The final concert of the 2022-23 Music of the Baroque season, entitled “Circles of Friends”, is a testament to great performances. This outstanding program ends the season with magnificent and impressive grandeur.
As [Dame Jane] Glover added in gracious welcoming remarks, the four 18th-century composers were only one such circle on hand, adding that Music of the Baroque—the ensemble and its patrons—constitute another intimate band, as reflected in the program’s two concertante works, which featured soloists from MOB’s own ranks.
The first of these was Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Oboe, Cello, and Bassoon, with Gina DiBello, Anne Bach, Paul Dwyer, and William Buchman in the respective solo roles. These four made a sophisticated solo ensemble, playfully tossing Haydn’s intricately imitative writing among themselves in the spacious Allegro.
[Dame Jane] Glover is a veteran hand at these large-canvas choral works, and Monday’s performance provided a virtual seminar in Bach conducting—pacing the narrative with firm momentum, ideal tempos and fine balancing of the orchestras, soloists and choruses. There were passing moments at the start of some arias where soloists and orchestra weren’t completely in synch but considering the length and complexity of this leviathan the performance was largely polished across all fronts.
Maestro Nicholas Kraemer seamlessly conducted Handel, Boyce, Haydn, and Mozart in Sunday night’s performance of the Music of the Baroque at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. It was remarkable to see Kraemer conduct the orchestra without a score for over two hours (with a 15-minute intermission). Clearly, he had committed every single note of music to memory as well as all the cues for the solo instruments! How amazing is that!
Music of the Baroque’s enjoyable London Calling concert was performed at the Harris Theater on February 27 after opening the previous night at Skokie’s North Shore Center for Performing Arts. The program, conducted by Nicholas Kraemer, focused on four composers who lived in London for at least periods of time in 1700s.
It was [also] noticeable that Kraemer, who often plays harpsichord while leading the orchestra as principal guest conductor, did not during this concert, with ensemble member Stephen Alltop at the keyboard. Kraemer conducted the entire concert without a score and podium, which enabled him to exhibit his energetic, lean-in conducting style.
Longtime Music of the Baroque principal guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer led the orchestra in a “London Calling” program on Monday night at the Harris Theater. Featuring 18th-century compositions from (mostly) familiar composers, the evening as a whole was a compelling evocation of a particularly fecund time and place in European musical history.
In a world-class performance on Sunday evening, Venezuelan-born Gabriella Montero enthralled the audience at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts as she commanded the piano, accompanied by the Music of the Baroque orchestra. Montero’s fingers flitted across the keyboard fluidly, like a butterfly flapping its beautiful but strong wings. She played Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467 effortlessly and exquisitely, and immediately after that, she provided a spontaneous demonstration of her improvisational skills. What an astonishing talent! How happy I was to be in the audience!
Each January, Chicago’s Music of the Baroque orchestra celebrates Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born on January 27, 1756. This “birthday” concert is reliably excellent, as the ensemble has gained recognition since its founding in 1971 as one of the leading interpreters of Mozart’s work.
At the concert on Saturday at the Harris Theater, Dame Jane Glover—Music of the Baroque’s longtime lead conductor and music director—energetically led the orchestra through Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major and Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major without a score or podium in front of her.
Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero proved an energetic foil, and then some, to the measured and refined sensibilities of Dame Jane Glover and the Music of the Baroque orchestra in concert on Saturday night at the Harris Theater of Music and Dance. Performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, Montero brought an urgency to her debut with the baroque orchestra that sometimes bordered on rushed. But her technical brilliance, nuanced phrasing and deep sense of style prevailed in an exciting rendition of a movie-famous work.
December always comes with lots of holiday concerts to choose from. The most delightful Christmas concert I’ve attended in some time took place last Friday night, Dec. 16 in St. Michael Church in the Old Town neighborhood. The program, Music of the Baroque (MOB), offered a full evening of celebratory music under the tagline “inspiring music in beautiful spaces” and the concert certainly included both those things, all led by MOB’s new chorus director, Andrew Megill.
Music of the Baroque‘s Holiday Brass & Chorale Concert, staged over four days in four Chicago-area churches, is the biggest annual star turn for the ensemble’s chorus. And the performance at Chicago’s St. Michael Catholic Church Friday (December 16) upheld the reputation of Andrew Megill as one of the world’s leading choral conductors.
One aspect of the [Music of the Baroque's] holiday concerts that has not changed over the years is their closing number: Michael Praetorius’ setting of “Est ist ein Ros’ entsprungen.” The text conveys the Christmas mystery through the metaphor of a rose blooming in winter, and Megill centered this year’s MOB program around selections that use similar floral imagery, including multiple settings of the hymn itself.
The format of this concert was reminiscent of the most recent Music of the Baroque program that principal guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer led last season with soprano Amanda Forsythe, which favored instrumental pieces and vocal works that were largely not well suited to her voice type. Questionable programming aside, Sunday’s concert provided a fitting showcase for the instrumentalists and chorus of the baroque ensemble, if not for the marquee soloist.
An entertaining evening is virtually guaranteed whenever Patrick Dupre Quigley visits Chicago to conduct the Music of the Baroque orchestra. This was again the case this week when he was back in town, leading the players on a program titled Baroque Heroes at Skokie’s North Shore Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday and at the Harris Theater on Tuesday. At this event, Quigley earned MOB’s Visiting Conductor Medal.
Five works—four of them rarities—a collaboration with a dance troupe, a cello concerto, and 27 separate movements. Sunday’s Music of the Baroque lineup almost seemed like the kind of program set up for a guest conductor to fail.
Yet Patrick Dupre Quigley handled this minefield of potential disasters with consummate skill, deftly avoiding the myriad of potential minefields Sunday afternoon at North Shore Center in Skokie.
The occasion marked Quigley’s second appearance with MOB after leading the holiday Brass and Choral program in 2019. He was slated to lead a mostly French Baroque program in 2020 but those concerts fell victim to the pandemic.
Rare the music organization that manages to hit a grand slam in the very first concert of a fresh fall season.
But such was the case Sunday night in Skokie when Dame Jane Glover opened her 20th season leading Music of the Baroque with an intensely dramatic and thrillingly sung performance of Handel’s Jephtha. There is one repeat tonight at the Harris Theater and no self-respecting opera or Baroque aficionado should miss it.
Handel was normally a lightning-fast composer. But by 1751, his vision was failing along with his health, and Jephtha took seven months to complete. Yet in this work—Handel’s final oratorio and his last significant composition—there is no sign of flagging inspiration and Jephtha abounds in musical riches, for soloists and chorus alike.
Thinking big hasn’t been easy for any arts organization in recent years, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.
So it’s exhilarating to see Music of the Baroque opening its new season this weekend with one of Handel’s most expansive and rarely performed oratorios, Jephtha.
Celebrating her 20th anniversary as MOB music director, Jane Glover conducts the orchestra, vocal soloists and chorus. Tenor David Portillo is out front on the title role with soprano Lauren Snouffer as Jephtha’s daughter Iphis, backed by soloists mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski, countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, bass-baritone Neal Davies and soprano Katelyn Lee. Music of the Baroque’s new chorus director, Andrew Megill, prepared the vocal ensemble.
Music of the Baroque has presented hundreds of concerts in downtown Chicago and elsewhere across the city during its 52-year history, but it has only ever performed one time at the Ravinia Festival, and that was nine years ago.
To at least partially rectify the Chicago chamber orchestra’s absence from the Ravinia lineup, the group will present its first-ever concert in the festival’s 3,350-seat open-air pavilion on Sept. 3.
Since the #MeToo movement took fire in 2017 and the classical-music world has ratcheted up its efforts around gender equity, a raft of up-and-coming women conductors have grabbed the spotlight, including Eun Sun Kim, music director of the San Francisco Opera, and Anna Rakitina, assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony. But decades before these much-publicized developments, one veteran female conductor was already quietly leading by example—Jane Glover, longtime music director of Music of the Baroque.
Though not epic in length, the Schöpfungsmesse is among Haydn’s most demanding works in the genre, for soloists chorus and the orchestra. Yet under Glover’s scrupulous direction, nearly all the difficulties were surmounted in Monday’s polished and exuberant performance.
The chorus has the heavy lifting in this music and—in Andrew Megill’s first outing as MOB’s new chorus director—the ensemble sang with great fervor, flexibility and technical esteem, even in the trickiest hairpin turns.
Music of the Baroque finished their 2021-22 season at Harris Theater on Monday with The Brothers Haydn, a program centered on Joseph Haydn and his younger brother Michael. The older Haydn perfected the symphony, string quartet, piano sonata, and many other classical music forms, which has made him a pinnacle of music history. His younger brother Michael was also a prolific composer. Unlike his older brother’s music, Michael Haydn’s music was not printed or publicized in his lifetime. It was obscure when it was written toward the end of the 18th century, and it remains that way today.
Music lovers generally have some familiarity with the works of Franz Joseph Haydn. But for all these years, where was younger brother Michael Haydn? Such was the question on the minds of concertgoers who attended last Sunday’s performance of “The Brothers Haydn” by the Music of the Baroque (MOB) at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, in Skokie. Though Michael worked a mundane job, he was a composer in his own right, and this program takes him out of the shadows and into the spotlight. His Symphony in E-flat Major, Perger 26, Sherman 34, MH 473 is presented alongside compositions by his older brother and his good friend Mozart. Especially notable in the performance of his symphony are solos by oboist Anne Bach and bassoonist William Buchman.
Retooled from a secular cantata for a nobleman’s birthday, the Easter Oratorio is a more intimate, less theatrical work that Bach’s Passions. In the oratorio’s scenario, Mary Magdalene (mezzo), Mary Jacobi (soprano) and the apostles Peter (tenor) and John (bass) come to the tomb of Jesus and ponder his resurrection—which has already happened. The music is more reflective than dramatic but rises to remarkable expressive heights in its solo arias.
Glover is a long-experienced hand in these Bach masterworks and on Monday night she led a superbly realized performance that balanced the festive moments and spiritual consolation with consummate skill.
Watching the audience’s effusive response to soprano Amanda Forsythe’s blazing coloratura at the end of Music of the Baroque’s Classical Heroines concert Monday at Chicago’s Harris Theater, it is easy to imagine solo vocalists of the 18th century as precursors to today’s rock stars.
Forsythe had already made three well-received appearances on stage, with Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas Kraemer leading the orchestra while contributing on the harpsichord. Forsythe then sent the attendees home on a high note—many high notes, actually—with her vocal gymnastics on the aria “Da tempeste” from George Frederic Handel’s opera Giulio Cesare.
he elegant and charming soprano Amanda Forsythe took center stage in a demonstrative performance of works by Haydn, Handel, and Purcell at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts on March 20th. Backed by various configurations of the Music of the Baroque (MOB) orchestra, Forsythe’s mellifluous voice was beyond compare.
Nicholas Kraemer led Music of the Baroque in a program of Handel, Purcell, and Haydn titled “Classical Heroines” Monday night at the Harris Theater, with soprano Amanda Forsythe bringing those heroines to life.
With this title, one might have expected music by Haydn and Mozart or their lesser-known contemporaries, but only one of the vocal selections was from the Classical era (though Dido is a heroine from Classical literature). Semantics apart, the concert was a healthy combination of rarities and old favorites that provided a worthy platform for this celebrated early music specialist.
Music of the Baroque welcomed Chicago native Anthony McGill, principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic, for an all-Mozart program at the Harris Theater Monday night. Music director Dame Jane Glover, one of the world’s preeminent Mozart scholars, was in her element, leading the orchestra with precision and grace.
Long forgotten and only recently revived, Bologne is now the subject of an absorbing and illuminating “concert theater” piece, “The Chevalier,” presented last weekend in Chicago and Skokie under the auspices of Music of the Baroque (MOB) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. This reviewer caught the second of three performances Saturday night at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.
Written and directed by Bill Barclay, a playwright, actor, musician and former music director of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, “The Chevalier” is seen here in an 80-minute version first staged at Tanglewood’s Learning Institute in Massachusetts in 2019. (A full-length version is scheduled to be given at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem in September.) The Tanglewood-Chicago edition employs four actors, solo violinist Brendon Elliott and MOB musicians under Jane Glover.
“The Chevalier,” a partly staged concert theater work jointly presented by Music of the Baroque — whose musicians will play music by Joseph Bologne and his contemporaries — and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, dramatizes his story.
If you have never attended one of Music of the Baroque’s Holiday Brass and Choral Concerts, you owe it to yourself to mark your December 2022 calendar to ensure that you add this to your Yuletide music plans.
The lineup of pieces performed in these programs changes from year to year. But there is a consistent thread: an immersion in the traditions of Christmastime music, performed not on concert stages but rather in churches in Chicago and its suburbs. I attended the fourth and final concert Sunday at the Alice Millar Chapel on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston.
The ensemble was on top of its art in this, the first Music of the Baroque performance of "Messiah" in a decade. The orchestration is predominantly strings, though with the clarion sounds of principal trumpet Barbara Butler resounding during key passages in Parts II and III.
What can be more gratifying than a concert featuring George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” during Thanksgiving weekend? Music of the Baroque brought solemnity and force to Handel’s sacred oratorio this past Sunday evening at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, in Skokie. Conducted by Nicholas Kraemer, who also played harpsichord, the ensemble featured the distinctive voices of four soloists plus the fusion of chorus and orchestra. This magnificent performance lasted almost three hours (including the intermission) and never dragged. In part, this had to do with the supertitles above the performers that allowed all of us in the audience to follow the libretto directly.
With a nearly two-year respite of choral music concerts in general and Handel’s Messiah in particular, music organizations in Chicago are making up for lost time.
Handel’s beloved oratorio is clearly back following the 18-month void of choral performances due to Covid-19 health restrictions, with three high-profile organizations, along with scores of amateur choirs and churches, marking the Christmas season once again with Messiah.
In a robust performance, early music specialist John Butt takes the stage to conduct two performances of the Music of the Baroque Orchestra, featuring works by Arcangelo Corelli, Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni. The bulk of the program focuses on the evolution of the concerto, from the methodical Corelli to the more “mix and match” Vivaldi and his colleague Albinoni, who was one of the first in Italy to write for the oboe, a new instrument. Bach, who transcribed at least nine of Vivaldi’s concertos, is presented in this program to highlight the Italianesque air of the music of the era in combination with the influence of the fashionable French. In his highly popular and joyful Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major, BWV 1066, he brings together various types of early 18th century dance music to suit an assortment of musical and cultural tastes.
While Music of the Baroque unofficially kicked off its 2021-22 season on September 10 with a brief and breezy Baroque in the Park concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, this was a first opportunity for many to see the orchestra live in almost 19 months, before the COVID plague hit. On such an occasion, you needed heraldic trumpets in counterpoint, resonant french horns, the rumble of timpani, as much emphatic play as you can extract from oboes and bassoons, with a full complement of strings setting the pace.
In other words, you needed George Frideric Handel, and that’s what Music of the Baroque delivered in a program titled "Baroque Fireworks."
There is nothing quite like a Dame, particularly when it is Dame Jane Glover conducting George Frideric Handel. Few more formidable interpreters of the baroque master’s music walk the earth than Glover, the British conductor who has led Music of the Baroque since 2002.
She demonstrated as much yet again at Skokie’s North Shore Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday afternoon when the music director and her MOB orchestral colleagues presented a stylish, mostly-Handel program to launch the group’s 51st season.
No one can say that Music of the Baroque hasn’t been attuned to the ever-evolving circumstances of this pandemic season. The organization shifted to a streaming series and revised its programs no less than four times to meet changing public health strictures.
Dame Jane Glover had hoped to present a program of sacred choral music for MOB’s final concert of the season. And while things are looking very positive indeed for a return to normalcy, it’s still a bit too early for a full chorus to take the virtual stage.
Instead, a pair of Bach solo cantatas, well chosen for the occasion, made up MOB’s season finale, live-streamed Sunday afternoon from Saints Faith, Hope and Charity Church in Winnetka.
If their pleasure in reuniting on stage for the fifth time this season wasn’t visible on the players’ masked faces, it certainly was palpable in the vivacious performances members of the Music of the Baroque orchestra brought to a clutch of early 18th century concertos and concerti grossi on Sunday evening.
The stylish and trusty hand of principal guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer was evident in the symmetry of the programming as well as in the invigorating musical results. The concert was streamed live from the Music Center of the North Shore in Skokie, and will be available on demand from Wednesday to June 12 at baroque.org.
The Sixth Concerto served as the evening’s centerpiece. The earliest to be written, with its somber-stately expression and dark string coloring (two violas, two viola da gambas, cello and bass) the Sixth seems at times to emanate from English consort music of a century earlier.
The violas are primus inter pares here and Elizabeth Hagen and Terri van Valkingburgh brought worthy and largely polished advocacy to the shared spotlight. Their dusky, differentiated timbres proved complementary in the Adagio, nicely sustained at a spacious tempo with both players plumbing a depth of yearning expression.
It was quite an apt entree for Music of the Baroque director Jane Glover, who returned Monday night to lead the ensemble for the first time in 13 months — and for its 50th anniversary season, no less. Anniversary festivities will stretch into next season, when, fingers crossed, audiences will be able to return to the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.
MOB’s since-twice revised season instead brought a downsized live-streamed concert of Handel and Mozart Monday night. It was hoped that this Harris Theater program might be able to admit a small audience; but while Chicago is gradually reopening, we aren’t quite there yet.
Still, there was much to be grateful for. The event marked the MOB debut of the pianist Inon Barnatan, it was music director Dame Jane Glover’s first appearance with the ensemble in over a year, and the program offered a pair of relative Mozart rarities rather than relying on the usual suspects. All this and a Mozart premiere surprise as well.
The central Largo ma non tanto was utterly captivating, and nearly made one forget that the experience was unfolding remotely. The expansive movement was ideally balanced with an exquisite pas de deux by Brauer and Case at the center; the orchestra was organic and effortless in its accompaniment.
Just watching musicians of this caliber playing live, even remotely, is a balm for the music-deprived. The Four Seasons is so familiar—most classical fans could whistle along to virtually every note, and even non-fans recognize famous phrases from soundtracks and commercials—that it might have drawn a ho-hum reaction on a normal schedule, but in the pinched environment of the pandemic, it was welcome as an old friend.
The final iteration of MOB’s 50th anniversary season opened Sunday night in a live-streamed performance of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. And while the concert hardly struck new ground for programming ingenuity, the fact that a chamber orchestra was performing live at all was something to be thankful for.
Imagine putting on your game face, donning your fan apparel, gearing up to root for your favorite performer. But you’re not heading to a sports arena. You’re heading to the opera house.
That was how it was in the 18th century, said Conductor Jane Glover in her introduction to Music of the Baroque’s most recent performance, "Rival Divas—Handel & Mozart."
There were no major team sports that gathered the masses in those days. Instead, showdowns between leading operatic voices of the day brought out fans who were not shy about expressing their rooting interests.
Vocal works of Handel and Mozart are not exactly terra incognita for a Music of the Baroque program. But Monday night at the Harris Theater, Jane Glover led her ensemble, joined by sopranos Susanna Phillips and Jane Archibald, in “Rival Divas”— a clever program that served up an entertaining blend of musical rarities and lightly-worn scholarship with some terrific singing and theatrical panache.
That is one reason, perhaps, why Alison Balsom’s flawless virtuoso turn as guest artist for Music of the Baroque’s Harris Theater concert January 23 was so captivating. Performing Franz Joseph Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E-flat-major, Hob. Vlle.:1, this international star from England made every note ring true. And after a roof-raising standing ovation, she returned to the stage with a piccolo trumpet—smaller than the standard instrument, with keys on the side rather than on top—and breezed through a trumpet solo interpolation of Antonio Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in D-major.
Music of the Baroque’s concert, with trumpet wizard Balsom, was just the thing to raise one’s spirits above the weather’s prevailing fog, chill and wetness.
Balsom is a marvel, a virtuoso in every possible sense: technically dazzling, stylistically aware and able to produce a honeyed sound or lightning from her instrument. She played Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E-flat, a heady display of what the trumpet could do with a new system of valves added in the late 18th century.
Continuing its annual tradition of celebrating the music of Mozart on the occasion of his birthday each January, Music of the Baroque and music director Jane Glover served up a crowd-pleasing program on Saturday night at the Harris Theater.
Bookending the program were symphonies that told a tale of two cities: Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 (Linz), which was famously composed in a matter of days on the occasion of the composer’s visit to that Austrian burg; and Symphony No. 38 (Prague), premiered in and dedicated to the city known for harboring one of his most loyal fan bases.
Music of the Baroque utilized all of St. Michael’s Church as its stage (the concert, with spirited guest conducting by Patrick Dupré Quigley, was also performed on December 19 at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest and on December 21 and 22 at Divine Word Chapel in Northbrook). The performance opened with three trumpets in the rear balcony playing Capriccio a 3 cornetti by 17th century German composer Johann Vierdanck. Male voices from the chorus performed Puer natus est, a Gregorian chant from the 13th century, from the loft also in the rear of the church. The women of the chorus, singing from the altar, performed a nativity hymn, composed in the 12th century by St. Hildegarde of Bingen, described in the program notes as “one of Western music’s oldest attributed pieces.”
Every December, Music of the Baroque offers its “Holiday Brass and Choral Concerts” as its contribution to the city’s musical yuletide celebrations. As the ensemble approaches its 50th anniversary next year, these annual programs of exquisite though lesser-known seasonal fare are still going strong, offering a welcome alternative to the inescapable Messiahs and Nutcrackers that pepper the Christmas cultural calendar.
Music of the Baroque delivered an appropriately tasty concert to kick off Thanksgiving week. The November 25 performance at the Harris Theater had the self-explanatory title of Bach and the Italians, with two pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach and one each from four of his Italian contemporaries in the Baroque style. The concert enabled some of the troupe’s leading performers to step out from the ensemble to the front of the stage.
Seven different members of Music of the Baroque took solo turns in front of their colleagues in a program dubbed “Bach and the Italians” Monday night at the Harris Theater. Under the direction of principal guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer, the survey of Baroque concertos was an opportunity to appreciate the depth of talent in the MOB ranks as the ensemble approaches its 50th anniversary next season.
With principal guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer providing crisp leadership as well as droll spoken commentary, Music of the Baroque’s disciplined little band, its chorus and four vocal soloists worked their way through pieces that engaged the idea of the hunt literally (Bach’s Cantata No. 208) or indirectly (Haydn’s Symphony No. 73) or figuratively (Caesar’s calculating aria from Handel’s opera “Giulio Cesare”).
Music of the Baroque’s principal guest conductor consistently manages to assemble quirky and interesting programs for his two annual MOB programs. Such was again the case Tuesday night at the Harris Theater when Kraemer led “La Chasse,” a generous program of mixed vocal and orchestral music inspired by “the hunt.”
This work highlights the human voice and Music of the Baroque did not disappoint. The chorus, prepared by guest chorus director Andrew Megill, was never less than absolutely solid and at their best they were simply glorious.
The concert opened with a “flash mob” of students from Music of the Baroque’s “Strong Voices” project. In addition to its important social and educational components, this choral arts education initiative, now in its third decade, is clearly paying off in in its tutelary mission as well. Over 240 students from six Chicago public high schools (Curie, Hubbard, Von Steuben, Senn, Lane Tech and Lindblom) filled the stage and front aisles of the theater, delivering an admirably polished rendering of—aptly—Purcell’s “Come, ye sons of Art,” led by Kraemer.
Music of the Baroque offered an enjoyable musical expedition with “The Grand Tour” Wednesday night at the Harris Theater. Conducting from the harpsichord for most of the evening was Harry Bicket, who is currently in town leading performances of Handel’s Ariodante at Lyric Opera.
With conductor Jane Glover, the ensemble’s music director, at the helm, listeners heard a serenely lyrical, reflective performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595. Though some movements proved slightly more persuasive than others, there was no question that a first-rate Mozartean was at the piano, with an uncommonly empathetic conductor responding sensitively to her work.
"If you’re seeking 'Jingle Bells' and 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,' Music of the Baroque’s annual Brass and Choral holiday program probably isn’t your thing. But for smart, historically discerning, and geographically varied repertoire that doesn’t shy away from the season’s religious essence, it’s hard to beat MOB’s traditional event.
"The core of the performance was the gleaming, impeccably prepared 26-voice chorus. Choral director William Jon Gray trained his singers with a laser focus on the minutiae (crisp diction, impeccable balance, dynamic precision) while plumbing the essence of the text, a mash-up of verses from the gospels of Luke and Matthew, with additional commentary likely provided by Christian Friederich Henrici (aka Picander)."
"In the slow movement of 'Spring' DiBello floated an eloquent line over a stoic viola accompaniment, and the sheer glut of material in the finale led one to consider this popular hit anew. DiBello and colleagues amply conveyed both the languor and looming dread in the opening of 'Summer' as well as projecting the desiccated slow movement’s arid weirdness. DiBello was a dynamic solo presence in the pyrotechnics of the final Presto."
"Music of the Baroque opened their 2018-19 season at the Harris Theater with a masterful and definitive performance of the king of all warhorses, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem Mass in d-minor, K.626. In doing so, they brought out all of the nuances and peccadilloes that make this music a masterwork by every definition of that term."
"Led by music director Jane Glover, the ensemble and guest vocal soloists offered a gripping account Sunday afternoon at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. For Glover and colleagues deftly navigated the competing tensions that these days surround works of this vintage."
"Chorus and orchestra put across the violent intensity of the 'Dies Irae' and massed power of the 'Rex Tremendae' with daunting intensity as surely as their yielding, balm-like solace in the 'Benedictus.'"
"Sunday’s performance provided an excellent reminder. With Kraemer leading from the harpsichord and the six upper string soloists all standing, the performance amply projected the vitality of Bach’s infectious score. Concertmaster Gina DiBello was first among equals, offering refined solo playing throughout. In place of the concerto’s two-chord Adagio, she and Kraemer offered a slow movement from one of the Bach Violin Sonatas, which made for a more satisfying transition between the bustling outer movements."
"Blessed with an uncommonly beautiful voice, splendid technique and a most sensitive refinement of expression to go along with his boyishly handsome good looks, Orlinski was but one musical pillar, albeit an important one, in a reading of Giovanni Pergolesi’s setting of the Stabat Mater that also introduced another impressive young singer, Sherezade Panthaki, as the soprano soloist."
"Bach’s gripping narrative of Christ’s Passion and death gained a welcome intimacy by virtue of Glover’s employing a 26-voice chorus (prepared by William Jon Gray) and chamber orchestra of equal size. Set within the whole was a stylish continuo group consisting of Craig Trompeter, cello and viola da gamba; Michael Beattie, organ; and Daniel Swenberg, theorbo."
"As usual, Glover’s conducting was wonderfully natural and organic. There was a sense of her forces embracing this music and really inhabiting it. The playing was lively and vivid, with the pace never lagging. Even though this orchestra performs on modern instruments, there was a historically informed sensibility that could be heard in the lightness and translucency of the sound."
"The standout was Colin Ainsworth as Esther’s kinsman Mordecai and the first Israelite, whose immaculate diction, dulcet timbre and sensitivity of expression were ideal for the aria 'Tune your harps,' with its haunting oboe obbligato and plucked-string accompaniment."
"One can sometimes take Glover’s excellence for granted in this repertoire. Monday’s vital and spirited performance showed once again why she is one of the finest Mozartians of our day. Tempos were ideal, balancing scrupulous and with fleet, stylish playing by the MOB orchestra, Glover underlined the score’s vivacity and wit with a natural idiomatic touch."
"The evening’s brass playing was matched by equally rarified singing from the MOB Chorus. In 20th-century settings by Stephen Paulus, Patrick Hawes, and Will Todd they achieved a welcoming sonority that seemed to match the general warmth of the Christmas season. The chorus’s stylish renditions of such Christmas standbys as 'Veni, veni Emmanuel' and 'Ding, Dong Merrily on High' made a strong case for additional hearings of these most familiar songs."
"The most consistently strong contributions Monday were from William Jon Gray's chorus, which numbered 27 members who produced a large body of tone that softened enunciation but had considerable dramatic force. This was abetted by many fine moments from the orchestra, including a solemn overture, agitated strings representing thunder, the moment of judgment itself (from horns) and felicitous exchanges of two violins from across the stage. Additionally, extended passages for oboe, bassoon and viola da gamba gave diverse shades of color."
"The whirling violins that open the chorus of the Second Contemplation were dazzling in their speed and accuracy. Trumpeters Charles Geyer and Barbara Butler performed in MOB’s last Day of Judgment in 1992, and 25 years on their playing was just as brilliant and exhilarating.
"[Imogen] Cooper has long been one of the world's most eloquent and stylish Mozarteans, like her teacher, Alfred Brendel. Yet her approach to the C major concerto was very much her own—forthright in formal outline, firm yet elegant in tone, crystalline in articulation and chordal voicing, sensitive to the subtlest inflections of rubato, color and dynamics. Cooper and Glover's shared sensibility worked entirely to the benefit of this most grandly symphonic of Mozart's final keyboard concertos."
"Glover led a performance that was lithe and polished yet also concentrated on the minor-key drama, as with the boldly projected opening Chaconne. The score was given consistently firm and incisive advocacy by Glover and the MOB ensemble."
"The MOB Chorus and Orchestra were rock solid in the expansive opening 'Magnificat anima mea.' In the ensuing 'Et exsultavit spiritus meus' the vocal soloists, drawn from the chorus ranks, shone brightly. Soprano Shannon Love had a pure bell-like timbre, mezzo Amanda Koopman sang with a robust tone that was clear in all registers, and Ryan Townsend Strand displayed an attractive nimble tenor."
"Rameau’s suite provides myriad showcases for large ensemble, and Music of the Baroque did not disappoint; the violins and oboes especially impressed with their cohesive rapid-fire unison line in the fifth-movement 'Entrée noble pour les Statues animées.'"
"Phillips and Lewek proved to be ideal complementary voices, both showing ample power, dazzling agility and subtle phrasing. The former’s sound displayed a bit more airiness, and the latter’s more of a gleaming edge with a strong, penetrating upper register."
"But it was the two star sopranos who raised this performance into something truly memorable. Indeed the singing of Kathryn Lewek and Susanna Phillips sealed this performances with vocalism of such a high order that it made one think one will never hear this music sung as well again."
"...the English conductor elicited spirited and polished performances from the MOB Chorus, directing the singers with clear emphatic gestures. And the visuals of the church’s majestic interior added to the evening’s esthetic pleasures."
"DiBello brought searching emotional depth to the Adagio, playing with great sensitivity and glowing intimacy. Taken at a quickish tempo, the final movement was vivacious and energetic without sacrificing tonal elegance. DiBello’s idiomatic Baroque playing bodes well for her tenure as MOB’s new string leader. Glover and the ensemble lent wholly sympathetic, close-knit work."
"Kraemer has a most engaging Handel style. With MOB’s principal guest conductor directing from the harpsichord, tempos were lively but never breathless, with lithe, springy rhythms throughout. Kramer’s balancing of the large forces was impeccable, with solo singers always audible against the chorus and orchestra, and the numerous obbligato instrumental contributions by horns, cello and recorders all nicely spotlit."
"As the other half of the British conducting team leading Music of the Baroque, principal guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer doesn't always get sufficient credit for the invigorating musical insights he brings to the group's 17th- and 18th-century repertory. The diverse and appealing program of Baroque suites and concertos with which he concluded MOB's 45th anniversary season Monday night at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance reminded one of those virtues."
"Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Horns received a nimble and stylish performance from Boen and Robert Johnson. The two soloists matched their phrasing and dynamics deftly in an elegant reading with the hunting motif of the finale thrown off with understated bravura. The horns are silent in the central Largo, a duet for two cellos that explores a surprising depth of tragedy, and was given dark eloquence by Barbara Haffner and Judy Stone."
" 'Rejoice in The Lord alway' made an apt curtain-raiser, with three solo voices leaning into the heart-easing opening phrases before the entrance of the full choir. Agnew consistently underlined the complexity of Purcell’s writing for divided voices, drawing out [its] striking, layered sophistication."
"Every conductor who undertakes the "Vespers" is faced with a daunting host of editorial decisions. But since Glover is as knowledgeable a Baroque scholar as she is a skilled Baroque interpreter, her musical choices proved to be a smart and convincing mixture of historical authenticity and modern practicality, each carefully tailored to the forces at hand and the performance space.
"... In closing the concert, Glover and the orchestra milked the comic potential of the Haydn’s celebrated gimmick in the finale of the players gradually leaving the stage. Their theatrical exits elicited much genuine laughter from the audience, without shortchanging the fundamental musical qualities of the movement."
"Fox’s time spent in Russia was palpable in the Ave Maria (“Bogoroditse Dyevo”) from Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, rendered with expressive power and weight. Likewise, the men of the chorus brought imposing sonority to Pavel Chesnokov’s “Spasyeniye sodyelal,” with a febrile Slavic sound from the tenors, and Fox drawing finely shaded dynamics."
"Jane Glover made the strongest possible case for the rarely heard oratorio leading a vital and spirited performance, aided by outstanding choral singing and a superb cast of soloists Monday night at the Harris Theater."
"...Good for Jane Glover for choosing Handel's beautiful and imposing work for her first concerts of the season with Music of the Baroque, and for the urgently dramatic performance she led with her chorus, orchestra and vocal soloists Sunday afternoon at a sold-out North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie."
"Most everything goes right whenever Music of the Baroque presents the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and that happened again Monday night as principal guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer began the group's season downtown at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance."
"Williams’s warm, flexible baritone conveyed the interior rumination and spiritual confidence of this setting with just the right degree of dignified gravitas. The recitatives had the affirmative strength to balance the intimate solace of the three arias. In the central “Schlummert ein,” Williams’ subtle dynamic shading and expressive poise conveyed the longing for peaceful repose with Kraemer drawing equally nuanced string playing."
“Much of Haydn’s mass is scored with requisite brilliance and the orchestra under Glover delivered consistently lively and exhilarating playing. Even by their standard, the clarion trumpet work of Barbara Butler, Charles Geyer and Channing Philbrick was simply spectacular."
“Sterling throughout was William Jon Gray's chorus, which sang with clear, precise diction both loud and soft. Pick-Staiger's acoustic allows a true pianissimo only with effort, and in the Haydn the chorus of 28 repeatedly achieved it, conveying moments of inwardness that in the adagios of the Gloria and Credo gave touching repose amid the ardor."
“Hor che ‘l ciel e la terra” opened with a profound nocturnal stasis again fitting its lyrics, and the basses violently delivered the bemoaning line “guerra è il mio stato” (“war is my lot”), joined by fiery violin playing from Martin Davids and Jeri-Lou Zike. Bass Todd Von Felker’s robust laudation of Emperor Ferdinand III was the highlight of the afternoon’s closing “Altri canti d’Amor,” which featured precision singing in fleet, staggered entrances from the rest of the ensemble."
“The performance was especially inspired in the bipartite Andante, with Glover fluently charting the progression from the tragic opening section to the lighter Allegretto. The various episodes were deftly characterized, with guest concertmaster Nurit Pacht showing fine panache in the flashy concertante middle section for violin."
“Though not exactly a household name, at least in the United States, soloist Imogen Cooper boasts an impressive resume, and she was nothing short of superb here, bringing a well-developed technique, a bright, clear tone and a light, supple touch to this work."
“The attention to characterization that they would employ throughout this performance was noticeable from the very outset of the first movement in which the violins played their upward scale figures as if they were firing them like arrows off the strings, which contrasted nicely with the impassive melody in the woodwinds."
“Those fortunate enough to have seen a Susanna Phillips performance will know that her artistry makes the sonic and the visual all of one piece. Her vocal characterizations are wedded to facial expressions and physical gestures to create a fully absorbing dramatic experience."
“Amid the snowflake-like abundance of seasonal concert offerings, one can always count on Music of the Baroque’s annual Brass and Choral program to offer intelligent holiday programming a cut above the standard carols and crossover piffle."
“[I] came away impressed with Glover's firm pacing, her judicious balancing of the 26-voice chorus against the instrumental body of 35 players, and the beguiling lift she brought to the rhythms. [The] chorus brought a manifest sense of rejoicing to everything it sang, its diction crisp and precise no matter how brisk the tempos.”
“[Roderick Williams] provided most of the solo highlights, singing in superbly idiomatic style with a firm line yet yielding, flexible expression and making every line of the text count. Few can beat Paul Agnew as an Evangelist. Soprano Yulia Van Doren sang with a bright tone and blended well with Williams in their duets. Mezzo Krisztina Szabo brought worthy drama to her recitatives in the latter cantatas.”
“The vocal end was especially well-served Monday with a finely balanced quartet (soprano Sherezade Panthaki, mezzo Meg Bragle, tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone Stephen Powell). The MOB chorus, well prepared by William Jon Gray, sang with notable fervor and refinement, and the orchestra played well with an imposing trombone solo by Luis Fred in the “Tuba mirum.”
“The music-making inside the Harris was notably vibrant and rewarding...with Nicholas Kraemer leading from the harpsichord in a deft mixture of familiar works and rarities spotlighting two vocal works set in Italian by Bach and Handel.”
“Under Glover‘s enlightened leadership, everything sounded effortless. It all flowed together, as befits a work completely absent of darkness or malice. Indeed, it‘s hard to think of a more optimistic, uplifting piece of music.”
“Under Glover's vital and nuanced direction, the excellent three soloists and the Music of the Baroque orchestra and chorus delivered an ebullient, vividly characterized performance that gave us one of MOB's finest efforts of recent seasons.”
“Sunday's superb debut performance, which featured a chamber orchestra and aptly compact 35-voice chorus, captured the full vibrancy, energy and charm of this masterful adaptation of the Book of Genesis.”
“Glover brought to ‘The Creation’ an academic's understanding of Haydn style and a veteran performer's understanding of how to give this richly varied music living, breathing form on stage. And she infused her palpable committment in her capable soloists, orchestra and chorus.”
“With notably clear textures, Glover found a dexterous balance between refinement and vigor, with tempos fleet yet never breathless. The orchestra was in exceptional form with concertmaster du jour Kathleen Brauer leading with especially fine playing. Yet the most impressive element Monday was the first-class contribution of the chorus.”
“It was refreshing to hear Beethoven and Schubert symphonies and a Mozart piano concerto played by an orchestra of 37 musicians, close in size to that of the Viennese ensembles of the late 18th and early 19th centuries...Always the music moved with gracious phrasing and flowing, singing lines.”
“Impeccably balanced, with superb choral singing, and played with polish and fine vitality across all sections, the English conductor put across the jubilant moments as surely as the passages of introspection and spiritual solace..”
“MOB pleases more consistently in Bach than in the works of just about any other composer, particularly when guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer is in charge, balancing historical awareness with communicative expression.”
“Jane Glover and Music of the Baroque did Bach’s music great justice Sunday night at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. The performance was in the Baroque style and far from stodgy and academic. It was tensely dramatic, tenderly beautiful, and on edge, as a story of this magnitude ought to be.”
“…Glover and the Music of the Baroque orchestra and chorus succeeded brilliantly in putting this inspired score across. Glover consistently illuminated Handel’s imaginative musical onomatopoeia as with the whirling violin passages depicting the flies, the pizzicato for rain, and uninhibited timpani and trumpets for a driving hailstorm.”
“Major works by Mozart and Haydn have marked Jane Glover’s 10th season as music director of Chicago’s Music of the Baroque. But it would be hard to find a better demonstration of the high level that this 42-year-old local institution has achieved under Glover and chorus director William Jon Gray, now in his third season, than the brilliant presentation Monday of Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” at the Harris Theater..”
“Music director Jane Glover's journey through the big 18th century choral masterpieces with her Music of the Baroque chorus and orchestra took her to Handel's biblical oratorio "Israel in Egypt," in a stylish and satisfying performance heard Sunday evening at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.”
“…how many conductors can make you smile and almost laugh out loud at a particularly witty phrase or unexpected harmonic turn? MOB’s principal guest conductor—in fact, the ensemble’s only guest conductor—is masterful in this repertoire, as shown once again in Friday’s pairing of early and late Haydn symphonies…”
“…the stylistic awareness, interpretive depth and sheer ebullience of outlook Glover has brought to MOB's core Baroque and Classical orchestral and choral repertory in the course of her ten years here have made it one of the most admired groups of its type in the nation.”