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Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Baroque En­sem­ble

ON the three days leading up to Easter Sun­day, Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica presents its an­nual Baroque Holy Week se­ries in Loretto Chapel, fea­tur­ing both reli­gious and sec­u­lar works. The pro­gram, which in­cludes six works by three Baroque masters — Jo­hann Se­bas­tian Bach (1685-1750), Ge­orge Frid­eric Han­del (1685-1759), and An­to­nio Vi­valdi (1678-1741) — will be per­formed by the Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Baroque En­sem­ble and so­prano Kathryn Mueller. “The central theme for these con­certs is Holy Week,” said Pro Mu­sica’s co-founder and mu­sic di­rec­tor, Thomas O’Connor, “but we try to cre­ate pro­grams that of­fer a mea­sure of va­ri­ety both in in­stru­men­ta­tion and ef­fect.”

Part of the ap­peal of this se­ries, which pre­miered in 1982, is its feel­ing of au­then­tic­ity. The six-mem­ber en­sem­ble, an off­shoot of Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica’s 35- to 45-mem­ber cham­ber or­ches­tra, per­forms on pe­riod in­stru­ments such as the Baroque vi­o­lin and chest organ. “Mod­ern in­stru­ments have evolved qual­i­ties of pro­jec­tion,” O’Connor said, “whereas pe­riod in­stru­ments have unique qual­i­ties of blend­ing to­gether and tend to have a richer palette of nu­ances. In the mid-1990s, Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica started of­fer­ing pe­riod-in­stru­ment per­for­mances in Loretto Chapel, and we soon dis­cov­ered that it was the best per­for­mance space for these types of in­stru­ments. The sound is warm and re­ver­ber­ant, and the ex­pe­ri­ence for the au­di­ence is intimate.”

Three works by Han­del make up the first half of the Holy Week pro­gram: the Con­certo in G mi­nor, HWV 289; the aria “Süsse Stille” (Sweet Si­lence), and the Sonata in G Ma­jor, HWV 399. “The two in­stru­men­tal pieces re­flect the ef­fer­ves­cent Ital­ian style Han­del ab­sorbed in his early years while liv­ing in Italy,” O’Connor said, re­fer­ring to the pe­riod be­fore the Ger­man-born com­poser per­ma­nently set­tled in Lon­don. “Süsse Stille” is the first of two pieces sung by Mueller — who spe­cial­izes in Baroque mu­sic and made her first ap­pear­ance with Pro Mu­sica in De­cem­ber 2008 (on the com­pan­ion se­ries Baroque Christ­mas). It de­scribes “how a fine moon­lit night in spring fol­lows the work of day, just as eter­nal peace awaits us af­ter a life of toil,” O’Connor said. Mueller cited the piece as por­tray­ing “a per­fectly peace­ful kind of joy” and said that its text, writ­ten by the Ger­man poet Barthold Hein­rich Brockes (1680–1747), is “reli­gious poetry that’s full of beau­ti­ful na­ture im­agery.” Next up are two works by Vi­valdi: the Sin­fo­nia al Santo Se­pol­cro (At the Holy Grave) and the Sonata al Santo Se­pol­cro. The sub­ti­tle of these works, O’Connor said, “refers to the Church of the Holy Sepul­chre in Jerusalem,” which is said to be the site of Jesus’ cru­ci­fix­ion and tomb. “We know Vi­valdi as a great com­poser,” O’Connor added, “but he was also a pri­est. He was known as the Red Pri­est be­cause of his [red] curly locks.” Vene­tian-born Vi­valdi was a vi­o­lin vir­tu­oso, a long­time mu­sic teacher at Ospedale della Pi­età, an or­phan­age in Venice, and a pro­lific com­poser. He was ordained as a pri­est in 1703, at the age of twenty-five, but stopped say­ing Mass about a year later due to ill health.

The fi­nal piece of the con­cert is Bach’s “Ich habe genug” (I Have Enough), which again fea­tures Mueller, who de­scribed this can­tata as “a pro­found work of art. The mid­dle aria is on my list of most rav­ish­ing pieces of mu­sic ever writ­ten.” Mueller also noted that the piece “is more com­monly per­formed in its orig­i­nal ver­sion for bass soloist, oboe, and strings, but, luck­ily for me, Bach was prac­ti­cal and pro­duced a ver­sion for so­prano, flute, and strings, so [Pro Mu­sica’s prin­ci­pal flute] Carol Redman and I will per­form it to­gether.” Bach wrote “Ich habe genug” in 1727, when he was mu­sic di­rec­tor at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, in cel­e­bra­tion of the Feast of the Pu­rifi­ca­tion of the Blessed Vir­gin. It ex­presses “the strug­gle be­tween worldly life and the yearn­ing for death,” O’Connor said, not­ing that the fi­nal aria is joy­ful and con­cludes with the text, “With glad­ness, I look for­ward to my death. … Then shall I es­cape all de­spair that en­slaves me here on earth.”

For Mueller, one of the joys of Baroque mu­sic is that it af­fords her artis­tic free­dom as a per­former. “There’s the free­dom — the ex­pec­ta­tion, re­ally — to add or­na­men­ta­tion, which is a lot of fun. I love singing high notes, so in sec­u­lar Baroque mu­sic I try to add as many as taste will al­low. But there’s also free­dom of ex­pres­sion. Un­like in mu­sic of other pe­ri­ods, the singer doesn’t have to be vo­cally per­fect and beau­ti­ful at all times. I can use dif­fer­ent vo­cal col­ors, al­ter­nate straight tone and vi­brato, even bend in­to­na­tion a little, to por­tray the emo­tional con­tent of the mu­sic.”

O’Connor said that, for him, Baroque mu­sic is re­ward­ing for a num­ber of rea­sons. In his scores, O’Connor said, “Bach wrote ‘Soli Deo Glo­ria,’ which means ‘To the Glory of God Alone.’ This sense of com­pos­ing for a higher pur­pose be­yond ego and ma­te­ri­al­ism sets much Baroque mu­sic apart from that of other eras. Mix the Ger­man in­tel­lec­tual ap­proach with the ex­pres­sive ex­u­ber­ance of the Ital­ian style and the sub­tle and nu­anced French style,” he said, “and you have a reper­toire rich in va­ri­ety, en­ergy, and mean­ing.”

Mu­sic Di­rec­tor Thomas O’Connor

Kathryn Mueller

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