If it ain’t baroque, don’t fix it. That could be a twist on the cooperative way that Akron Baroque, a Knight Arts grantee, goes about the business of planning concert programs. For the upcoming “Venetian Splendor” concert that will feature composers Tomaso Albinoni and Antonio Vivaldi, organist and harpsichordist Valerie Thorson took the collaborative lead in the upcoming concert. During a fun telephone interview with the enthusiastic Thorson, she provided lots of background information for the context and selection of the upcoming concert.
If you have ever wondered how musical venues take shape, here's at least one model. Momentously for Akron Baroque, the 13-15-member ensemble will, for the first time, work without a conductor. At the suggestion of Music Director Guy Bordo, the concert will be led by a player–in this case, violinist Alan Bodman. Bodman, as Thorson noted, is the concert master for the Akron Symphony Orchestra (also a Knight arts grantee), so he’s used to leading a group, if not conducting it.
As Thorson commented, there is precedent for this kind of move. It’s done by smaller groups elsewhere, like the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble that will be playing soon for Tuesday Musical (another Knight Arts grantee). Members there take turns leading the group.
Musically, the inclusion of Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Cello in D minor” on the program was pretty much a given, she said, and had been set pretty early. So too was the decision to include Albinoni’s “Adagio in G minor.” That work, Thorson added, was performed at the very first concert Akron Baroque did. Since most of Akron Baroque’s performances can be “heavily built” on concerti, Thorson thought the adagio a good idea, but then to pair it with Albinoni’s “Oboe Concerto in D minor.”
The pieces work well together and are thus scheduled back-to-back on the program. Thorson laughingly acknowledged that she “shamelessly” offered the idea of Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Two Mandolins in G major.” It turns out Thorson heard the work years ago when attending a performance at Kent State University. The experience stuck with her.
She remembered it, and wanted to hear it again. Strangely enough, she got in touch with one of the original performers, John Reynolds, who not only recalled the work but willingly agreed to do it again with Akron Baroque. He contacted another mandolin player, Mark Polanka, who, it turns out, played for Thorson at her graduate student recital several years ago. For Thorson, this particular piece will represent a kind of musical and friendship reunion.
Aside from instrumental music, “Venetian Splendor” will also feature two operatic arias to be performed by soprano Susan Wallin. She will sing “Sposa, son disprezzata” from the opera “Bajazet” by Vivaldi. Thorson added that Vivaldi probably didn’t really write the work, but took most of it from Geminiano Giacomelli. Basically Vivaldi changed the text, Thorson added. Wallin will also sing Vivaldi’s “Armatae face, et anguibus” from “Juditha Triumphans.” Thorson commented that Wallin’s classical voice will do great justice to the vocal works. The first, “Sposa, son disprezzata” is “hauntingly beautiful,” while “Armatae face, et anguibus” is “killer fast,” as Thorson puts it, and “calls for incredible velocity.” Wallin, she said knowingly, “can do it all in her sleep.”
During the concert, Thorson will play harpsichord for all the pieces except for Albinoni’s “Adagio,” for which she will be on organ. The concert will take place on May 14 in the First Congregational Church, which is and has been the home for Akron Baroque for several years. Remodeled in 2005, the facility has amazing and “superb acoustics,” Thorson said. Singing voices can soar for their tone, “carry and bloom”; strings, as she puts it, can “balloon” in the lofty space. Baroque music lovers will no doubt enjoy this concert. The works seem to be lively and complex. To add to the festivities, mandolinist John Reynolds will give a pre-concert talk at 6:45 p.m. the day of the performance.
Akron Baroque’s “Venetian Splendor” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 14 at the First Congregational Church, 292 E. Market St., Akron; 330-253-5109; www.akronbaroque.org. Admission is free.