On Order, Balance, and Stepping Off the Podium

—By Music Director Donato Cabrera

The music of the Baroque is the music of the Age of Reason and The Enlightenment. It is ordered in that the instruments used are essentially always stringed instruments with occasional winds thrown in. It is balanced in that the soloists aren’t any more prominent or important than the group, and there is always a sense of proportion.

When you watch Baroque music being performed, it actually sounds like Baroque architecture looks. Everyone on stage has an integral and indispensable job to perform. It’s like looking at those beautiful Baroque clocks whose inner-workings can be seen through a dome of glass…every cog matters!

Portland Baroque Orchestra performs Vivaldi’s Four Seasons without a conductor

There is one role, however, that is completely out of place in this music and completely unnecessary, and that’s the role of the conductor. Conductors simply were not used for this music unless there were performances, often outdoors, that required a large group of performers spread over a large area. And so it is that guest artist Alexi Kenney will not only be featured as soloist in the first half of our FOUR SEASONS performances on November 6 & 7 at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek, but he will take on the role of conductor too, in true Baroque style. (In any event, you’ll get to see me wave my arms around during the second half of the concert in music that I absolutely adore: Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst, and Mahler’s string orchestra arrangement of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden.)

There is one other thing that truly sets The Four Seasons apart and which few people get to experience in modern day performances or are aware even exists. For each of the seasons, there is an accompanying sonnet, which was most likely written by Vivaldi himself. These sonnets beautifully describe each season of the year, and the music perfectly corresponds to these sonnets, making The Four Seasons one of the first examples of program music, that’s to say music that has a specific extra-musical meaning.

I invite you to read the sonnets here (or find them in the program book you can pick up free at the concert) and to come and experience this familiar Baroque masterpiece in an entirely new way.

California Symphony’s FOUR SEASONS concert, takes place on Saturday, November 6th and Sunday, November 7th at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. Tickets are $44-$74 ($20 for students 25 and under), available online or through the Lesher Center Box Office at 925.280.2490.


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