Arts Feature

Bach Fest Presents Brandenburg Concertos on (Almost) Period Instruments

Concert is Friday at the USC School of Music Recital Hall

By David Lowry
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Columbia Baroque

Did you ever apply for a job and not get it, even though you’re well qualified? You’d think Johann Sebastian Bach would be the superstar that everyone would want to employ, but it was no different then than it is now. Not only did one of Bach’s employers incarcerate him for accepting a job elsewhere, but then he composed six of his finest works as an enticement to be employed — and the works were basically ignored by the recipient and never performed until years after Bach’s death. Such is the plight of employees and composers still.

Those six works are the Brandenburg concertos, and two of them can be heard this Friday night at the University of South Carolina’s School of Music Recital Hall as part of Bach Fest. The concert is put on by Columbia Baroque, an early music organization that promotes interest in music written between 1600 and 1750 — not only among audiences at formal concerts, but also through education programs in several local school districts.

Eleven musicians will perform on Friday. Following the philosophy of the early music movement — that music should be played on the type of instruments for which it was originally written — they all will be playing replicas (except for one actual antique violin) of 17th- and 18th-century recorders, violins, violas, gambas, cellos, violone (a large bass viol) and harpsichord.

Five of these artists are residents of Columbia — Jean and Timothy Hein, recorders; Mary Hoyt and Erika Cutler, violin; and Jerry Curry, harpsichord. Coming from out of town will be two gambists, two violists, a cellist and a bassist. The program will feature the fourth and sixth and Brandenburg concertos along with a concerto for harpsichord by George Frideric Handel and a recorder concerto by Giuseppe Sammartini.

Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 has two recorders and a violin as virtuoso soloists, backed by two violins, viola, cello, violone and harpsichord. No. 6 presents a rich timbre of two violas, two gambas, cello, violone and harpsichord. All six have orchestrations that are far from normal for the time in which they were composed.

A recorder is an early flute that comes in different sizes — sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, bass and great bass — so yes, one can have a whole choir of recorders. Audiences will hear Jean Hein playing Sammartini’s concerto for soprano recorder. Jerry Curry is playing Handel’s harpsichord concerto, which has often been heard as an organ concerto played during intermissions of Handel’s oratorio Alexander’s Feast.

Rehearsing with all 11 takes place just hours before the concert, but Jean Hein and Jerry Curry have been over every note of every piece many times and have made important decisions about tempos and other details. They’ve also been “composing the cadenzas,” Hein adds.

Columbia Baroque also participates in a vibrant national program called Link Up, which gives students in grades three through five the opportunity to learn to sing or play an instrument in their classroom and then join an orchestra in a concert. In this case, the orchestra is the South Carolina Philharmonic. In a summertime program, Columbia Baroque holds master classes in recorder and harpsichord and Baroque dancing.

USC assistant professor of music history Ellen Exner — an internationally respected Bach scholar — will deliver a short chat about the music of the concert prior to the concert, at 7 p.m. 

This Friday’s concert starts at 7:30 p.m. in the University of South Carolina’s School of Music Recital Hall at 813 Assembly St., with a pre-concert chat at 7 p.m. Tickets at the door are $20 for adults, and student IDs are free. Visit for advance sale tickets, which are $15.

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