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.”