The Georgia Straight
Harpsichordist Weimann likes orchestral company
OOrchestra music is so much fun, and the harpsichord was the vehicle for me to do that.
– Alexander Weimann
rganist and harpsichordist Alexander Weimann realizes that many people have misconceptions about baroque music. Because it thrived in the 17th and 18th centuries, he knows there’s a perception that it’s somehow dusty or old-fashioned.
In fact, the conductor of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra tells the Straight by phone that this early music is actually very exciting and, because it arose out of folk traditions, includes a great many dance songs.
“If people don’t know it, they really should take the opportunity to enjoy it, because I know that those terms—baroque and early—sometimes build a barrier where there shouldn’t be one,” Weimann tells the Straight by phone.
He describes the Pacific Baroque Orchestra as “pretty much” the only professional ensemble of its kind in Canada west of Toronto. On July 27, Weimann will lead the orchestra in the opening concert at this year’s Vancouver Bach Festival. It’s one of his four appearances at the festival.
Entitled Ebb and Flow, the concert will showcase the two Early Music Vancouver musicians-in-residence, violinist David Greenberg and keyboardist David McGuinness, along with Vancouver poet laureate Fiona Tinwei Lam. Ebb and Flow opens with the song cycle Silken Water,
by Canadian composer Alasdair Maclean and based on Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry. In addition, the orchestra will perform German composer Georg Philipp Telemann’s Hamburger Ebb und Fluht, followed by George Frideric Handel’s Water Music, HWV 348.
“I think in this program with the poems that were chosen, it works particularly well to give us an idea of water as the force of nature but also as something that’s very musical in itself,” Weimann says.
He describes how the composers address the subject as “stunning”, with the Telemann dance pieces almost treating water as if it were an organism. “It’s very beautiful,” he declares.
Another highlight of this year’s festival will be the Pacific Baroque Orchestra’s interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto for four harpsichords in A minor
on August 5 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts. This will feature four harpsichordists—Weimann, McGuinness, Marco Vitale, and Christina Hutten—all playing instruments created by West Vancouver’s Craig Tomlinson based on a model built by Pascal Taskin in Paris in 1769.
The Munich-born Weimann explains that as a child, he learned the piano, and then in his early teenage years, a church organ became his instrument of choice.
“I was always fascinated by the harpsichord—which I would qualify as the closest sibling to the organ—but also a little deterred,” he admits.
That’s because he believes the harpsichord can sound a little mechanical if it’s in the wrong hands or if it’s not made properly.
He mustered up the courage to try the instrument in his early 20s and experienced a great deal of frustration for a long time. It wasn’t until he was in his late 20s that he could feel truly comfortable with it, that the harpsichord became an “expressive device and not just a machine”.
One of the advantages of the harpsichord is that it enables him to play with other musicians, whereas a church organ is a more solitary instrument.
“Orchestra music is so much fun, and the harpsichord was the vehicle for me to do that,” Weimann says. “That’s why I wanted to crack the nut, really.”
Early Music Vancouver presents the Vancouver Bach Festival from July 26 to August 6. Weimann and/or the Pacific Baroque Orchestra will perform in four concerts. For more information and tickets, visit earlymusic.bc.ca.