More than thirty years ago, musicians employed by orchestras in Soviet-controlled East Berlin began a clandestine collaboration that led to the formation of a collectively run early music ensemble, operating in defiance of state controls. United by a preference for antique viols strung with gut instead of metal, they eventually found themselves near the forefront of the “period instrument” movement. Today the Akademie fuer Alte Musik Berlin, also known as Akamus, has built up an impressive Baroque and early classical discography and presents more than one hundred concerts annually worldwide. Although they are no strangers to Ann Arbor audiences, the Akademie’s presentation of a Bach family program April 13 will be their UMS debut.
What is it that causes people to seek out European chamber music dating back nearly three centuries? There is something about it that calms, invigorates, and makes sense to some of us on an almost metabolic level. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 1 virtually defines the High Baroque of the 1720s, a burgeoning tradition that he took a great deal of care to share with his sons. The eldest, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, was highly regarded in his day as an organist with a knack for improvisation. The Akademie’s presentation of his passionately phrased Harpsichord Concerto in F minor will offer an all-too-rare opportunity to experience a work by W.F. Bach done live, in an auditorium known for its excellent acoustics. Balcony seats will be ideal for those moments when the dialogue between strings and harpsichord takes on the qualities of sunlight filtering through clouds on a spring afternoon.
Like his elder brother, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach deliberately wrote music that moved in dramatic shifts and mood swings, from hushed and ruminative to brusque and adamant. Perhaps in acknowledgement of his 300th birthday, the Akademie will contrast C.P.E.’s B minor Sinfonia with the exquisite Oboe Concerto in E flat major.
Both C.P.E. and his little brother Johann Christian Bach were to have a profound and lasting influence on young Mozart. The Akademie will remember J.C. Bach with his Symphony in G minor for strings, two oboes, two horns, and continuo. Like much of the music of Bach’s sons, the opening movement of this symphony usually makes me want to sit up straight and take deep breaths almost as if to inhale the drama.
Each of these works has the power to transport and transform the listener. Ann Arborites are fortunate to have a chance to hear them performed close to home by a group of artists so in love with the tradition they have come to embody.