DESERT BAROQUE: FIVE THOUSAND STRINGS TUNED, SEVEN HARPSICHORDS MOVED…and MAJOR DESERT FLOODING – by Dan and Ellen Wasil
From January 20th to 22nd, California’s Coachella Valley came alive with harpsichord music (and flash floods) as the fabulous and intrepid Margaret Irwin-Brandon gathered a diverse group of players, admirers, behind-the-scenes volunteers and some stellar instruments for the inaugural offering from Desert Baroque called “The Suite Life.” For three days the public was invited to a moveable musical feast presented in multiple locations around the Palm Springs area. The weekend featured remarkable workshops, concerts, and social events.
“The Suite Life” explored instrumental dance forms in Baroque music. Each day, workshop participants focused on specific dance forms. Gilbert Martinez led the group as participants performed allemandes and courantes on Day One; Sonia Lee focused on sarabandes and gigues on Day Two; and on Day Three Webb Wiggins worked with participants on dances of other types. (Photo left: Wiggins and Lee)
After the daily workshops, professional harpsichordists offered performances. The first performance by Gilbert Martinez, held at the Church of St. Paul in the Desert in Palm Springs, was titled, “The Graces Danced and Apollo Play’d” (quoted from Richard Lovelace, a seventeenth century English poet). To start the program, Gilbert played two works on the clavichord – A Fancie in C by William Byrd and Gleich wie das Feuer by Melchior Schildt. He then contrasted the clavichord’s gentle tones with Suite in G by Louis Couperin played on the Franco-Flemish, Argentinian-built double harpsichord by Leopoldo Perez Robledo. Gilbert’s remaining program included Jean-Philippe Rameau, Johann Sebastian Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and Johann Casper Ferdinand Fischer.
The next evening, Desert Baroque treated the audience to a panoply of harpsichords for a concert titled, “The More the Merrier,” at The Hope Center in Palm Desert. The audience sat in the round with four instruments – a single Italian by Curtis Berak, a Flemish single by Teodoro Martin, a Flemish double by Curtis Berak and a Flemish double by Keith Hill – with their tails joined in the center so that the performers could see one another.
The program included concerti for two, three and four harpsichords by Johann Sebastian Bach and a 1998 three-harpsichord concerto by Edwin McLean (providing a preview of the next evening’s program). The harpsichordists – Sonia Lee, Charles Metz, Elaine Funaro, Webb Wiggins and Margaret Irwin-Brandon – were joined for three of the concerti by the Buon Tempi String Quartet (Bridget Dolkas, Alice Wrate, Krista Haslim and Lars Hoefs).
The final day of the weekend included a celebratory luncheon at Margaret Irwin-Brandon’s home, complete with the incomparable homemade “Brandon-burgers” followed by participants trying out Margaret’s many instruments, including a clavicytherium. (Photo left)
The final concert titled, “From Baroque to Beyond,” was held at Christ Lutheran Church in Desert Hot Springs. The program opened with Edwin McLean’s Sonata No. 3 for Harpsichord (2015) performed by Elaine Funaro. Four workshop participants then played pieces that they had studied during the daily sessions with Gilbert, Lee and Wiggins. Funaro continued the program, playing competition-winning scores from the Alienor Anthology of 2015. Finally, Edwin McLean’s Sonata for Three Harpsichords was repeated from the prior evening.
Making the weekend even more memorable was the weather. The skies opened and the valley flooded with truly serious rivers of water. Sand and rocks washed out roads and low lying arroyos. Those used to significant weather, but not this level of flooding, learned the hard way by driving through streams over a foot deep!
The entire experience was a reminder of how important creativity, passion, determination, and a strong bit of organizational excellence will carry the day. This was a monumental and incredible undertaking. The task of moving seven harpsichords, tuning nearly 5,000 strings, recording the concerts (done by the amazing Christopher Greenleaf) and a thousand behind-the-scenes moments added up to a magnificent sonic offering that was much, much more than its parts.
From the audience perspective, the seamlessness of this important regional event was a testament to Margaret Irwin-Brandon and her team’s fortitude and brilliance. As an inaugural event, the surface has certainly only been scratched: a very eager public was clearly engaged, knowledgeable and committed (braving the flooding…) and will be the seed of future audience expansion. The audience enthusiasm for the performances tells us that this effort should be well-received going forward. The regional approach bodes well for future individual and institutional support of Desert Baroque. To Margaret (Meg), all performers and participants….Brava to all!
Stay tuned to DesertBaroque.com to learn about Desert Baroque 2018!