It’s no secret audiences for classical music concerts are dwindling across North America, and members are coming up with creative ways to re-ignite interest.
The St. Albert Chamber Music Society has defied the odds. Not only has it maintained audience interest, but by nurturing regional performing artists, it has expanded its audience base.
In season 12's final concert held Sunday, June 5, at St. Albert United Church, the society engages Alberta Baroque Ensemble, a dedicated group of classically trained musicians exploring the spirit of 17th and 18th century music. It is the collective's debut recital with the society.
COVID put a temporary halt on cultural life, but the ensemble’s core 14 players return with talent and confidence on an unprecedented scale. In some ways, the Baroque music musicians rehearsed on Zoom during the pandemic sustained them through the darkness, and they are now eager to share all its beauty.
Founder and artistic director Paul Schieman selected four works from master composers of the Baroque period, one of the richest and most diverse in music history.
The ensemble’s introductory selection is Leopold Mozart’s (father of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) Sinfonia in B Flat Major. At the time, Mozart was employed as a court composer and wrote music based on patrons' needs, Schieman explained.
“It starts quite lively and becomes more subdued in the middle until it follows through with a quick final movement,” he said.
The ensemble shifts composers to Georg Philipp Telemann’s Suite in G Major, a six-movement ode to Don Quixote adapted from Miguel de Cervantes’s epic novel about chivalry and romance.
“It takes the elements of Don Quixote’s adventure and depicts what goes on. In the first movement there’s the awakening of Don Quixote followed by his attack on the windmills and his love for Princess Dulcinea. Sancho Panza, his sidekick gets swindled, and there’s Don Quixote’s horse with Sancho’s donkey in a galloping movement. It ends with Don Quixote at rest.”
On a different note, several generations of Bach composers contributed to the classical catalogue. In a nod to the famous family, the musicians play the emotion-packed Sinfonia in D Minor composed by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, the fifth son of Johann Sebastian Bach.
“It’s a later Baroque piece that runs into the classical period. It’s much like Leopold Mozart’s music — a lot of sturm and drang (translated as storm and stress).”
The final piece is J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Violin in A Minor, a deeply expressive piece that tests a violinist's musical pedigree. It features the elegant soloist Anna Kozak, Violin 1 with Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
“Anna has performed this work in the past years. She brings years of experience, joy, and lots of life to this piece.”
In addition to promoting established classical ensembles, the society nurtures up-and-coming musicians and lifts their profile. St. Albert’s Cory Manners is this concert's featured younger musician. Currently, he is a student of piano and a cellist with the Edmonton Youth Orchestra.
"This year he's on a tear. He got recognition to attend the provincial festival after participating in Rotary Music Festival. When someone works so hard, I am immediately delighted on their behalf. He's still in the developmental stage, but in this last year, he's been crushing it," said St. Albert cellist Ronda Metszies. She is Manner's music teacher in addition being an integral part of the Baroque ensemble and ESO.
He will perform Italian composer Benedetto Marcello's Sonata No.1, a quintessential developmental cello work laced with Baroque ornamentation. St. Albert piano teacher Nancy Watt will accompany the young cellist.
"He has a beautiful sound and he's very sincere when he plays. He's not a showman. What he brings to music comes straight from the heart. There's no bravado. He's a very thoughtful, honest, and genuinely authentic musician," Metszies said.
Doors open at 2:15 p.m. The concert begins at 3 p.m. June 5 at 20 Green Grove Dr. Tickets are $35 adults, $30 seniors, and $15 students. They are available at www.eventbrite.ca and at Musée Heritage Museum. Remaining tickets will be available at the door.