Fredonia Opera House presents 24th annual Bach & Beyond Festival

Composers celebrated

Submitted Photo The 24th annual Bach & Beyond Baroque Music Festival features an intimate group of musicians from throughout North America and abroad who are specialists in and passionate about Baroque performance. Many are Festival veterans and have included, from left, Violinist/Concert Mistress Julie Leven, Harpsichordist Fr. Sean Duggan, Cellist Bryan Eckenrode and Violinist Jennifer Wood. The Festival will be held June 14-16, at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House.

The Bach & Beyond Baroque Music Festival celebrates its 24th year when it returns to the 1891 Fredonia Opera House June 14-16.

Under Artistic Director Grant Cooper, the series of three concerts explores both the masterworks and lesser-known orchestral music of 17th and 18th century Baroque composers.

While the music of J.S. Bach is the foundation of the Festival, performances also often feature music by familiar composers such as Vivaldi and Handel. The “Beyond” in the Festival’s name refers to the inclusion of works of other lesser-known (and some present-day) composers who are artistically linked to the more familiar superstars. This year, it also features well-known and beloved vocal works presented in a unique way.

“Our Sunday concert features the very popular and beloved Handel’s Messiah” notes Opera House Executive Director Rick Davis. “However, we are presenting the entire work — arias and choral pieces — performed by a quartet of singers.”

“Messiah is legendary, not only for its musical worth, but also for the massive forces that have been assembled from its premiere to the present day,” says Maestro Cooper. “Our goal this year is to have audiences experience Messiah in a new way; to allow each aria (and chorus) to emerge with maximum transparency, trusting that the big picture emerges of its own accord, just as atoms form molecules to create an infinite array of materials that are the building blocks of all things, large and small.”

Friday’s concert features a full performance of Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas, says Davis, along with a newly reconstructed Prologue composed by Cooper. A monumental work in Baroque opera, Dido and Aeneas is remembered as one of Purcell’s foremost theatrical works and his only all-sung dramatic work. Originally written as an opera with prologue and three acts, no score written in Purcell’s handwriting exists today. The earliest existing score was copied no earlier than 1750, more than 60 years after its composition. And so, the division of the score into its original acts and the music to the Prologue were not recorded and are lost. Cooper, however, has reconstructed and composed a Prologue based on the opera’s existing music and Purcell’s influence.

Davis adds that Saturday’s concert will be more in line with what Bach & Beyond audiences are accustomed. “It will feature instrumental pieces by Bach, Corelli, and Vivaldi, among others. Selected students from the Chautauqua Regional Youth Orchestra will join the Bach & Beyond musicians in performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso to conclude Saturday’s concert.

In addition to accomplished area musicians, Cooper brings to the Festival top musicians from throughout North America and abroad who are specialists in and passionate about Baroque performance. Many are Festival veterans; and in addition to Cooper, at the conclusion of this year’s performances, two musicians — Oboist Cheryl Bishkoff and Cellist Bryan Eckenrode — will have participated in all 24 festivals.

The Festival’s three concerts are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, June 14 and 15, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, June 16, at 3 p.m. Special 30-minute pre-concert discussions will begin an hour before each concert in the theatre. Admission to the pre-concert discussions is free to concert ticket holders.

Complete concert programs are listed on the Opera House web site at www.fredopera.org. Tickets are $20 reserved seating for each concert; student tickets are $10. A subscription to all three concerts is available for $51 and includes tickets to a special subscriber-only reception following Sunday’s concert. Tickets may be purchased in person at the Opera House Box Office or by phone at 679-1891, Tuesday through Friday, 1-5 p.m. They also may be purchased anytime online at www.fredopera.org.

The Bach & Beyond Festival is made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. Founding Festival Benefactors are Carol & Jim Boltz. Concert Sponsors are Minda Rae Amiran and Evans & Evans Law Offices. Support also comes from the Gloria Garretson Memorial Fund.

The 1891 Fredonia Opera House is a member-supported not-for-profit organization located in Village Hall in downtown Fredonia. A complete schedule of Opera House events is available at www.fredopera.org.

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