Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra performs Vivaldi tomorrow at Napa Valley Opera House—Bay Area novelist and Vivaldi scholar Barbara Quick will be signing books
Tomorrow (Tuesday) evening violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock will be the soloist on a 1660 Andrea Guarneri violin with San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO) at the Napa Valley Opera House, as part of their “Four Seasons Tour.” Widely admired as a performer of compelling verve and eloquence, Blumenstock has collaborated with PBO since 1981 as a soloist, concertmaster, and leader. Those who experienced the glory of PBO’s “Messiah” at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall in December, or who have heard PBO perform elsewhere, know that whatever piece of early music the internationally renowned orchestra performs, the experience is unforgettable. Both Maestro Nicholas McGegan and Elizabeth Blumenstock will be signing copies of PBO’s new “Four Seasons” CD tomorrow evening. North Bay author Barbara Quick, who wrote the album’s liner notes, will be there too, signing copies of her best-selling novel, Vivaldi’s Virgins (2007: Harper Collins), which has sold some 50,000 copies in English and been translated into 15 languages. Over the past year, it has been my pleasure to attend several musical performances with Barbara quick, who lives in Cotati with her husband Wayne Roden, a long-time violist with the San Francisco Symphony. We talk frequently about the task of bringing music, which has its own life, to readers.
“I was thrilled when the PBO asked me to write the liner notes for their Four Seasons CD,” said Quick. “Ever since I first started doing the research for my novel, I’ve been inspired by the passion and authenticity they bring to their performances of Vivaldi’s music, which was first performed by the all-female orchestra of Venice’s Ospedale della Pieta.”
The Pieta was a world-famous cloister for foundlings and orphans in 18th century Venice. The most musically talented girls and women among them comprised an orchestra and choir led by some of the best composers of the time, including Vivaldi, who was for many decades their resident composer and maestro della musica. Their faces hidden from view, these girls and women performed for the elite of Venetian society as well as for musical tourists, including royalty, who came from all over the world to experience the “mystic rapture” of hearing them.
Through his music, Vivaldi gave these cloistered musicians a window onto the world outside the walls of the Pieta. By showcasing the talents of so many of the figlie di coro—or daughters of the choir, as they were called—Vivaldi allowed them to shine as individuals, even within a painfully institutional setting in which it was all too easy to feel abandoned, forgotten and alone.
This 18th century world, seen through the eyes of the foundling musician Anna Maria dal Violin, a real resident of the Pieta and Vivaldi’s star pupil, is brought to life in Quick’s moving and historically accurate novel. To do the research, she learned Italian, took three trips to Venice to dig in the archives there and experience the landscape firsthand, and immersed herself—“…to the extent possible, for a non-musician!” she told me—in the history, scholarship, texts and contemporary performances of Vivaldi’s music.
According to Quick, Vivaldi wrote a great deal of his music to showcase his own virtuosity as a violinist. She reports that he was said to be freakishly talented! But in the world pre-recordings, he was completely dependent on the technical skills and musicality of the performers who made it possible for his work as a composer to be heard and known. He taught them, Quick surmises, not only how to interpret his music but also how to experience the emotional depth it required. In one memorable passage in her novel, Quick shows Vivaldi sneaking some of his string-players out of the cloister, bundled up and masked, to experience a “fourth season,” when Venice had its coldest winter in a hundred years and the Grand Canal actually froze. As Quick writes in her liner notes for the CD (page 5):
Life imitated art for Quick. She had no formal training as a musician or music scholar, but became immersed in the world of music and musicians after Vivaldi’s Virgins was published. She’s given pre-concert talks for the PBO and several other Bay Area ensembles, including, most recently, an on-stage lecture at the Herbst Theater for the San Francisco Girls Chorus. But, most significantly for Quick, she met and married violist Wayne Roden. “Music is as much a part of my world now as it was for my novel’s protagonist and Vivaldi’s favorite student, Anna Maria dal Violin.” As Anna Maria says in Quick’s novel,
I’ve come to believe that music is the one companion, the one teacher, the one parent, the one friend who will never abandon me. Every effort I give to it is rewarded. It never spurns my love, it never leaves my questions unanswered. I give, and it gives back to me. I drink, and—like the fountain in the Persian fairytale—it never runs dry. I play, and it tells me my feelings, and it always speaks the truth. (Vivaldi’s Virgins, p. 179)
Program: Tuesday, January 16, 2013
Conducted by Nicholas McGegan, Elizabeth Blumenstock, guest violinist
CORELLI Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 7 in D major
PERGOLESI Sinfonia in F major
VIVALDI Violin Concertos, Op. 8, Nos. 1-4 The Four Seasons
Violin Concerto in E major, RV 269, La primavera (Spring)
Violin Concerto in G minor, RV 315, L’estate (Summer)
Violin Concerto in F major, RV 293, L’autunno (Autumn)
Violin Concerto in F minor, RV 297, L’inverno (Winter)
LOCATELLI Concerto Grosso Op. 7, No. 6 in E-flat major, Il pianto d’Arianna
DURANTE Concerto No. 5 in A major
More about Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra: Now, in its 31st season, San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra has been dedicated to historically-informed performance of Baroque, Classical and early-Romantic music on original instruments since its inception in 1981. Under the direction of Music Director Nicholas McGegan for the past 26 years, PBO has defined an approach to period style that sets the current standard. The group has been named Ensemble of the Year by Musical America, and “an ensemble for early music as fine as any in the world today” by Los Angeles Times critic Alan Rich.
PBO performs an annual subscription series in the San Francisco Bay Area, and tours regularly in the United States and internationally. The Orchestra has its own professional chorus, the Philharmonia Chorale, directed by Bruce Lamott, and regularly welcomes talented guest artists such as mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, countertenor David Daniels, conductor Jordi Savall, violinist Monica Huggett, recorder player Marion Verbruggen, and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian.
PBO musicians are listed here, along with information about the period instruments they play. In some cases, the instruments are historical treasures dating from the baroque and classical eras. In other cases, the instruments have been produced by modern craftsmen working in the historical tradition.
PBO’s New Recording Label: PBO has made 32 highly-praised recordings on original instruments, including its Gramophone award-winning recording of Handel’s Susanna—for harmonia mundi (1992; re-issued 2003). In 2011, PBO launched Philharmonia Baroque Productions, its own label and has 5 CD’s out, all of which will be for sale on Tuesday, along with their other older recordings.
Details: Elizabeth Blumenstock and PBO will perform Tuesday, January 15, 2012, at 8 p.m. at the Napa Valley Opera House, as part of their “Four Seasons Tour.” The Napa Valley Opera house is located at 1030 Main Street, Napa. Tickets: $40-$55. Purchase tickets online here. Visit http://nvoh.org/ for more information. Elizabeth Blumenstock and Nicholas McGegan, will be signing cd’s and Barbara will be signing books in the lobby before and after the concert.
PBO will perform “The World of ‘The Four Seasons’” on Wednesday at Stanford’s new Bing Concert Hall, the final performance in their Four Seasons Tour.” Stay tuned to ARThound for a review of the new concert hall and last Friday’s opening performance at Bing.
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