Music of the Baroque’s Nicholas Kraemer never tires of Bach

By Kyle Macmillan, Chicago Classical Review
November 14, 2012

When Thomas Wikman stepped down after 26 years as founding music director of the Music of the Baroque, it auditioned seven conductors in 2001–02 as his possible successor. In the end, the early-music orchestra and chorus decided the best way to replace its longtime leader was to divide the position in two — naming Jane Glover as music director and making Nicholas Kraemer its principal guest conductor.

“They hadn’t planned to do that, but it in fact works out very well, because it’s good for the group to have two different people,” Kraemer said from his London home. “It frees Jane up for other stuff — she’s pretty busy — and it gives me a chance to work with them, which I really enjoy doing.”

The dual appointments means this season marks not only the 10th anniversary of Glover’s arrival, a milestone the ensemble has understandably trumpeted, but also that of Kraemer’s start.

The respected English conductor and harpsichordist will make the first of his two appearances this season with the Music of the Baroque on Nov. 18–19, leading a lineup devoted entirely to Johann Sebastian Bach.

“I never get tired of doing Bach of any sort,” Kraemer said, who will lead some of the works from the keyboard. “There is always something to discover.”

Instead of focusing on the six hugely popular “Brandenburg” concertos, which the ensemble has performed in recent seasons, the program explores other, sometimes lesser-known facets of the composer’s instrumental music.

Featured will be Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major and Concerto for Three Violins in C Major, a transcription of a concerto for three harpsichords, which is thought to have been based on a lost concerto for three violins.

One of the program’s most unusual parts will be a group of sinfonias from three of Bach’s more than 200 cantatas. “You’d never get to hear these sinfonias unless you hear the whole cantata, and you’re depriving the public of this absolutely wonderful music,” he said. “Nobody will know it, because the cantatas are rarely done.”

Most of MOB’s instrumental players come from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lyric Opera of Chicago, working the ensemble’s activities around everything else they do. “They’re in this group, because they want to be,” Kraemer said. “Of course, it’s a job and they’re paid for it, but they choose to want to play some early music, which the Chicago Symphony doesn’t ordinarily do.”

As the ensemble’s name makes clear, it concentrates on music from the Baroque era, a period from roughly 1600 to 1750 that encompasses the works of such famed composers as Bach, Vivaldi and Handel.

Unlike many early-music groups, the Music of the Baroque does not play on period instruments. It uses modern instruments, though it does employ historical performance practices, such as incorporating less vibrato than string players are accustomed to now.

Kraemer joins Glover and other members of the Music of the Baroque staff in collaborating on the group’s programming. “If I have an idea that I want to pursue, then, of course, I don’t keep quiet about it,” he said.

He is especially eager for the group to perform more of Handel’s oratorios, like “Belshazzar” (1745) and “Jephtha” (1752), and he’s confident those will be on the schedule in the next several years.

“There are all of sorts of treasures waiting to be done by this group,” he said. “There’s no better instrument for that in Chicago or even close by.”

Kyle MacMillan is a locally based free-lance writer.