Amid the ornately carved wooden paneling and gilded moldings that adorn the ceiling of Kilbourn Hall, the baroque sounds of the Aulos Ensemble and the soprano Julianne Baird resonated clearly and freely, re-creating an atmosphere of the past.
From the onset, the entire performance on March 16 was permeated with a feeling of antiquity, most strongly created by the uncommon sound of the harpsichord, suitably blended with four other traditional baroque instruments and German lyrics.
It is not the songs that sound ancient, but the manner in which these virtuosic musicians manipulate these tools from an era long ago.
The Aulos ensemble was formed in 1973 by a group of five graduates from the Juilliard School. Christopher Krueger, flauto traverso, Marc Schachman, baroque oboe, Linda Quan, baroque violin, Myron Lutzke, baroque cello and Arthur Haas playing harpsichord comprise the group.
Their popularity and success can be attributed to their intelligence and skill in reproducing baroque music as it existed almost 200 years ago, generally thought of as having originated with Johann Sebastian Bach.
These expert musicians exclusively use musical instruments from the same time period, whether they are originals or reproductions. This gives their group a sound that is distinctly different from modern ensembles because the minor variations in the traditional instruments produce timbres and textures that cannot be generated by modern instruments.
The baroque violin creates a harsher sound and almost squeals, compared to the modern day counterpart.
Additionally, both the baroque oboe and flauto traverse sounded mellower and a bit more hollow than their present orchestral equivalents.
These, along with the harpsichord and cello, created a perfect blend of sonorities within the instrumental ensemble, especially when joined by soprano Julianne Baird.
Baird is a professor at Rutgers University and is well known for her singing, teaching and published work. She is in high demand across the country, maintaining a rigorous touring schedule, which includes singing with groups such as the acclaimed Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.
Tuesday’s performance was clear evidence of why both Baird and the Aulos Ensemble are in such high demand. Their program of Vivaldi, Telemann and Bach was well unified, as it centered on the baroque era, but diverse enough to afford the audience with much variety.
Baird sang with the group for three of the six pieces, interspersed among the strictly instrumental works in order to produce a continuously varied experience.
Baird’s tone when she sang was both full and clear. Her ability to retain the emotional content of the lyrics, while also being technically perfect with the music, is why she is so well known today.
She was able to merge with the accompanying instruments to the point where they sounded like a single performer, playing all of the parts at once.
And she did this without any sort of amplification or monitoring system.
When Baird was not performing, the Aulos Ensemble was itself quite a treat. Despite their aged presentation and somber looks, the performers were both buoyant and energetic, much like the music they were performing. They were able to create an incredibly unified sound because they all seemed to move and sway as a single unit.
This kinetic energy was directly transferred into their playing, and from there into the audience’s ears.
The light and airy melodies were perfectly produced and continued to hold the audience in rapture.
The performance, overall, was a wonderful recreation of music from the past. I imagine that Bach would be very pleased with what he would have heard had he been at the Eastman School of Music on Tuesday night.
It is surprising, after attending this concert, that there are not more groups that perform baroque music on the traditional instruments.
I commend Eastman for bringing the Aulos Ensemble to Rochester, and I wish to say thanks to the Aulos Ensemble itself, and Baird, for keeping this ancient music alive for myself and my contemporaries to enjoy.
Frissell can be reached at email@example.com.