Music of the Baroque honors founder Thomas S. Wikman

By M.L. Rantala, Hyde Park Herald
October 24, 2023

Music of the Baroque was founded by Hyde Parker Thomas S. Wikman in 1971 and gave its first performance in 1972. Under Wikman’s leadership it grew to become one of our country’s premiere organizations performing music of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

Wikman died earlier this month at the age of 81 and Music of the Baroque’s “Viva Vivaldi!” concert at the Harris Theater on Monday, Oct. 16 was dedicated to him. Before the concert began, executive director Declan McGovern paid tribute to Wikman, followed by a 30 seconds of silence to honor the man who created a magnificent ensemble celebrating some of the greatest music ever written.

Nicholas Kraemer conducted the all-Vivaldi concert which featured some truly remarkable performances of the Music of the Baroque Chorus and Orchestra. Chorus director Andrew Megill prepared the singers.

One of the many highlights of this stirring concert was Vivaldi’s Concerto for Lute in D Major. Brandon Acker was the soloist, offering a stunning performance along with a slimlined ensemble of four musicians joining him.

His sound was delicate and light, lively but never rushed, and detailed with charming ornaments. The music had bounce as well as a seriousness of purpose.

The Concerto for 3 Violins in F Major featured great work from violinists Gina DiBello, Kathleen Brauer and Kevin Case. The soloists worked together with a shared commitment and each gave their parts the individuality required while maintaining a shared vision. There was singing sound but also quiet nuance.

The big work on the program was the last. Vivaldi’s magnificent Gloria in D Major, RV 589 featured the Music of the Baroque Chorus at their best. The opening “Gloria in excelsis Deo” rang out with thunderous joy, Kraemer ensuring that the moving pace was bracing yet controlled. The Gloria features several solo outings for women, and the soloists were all drawn from the chorus. Sopranos Nathalie Colas and Susan Nelson sang the “Laudamus te” with warmth and beautiful balance. Colas had graceful flexibility for the “Domine Deus” and Anne Bach enriched the experience with her gorgeous contribution from the oboe. Margaret Fox sang with an alluring and dusky alto, bringing dignity and gravitas to her solos.

The Gloria was a marvelous way to end the concert, but it was also the way the concert opened. Before the official concert began, the aisles of the Harris Theater and the front of the stage were filled with teenagers wearing t-shirts that said “Strong Voices.” This is the name of the Music of the Baroque choral program for school kids. Students from seven Chicago schools have a weekly session with a member of the organization’s chorus, who work with each school’s music instructors. The kids learned the opening chorus from Vivaldi’s Gloria and performed it from memory — first on their own and then a second time with the full Music of the Baroque.

It was a deeply moving performance, hearing so many young voices enthusiastically embrace Vivaldi. The audience applause was loud and heartfelt. I heard the teenage girl standing in the aisle right next to my seat say to another girl, “They love us!” It was a beautiful moment I will long remember: she spoke with pride in her achievement and I think she had one of those moments where you realize the power of music to move others. It was glorious.