Sunday, February 12, 2023 at 2:00pm
Sunday, February 12, 2023 at 2:00pm
The Concert Hall at Groton Hill
Brandenburg Concertos 3-5 | Violin Concerto in A Minor | Concerto for Violin and Oboe
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
Violin Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041
III. Allegro assai
Aisslinn Nosky, violin
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048
Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C Minor, BWV 1060R
Aisslinn Nosky, violin
Debra Nagy, oboe
∼ INTERMISSION ∼
Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major, BWV 1049
Debra Nagy and Priscilla Herreid, recorders
Aisslinn Nosky, violin
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major, BWV 1050
Andrea LeBlanc, flute
Aisslinn Nosky, violin
Ian Watson, harpsichord
Chair Endowed in Perpetuity by Paul & Rhoda Joss
Dr. Lee Bradley III Chair
Chair Funded in Memory of Estah & Robert Yens
Nancy & Richard Lubin Chair
Heather Miller Lardin*
Amelia Peabody Chair
Chair Funded in part by Dr. Michael Fisher Sandler
Boston’s Grammy-winning Handel and Haydn Society performs Baroque and Classical music with a freshness, a vitality, and a creativity that inspires all ages. H+H has been captivating audiences for 208 consecutive seasons (the most of any performing arts organization in the United States), speaking to its singular success at converting new audiences to this extraordinary music, generation after generation.
H+H stands at the forefront of the Historically Informed Performance (HIP) movement, treating audiences to a timeless, one-of-a-kind listening experience. The orchestra plays on period instruments – the very kind that the great Baroque and Classical composers once wrote for. Woodwinds are made of wood, not metal or plastic. Brass instruments don’t have valves. Strings are crafted of gut, rather than steel.
H+H performed the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah in its first concert in 1815, gave the American premiere in 1818, and ever since has been both a musical and a civic leader in the Boston community. During the Civil War, H+H gave numerous concerts in support of the Union Army (H+H member Julia Ward Howe wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”) and on January 1, 1863, H+H performed at the Grand Jubilee Concert celebrating the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation. Two years later, H+H performed at the memorial service for Abraham Lincoln.
Today, H+H’s Orchestra and Chorus delight more than 50,000 listeners annually with a nine-week subscription series at Symphony Hall and other leading venues. Through the Karen S. and George D. Levy Education Program, H+H supports seven youth choirs of singers in grades 2–12, and provides thousands of complimentary tickets to students and communities throughout Boston, ensuring the joy of music is accessible to all. H+H’s numerous free community concerts include an annual commemoration of the original 1863 Emancipation Proclamation concert on December 31 of every year, in collaboration with the Museum of African American History. H+H has released 16 CDs on the CORO label and has toured nationally and internationally. In all these ways, H+H fulfills its mission to inspire the intellect, touch the heart, elevate the soul, and connect all of us with our shared humanity through transformative experiences with Baroque and Classical music.
Multi-talented Ian Watson has been described by The Times in London as a “world-class soloist,” a performer of “virtuosic panache,” and by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as “a conductor of formidable ability.” He is artistic director of Arcadia Players Period-Instrument Orchestra, music director of the Connecticut Early Music Festival, and Associate Conductor of the Handel and Haydn Society. Ian won a scholarship at age 14 to the Junior School of the Royal Academy of Music in London, later winning all the prizes for organ performance. He completed his studies with Flor Peeters in Belgium. Ian has appeared with most major UK orchestras and also the Polish and Stuttgart Chamber Orchestras, Bremen Philharmonic, Rhein-Main Symphony, Colorado Symphony, Komische Oper Berlin, and Darmstadt State Opera, among numerous others. He is featured on many film soundtracks, including Amadeus, Polanski’s Death and the Maiden, Restoration, Cry the Beloved Country, Voices from a Locked Room, and the BBC‘s production of David Copperfield.
Appointed Concertmaster of the Handel and Haydn Society in 2011, violinist Aisslinn Nosky captivates audiences in Boston and around the world with her innovative interpretations and impeccable technique. Her fierce passion for early music and skill as a soloist, director, and conductor has generated robust appreciation by press and audiences alike. Hailed as “superb” by The New York Times and “a fearsomely powerful musician” by The Toronto Star, widespread demand for Aisslinn’s artistry and leadership continues to grow. Outside of her work with H+H, Aisslinn collaborates as guest director and soloist with orchestras across the globe, including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Charlotte Symphony, Utah Symphony, and Holland Baroque. She was a member of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra from 2005 to 2016 and served as Principal Guest Conductor of the Niagara Symphony from 2016 to 2019. Currently, she is Guest Artist-in-Residence of the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra.
Aisslinn is a founding member of the Eybler Quartet, who explore repertoire from the early quartet literature on period instruments. Their most recent recording features Beethoven’s Op. 18 string quartets and was released in 2018 (CORO). Gramophone magazine mused, “they make no bones about treating Beethoven as a radical. …This set might delight you or it might infuriate you: either way, I suspect, Beethoven would have been more than happy.” With the Eybler Quartet, Aisslinn serves on the faculty of EQ: Evolution of the String Quartet at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. EQ is an intensive summer course for emerging artists which celebrates the lineage of the string quartet, both as a historical genre and as a freshly invigorated practice in the 21st century.
Born in Canada, Aisslinn began playing violin at age three and made her solo debut with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra at age eight. A passionate educator, she has served on the faculty of Amherst Early Music Festival and the International Baroque Institute of Longy, and her teaching/performing residencies include the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the Rotterdam Conservatory, the Hanyang University College of Music, the Juilliard School, and the New England Conservatory of Music.
Violin Concerto in A Minor
In the Concerto for Violin in A Minor, composer Johann Sebastian Bach effortlessly combines taut but expertly balanced counterpoint in the finest German tradition with that brilliance and melodiousness so typical of the concerti of Antonio Vivaldi. In his youth, Bach had studied, copied, and arranged some of Vivaldi’s works in a bid to learn the Italian master’s methods for organizing the dialogue between soloist and ensemble. The existence of a later version of BWV 1041 for harpsichord and orchestra suggests that this is a relatively early work. However, the only surviving set of parts comes from 1731, when Bach had been employed as Kantor of St. Thomas’s church in Leipzig for 8 years. Although Bach produced a great deal of instrumental music during his tenure at Cöthen, it is not unfathomable that he might compose such a work while shouldering the heavy load of church composition and teaching he was responsible for in Leipzig. After all, he somehow found time there to take on the direction of a Collegium Musicum, a group of amateurs who convened at Zimmermann’s Kaffeehaus to perform secular vocal and instrumental music for the enjoyment of the coffee-sipping public. Whether the ingestion of caffeine contributed to the tempi chosen for the performance of this work, in the 1730s or this afternoon, must remain a matter attended to by the listener’s imagination.
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major
Bach composed the collection of six concertos known today as the Brandenburgs over several years, at a time when he was searching for better opportunities for himself and his family. In the early part of the 18th century, Bach was the organist at the court in Weimar and played either violin or viola in the court ensemble. When, in 1716, Bach was passed over for a promotion by the Duke of Weimar, he realized the only way to advance his career would be through a new job. One such opportunity occurred a year later, when Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen offered Bach the position of music director. When Bach asked permission to leave Weimar, however, the duke denied the request. (This was not unusual: musicians were often contractually obligated to request permission to change employers.) Bach persisted, for which he was arrested and detained by the duke for 27 days. After his release on December 2, 1717, Bach was free to move to Cöthen (about 44 miles north of Leipzig), a more prestigious court with a prince who actively participated in music and employed 17 musicians.
Although content with his duties at Cöthen, by 1721 Bach seems to have been contemplating another move. Financial constraints had affected his situation at court; Prince Leopold had reduced the budget and left three vacant music positions unfilled. Later in his life, Bach also noted the declining educational opportunities for his children in Cöthen. Bach had even traveled to Hamburg, possibly to investigate the prospect of an organist position there. By March, Bach had compiled a set of six concertos, dedicated to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg. In the dedication, Bach wrote that he was sending the concertos in response to the margrave’s request from “a few years ago,” suggesting that Bach may have been offering his compositional résumé to the Brandenburg court.
To our modern ears Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048, may seem to be the least concerto-like of the set. Scored for three violins, three violas, three cellos, and continuo—perhaps the reason it was placed as the third concerto of the set—Bach uses the groups of strings both collectively and individually. The first movement begins with a distinctive three-note motive that is passed through each solo group—a treat for the eye as well as the ear. The second movement contains only two chords, and so the challenge for the ensemble lies in how to realize those pitches. The chords might be played as written or used as the skeletal structure for a short improvised passage for one of the soloists. This transitions to the third movement, a swirling dance that opens with a flourish first heard in the violins and then imitated by the violas and cellos.
Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C Minor
The Concerto in C Minor for Oboe, Violin, Strings, and Continuo is a reconstruction of a score that has not survived. What has survived is a Leipzig Collegium Musicum-era concerto for two harpsichords and orchestra, BWV 1060, which is known to be an arrangement of that earlier, lost work. (The reconstructed concerto earns the designation “1060R.”) The process of reconstruction relies on the study of Bach’s practices in other transcriptions to keyboard concertos from earlier scores to which we do have access. In a general sort of way this is perhaps more straightforward than one might think, since in the instance of a concerto for two keyboards like this one, it’s typically the case that only one or two clear, single lines are going on at once, and the imitation or chordal accompaniment in the left hand is rarely independent or far afield of the orchestral parts. Here, those right-hand lines in the keyboards are reverse-engineered to the single solo lines of oboe and violin. In the first-movement Allegro, the oboe and violin join in the ripieno to start; the violin solo moves more easily back and forth, joining the orchestral violins readily. The accompaniment in the Adagio second movement is far more restrained; the oboe and violin play in alternation and imitation throughout the movement. The Allegro finale is bright and energetic, its theme characterized by its insistent collection of leaping intervals.
Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major
Bach uses only high-range instruments, violin and two recorders, as the soloists in Concerto No. 4 in G Major, BWV 1049. With its focus on long-held notes in the recorders and the sparse accompaniment, the first movement engenders a focused, yet leisurely, pace. While the two solo recorders are easily heard, it can be difficult to hear a solo violin among the rest of the strings. Bach solves this compositional challenge by using the solo violin to connect the full ensemble and solo sections in addition to an extended passage later in the movement. In the second movement, the soloists act as echoes to the rest of the ensemble. These roles are then reversed as the soloists elaborate on the opening idea and the ensemble replies. This movement closes with a transition that harmonically prepares the final movement, Presto, a whirlwind of ideas for the full ensemble and soloists alike.
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major
In the score for Concerto No. 5 in D Major, BWV 1050, Bach delineates two roles for the harpsichord: continuo player and soloist. When the harpsichord is part of the continuo, only the left hand notes are written because it was assumed that the player would improvise the correct chords for the right hand. When the harpsichord is soloist, however, Bach writes out the music for both hands, including a spectacular cadenza-like passage at the end of the first movement. Along with the harpsichord, the other two soloists in this concerto, flute and violin, play in imitation, passing lines back and forth conversationally. This continues in the second movement, scored only for the three soloists, creating an intimate and introspective mood. In the last movement, Bach again sets the soloists’ lines in imitation, now part of a joyful dance.
Many details surrounding the Brandenburg Concertos remain a mystery, including why Bach sent this particular collection to the Margrave some two years after meeting him. The concertos were probably not performed at the Margrave’s court, and no record of his response has survived, leading many to conclude that one was never sent. Equally uncertain is the performance history of these works before Bach created this particular collection. At least two can be traced back to Weimar, and earlier versions of the concertos were most likely performed in Cöthen at the Sunday evening chamber music concerts. Mistakenly presumed to be lost to the generation immediately succeeding Bach, the Brandenburg Concertos were published in the mid-19th century and have been favorite works ever since. Bach’s imaginative blending of instrumental colors, textures, and structures in these virtuosic pieces has become a standard for Baroque instrumental music as we understand it today.
* Notes for Brandenburg Concertos 3, 4 & 5 by © 2022 Teresa M. Neff, PhD, Christopher Hogwood, Historically Informed Performance Fellow
* Note for Violin Concerto in A Minor by Guy Fishman
* Note for the Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C Minor by © Robert Kirzinger. Used by permission.