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Baroque Band at The Driehaus Museum Review - The Art of Conversation in a very special setting

By Debra Davy

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On January 27, 2016 Baroque Band presented a program entitled “Tete-a-tete: Bach and the Art of Conversation”, at the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, 40 E. Erie St., Chicago. The museum, named after its founder, Chicago businessman, philanthropist and art collector Richatd H. Driehaus, is housed in an historic building, the wonderfully preserved 1883 Samuel M. Nickerson House. The restored mansion ”does not re-create the Nickerson period but rather boldly interprets and displays the prevailing design, architecture and decorating tastes of Gilded Age America and the art nouveau era in permanent and special exhibitions”. The splendid interiors are graced with marble, onyx, carved domestic and exotic wood, gorgeously decorated glazed tiles, and a multitude of stained glass; magnificent lighting fixtures and oriental carpets abound. The museum is filled with artworks from the private Driehaus Collection of Fine and Decorative Arts, including many objets d’art by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Baroque Band logo; image courtesy of Baroque Band

The Driehaus was an inspired choice for Baroque Band, who will be hosting another concert at this lovely venue on April 13, 2016, called “Veiled Beauty: Forgotten Treasures of The French Baroque”. “Tete-a-tete" took place in the third floor ballroom at the Driehaus. Between the swirling colors of the palace-sized Oriental at this reviewer’s feet, the marble cielings cross-hatched with parquet from which depended enormous chandeliers, and the inspired sounds flowing from violinist, Janelle Davis, and Harpsichordist, Maho Sone Grazzini, it was an evening of beauty this reviewer will not soon forget.

Driehaus museum logo; image courtesy of The Driehaus Museum

Baroque Band was founded in 2007 by British violinist and conductor Garry Clarke, who has been called “an outstanding violinist”, and “one of the finest exponents of baroque music in the country.” Clarke, who serves as its Artistic Director,  has an extensive resume and is credited with helping to improve the quality of the group’s playing and it’s reach. Baroque Band has been favorably compared to other early period-instrument ensembles whose playing has been described as “stuffy and staid”. Baroque Band is known as an ensemble which brings  a vital and expressive approach to its music-making.

Garry Clarke, Artistic Director, Baroque Band; image courtesy of Nathan Keay

The 2015-2016 season, called “The Rivals”, includes a program where the harpsichord and pianoforte play off one another, and another program which features the works of three composers competing for a musical post-Bach won.  The title is apparently typical of Clarke’s stated desire to put a humorous twist on some of the titles, to contemporize them, to let people “know how great this music was in a really hip, cool way”.

Baroque Band Musicians; image courtesy of Carolyn Bernstein

In the program “Tete-a-tete”, 4 Sonatas by Bach for violin and harpsichord from a group of six composed between 1717 and 1723 and first published between 1814 and 1815 were performed by Davis and Grazzini.  The multi-talented Janelle Davis has had a varied career as a collaborative chamber musician as well as orchestral player and soloist who’s performed both here and abroad. She’s also an educator, writer, production assistant and podcast host. Maho Sone Grazzini, a versatile harpsichord soloist and continuo accompanist, has extensive experience with Bach’s work as a founding member of the Gamut Bach Ensemble in Philadelphia. Together, the two gave an outstanding performance.

Maho Sone Grazzini, harpsichord; image courtesy of Matthew Washburn

Sonata #1 in B minor, Sonata #3 in E Major, Sonata #4 in C minor and Sonata #6 in G Major, the four pieces of which the concert was comprised, are all part of this group of well-known pieces of chamber music written by Bach, a capable violinist himself. They have been described as “a set…that Bach composed for violin and harpsichord in which he liberated the keyboard from the filler functions of continuo accompaniment, creating true partnership with the violin”. The pieces alternate in structure between slow and fast, sometimes swapping material back and forth in exciting counterpoint, other times allowing the violin long majestic melodies: almost a classical version of “Dueling Banjos”!

Janelle Davis, violin; image courtesy of Narissa Sparkman

Both instruments participated equally in the unfolding of the material, establishing a genuine dialog between these two musicians, certainly supporting the title “Bach and the art of conversation”.

Join Baroque Band for the remainder of their great concerts in “The Rivals” series.

For information on wonderful up and coming exhibits at The Driehaus, such as the new “Downtown Abbey”, in collaboration with WTTW.



Published on Feb 11, 2016

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