
Jan Gates

This concerto features four early French harpsichords of the same brand, made by Craig Tomlinson of West Vancouver. LeBlanc points out that there are only four of these instruments in Vancouver and they will be on stage together.

“Many people have performed Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto for Four Harpsichords,” acknowledges the Artistic and Executive Director of Early Music Vancouver. “But I’m not sure if they did it on identical instruments. So it’s going to be really fun. You will hear the character of each specific person within a family.”

Soprano Suzie LeBlanc became Artistic and Executive Director of Early Music Vancouver in January 2021.
Early Music Vancouver

Fans of LeBlanc’s work as a soprano won’t be disappointed either. Together with Tremblay, Bergerson and recorder player Vincent Lauzer she will mix Acadian folk songs with court broadcast of the French court of Louis XIV in a concert on August 2 at Christ Church Cathedral.

LeBlanc says she and the musicians would be giving this concert at another festival in July.

“They said, ‘Can we do this in Vancouver?’ I said, ‘Okay, let’s do it!’ †

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