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Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013

‘Music from the French Court’

Milwaukee’s Ensemble Musical Offering goes Baroque

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Joan Parsley, artistic director of Milwaukee’s Ensemble Musical Offering, brims with a missionary zeal for early music. The depth of her scholarship and enthusiasm reveal how committed she is to the presentation of all things Baroque. With a sparkle in her eyes, she is devoted to producing beautiful, intimate concerts featuring the best of our Western musical heritage, and endeavors to make them relevant to everyone who cares to listen. Clearly the academic study of music, art and philosophy gets her tremendously excited; in fact, she says, “Bringing it all into context is why I exist.”

Because of her dedication to authenticity and scholarship, Parsley draws highly regarded Baroque performers from far and wide to play in her series. “Music from the French Court—Paris ca. 1740,” this season’s opening concert, features Gesa Kordes on Baroque violin, Paul Jacobson on Baroque flute, Eric Miller on viola da gamba and Joan Parsley on harpsichord. Kordes performs with the Washington Bach Consort, the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra and the Berkeley and Boston Early Music Festivals; she has recorded for NPR, Harmonia Mundi, Dorian and Naxos. Jacobson, principal flutist and cofounder of The Lyra Baroque Orchestra, has played with many notable ensembles, including the Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Chicago Baroque Ensemble and the Bach Society of Minnesota. Miller, viola da gambist and Baroque cellist, has appeared with the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble and Madison Bach Musicians; he holds a Master of Music degree in cello performance from UW-Madison. Parsley studied 18th-century keyboard performance at Cornell University and at the Baroque Performance Institute at Oberlin. She also enjoys a close professional relationship with renowned early music specialist Christopher Hogwood. Together these EMO musicians will perform the Premier concert and the Troisième concert from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin en concerts and selections from Georg Philipp Telemann’s Nouveaux quatuors en six suites and Quadri from his Paris Quartets.

Dijon-born Rameau (1683-1764) published his Pièces de clavecin en concerts in 1741 during a period of relatively little compositional output. His respite from operas, opera-ballets, cantatas and musical dramas provided the opportunity to create these intimate, instrumental ensemble pieces that feature the harpsichord not simply in its usual role as an accompanying continuo voice, but more dramatically as an equal solo voice. Rameau’s music is notable for its characteristic precision, poise, restraint and elegance, and his compositions and scholarly works on music theory are as important to the late Baroque as the music of Bach and Handel.

The Telemann (1681-1767) Concerto Primo in G Major and the Quatuor No. 6 in E Minor from the six Quadri and Nouveaux quatuors will round out the program. Telemann’s prodigious body of work includes 40 operas, a dozen complete cycles of cantatas and motets (easily 3,000 pieces), passions, oratorios and other sacred compositions, as well as reams of orchestral and instrumental chamber works. In 1737, Telemann traveled to Paris from his home in Hamburg to establish ownership and publishing rights to music that was stolen from him (copyright infringement and music plagiarism isn’t new since George Harrison and the Chiffons, folks); he later revised and expanded some of the purloined music into these quartets, which were enthusiastically received.

A pre-concert lecture offers a detailed look into the compositional and performance practices of the music and weds them to the intricacies of the philosophical ideas and social fabric of the period. Anyone who peruses the arts section of The New York Times may notice a recent enthusiasm for authentic performance and interpretation practices, now in vogue in New York City, especially since the funding of the Historical Performance program at The Juilliard School in 2009. However, other cities (Milwaukee included) have been rich in the production and presentation of early music for years. Whether you are new to early music or a seasoned listener, Ensemble Musical Offering will give you a richly satisfying musical and educational experience.

Ensemble Musical Offering presents “Music from the French Court—Paris ca. 1740” on Saturday, Sept. 28. The pre-concert talk begins at 7 p.m. and the concert at 8 p.m. in the Cathedral Church of All Saints, 818 E. Juneau Ave. For details and tickets, visit ensemblemusicaloffering.org.