In the last 400 years, just about everything about classical music has changed - the venues, the instruments, the neckwear. Everything, perhaps, but the importance of chamber music. On March 30, the Anchorage Festival of Music returns to take the audience back to the time of royalty and courts, when the recorder was king, for a concert of baroque chamber music.
Anchorage Festival of Music has brought early music to Alaskans since 1956. For their current season, entitled “The Troubadour Spirit,” music director, UAA faculty member and music historian Laura Koenig explores the role of place and tradition through music and song.
In “Baroque Slumber Party,” their third and final installment of the year taking place Saturday, the festival explores these themes through contrasting idioms and styles of various countries during the Baroque period. The program contrasts works of great Germans like Dieterich Buxtehude and celebrated French royal court composer Jean-Baptiste Lully with lesser known Italians such as Antonia Bember.
When it comes to one of the Baroque eras most prolific composers - Handel - Koenig’s programming takes us through his fascinating musical transition from Georg Friedrich to George Frideric. The music selections touch on the origins of his compositional style and demonstrate how his identities as first a German and later an Englishman shaped his many compositions.
Featured prominently in the concert is long-time Anchorage resident and celebrated early music soprano Victoria Fraser, who traveled from Ireland, where she is studying, for the concert. Fraser received her first musical training as a member of Alaska Children’s Choir beginning at the age of 5, and has since gone on to study at Smith College, the San Francisco Conservatory, the University of Notre Dame and is currently pursuing her third master’s degree at the University of Limerick in Ireland.
Since the ’70s, early music has been experiencing somewhat of a renaissance. Baroque and early music ensembles such as “Apollo’s Fire”, “Stile Antico” and “Tafelmusik” tour all over the world, and much of the music, long forgotten, is finding a home again in the concert hall. While the instruments may look more or less the same, however, performance practices have changed mightily since the days of kapellmeisters and minstrels.
Since the 1600s, the pitch of instruments has risen greatly, tastes have, predictably, changed dramatically and even performance venues have changed. Nowadays, concerts conjure imagines of a massive stage like the Atwood Concert Hall, a full orchestra and very formal attire. However, during the baroque period, the concert hall was the court or, more often, the home. The festival musicians will not only be playing on period instruments but will also be performing at a private residence, as way of bringing the music back to where it began - in the home.
Koenig and Fraser agree that the venue has a very important role to play in any performance, especially with chamber music. “Changing a concert venue inherently changes the way both the performers and audience interact with the music ... The concert hall remains central and important to music - but it is no longer the only place classical music belongs,” Fraser said.
The concert features music ranging greatly in style, instrumentation, land of origin and soundscape and offers a comprehensive review of the music of the Baroque. Not only are the music selections diverse and compelling, but stories they tell, and their place in music history are equally so. In our very modern world, a trip back to the 17th century might just be the most refreshing musical event of the year.
Anchorage Festival of Music’s “Baroque Slumber Party”
When: 7 pm Saturday, March 30
Where: Private residence (location will be given to ticket holders)
Tickets: $25-$50 at centertix.com