Baroque at the Broad
Most people label anything consisting of formally dressed people playing stringed instruments as classical music. This statement is an oversimplification if you've asked a baroque musician.
"Classical" music can be broken down into different time periods. They all have a similar sound, but a seasoned audience member can distinguish the nuances. Baroque music was written from roughly 1600 to 1760. This time period is nestled in between the Renaissance and Classical musical styles.
Last Sunday at the Broad Stage, Musica Angelica showed Santa Monica how a Baroque orchestra should look and sound. "[We] respect the music in the aesthetic of the time period," violist Aaron Westman said.
Musicians in Musica Angelica read documents from the Baroque period telling them how certain pieces should be preformed, Westman said. The orchestra also mimes the size and instrumentation of a Baroque orchestra.
Musica Angelica is a small ensemble of about 15 musicians. There are eight violinists, two violists, two cellists, a bassist, a harpsichordists, and occasionally additional soloists.
Baroque music was originally played in a small court while aristocrats socialized.
The Broad Stage was a good place for Musica Angelica to perform. Baroque music doesn't get too loud and passionate. The orchestra filled out the 499 seat hall nicely.
"[Baroque music] is more like speaking," harpsichordist and conductor Martin Hasselbock said. "You don't have to yell." Unlike Romantic music that swells to great magnitudes, Baroque focuses on accenting certain notes and phrases, Hasselbock said.
In a Baroque orchestra, the conductor usually plays the harpsichord while keeping the ensemble together. During the performance, Hasselbock's would punch his head to accent certain notes. While not playing the harpsichord, Hasselbock would keep the beat like a Classical conductor.
Baroque orchestras need a conductor because the music doesn't dramatically change tempo or loudness during a particular piece.
The instruments created during the Baroque period limit the orchestra's dynamic range. Harpsichords and recorders only have one volume. A small ensemble of strings can't change volume that dramatically either.
This creates music that is heavily connected to daily life, Hasselbock said. Baroque music has very regimented and predictable rhythms. This is similar to the driving force that keeps everyone on track, Hasselbock said.
Baroque musicians achieve regimented precise articulation by holding their instruments differently than other classical performers. The cellists cradle their instruments between their legs.
Violinists stand up and place their chins directly on their instruments. Westman actually prefers not using a shoulder rest. "You can relax your shoulders and get different articulations," Westman said.
Two pieces featured an instrument that isn't used in music composed after the Baroque period.
Vittorio Ghielmi was the afternoon's viola da gamba soloist. A viola da gamba is a seven stringed instrument that looks like a cello but has frets and sounds lighter.
Even though the viola da gamba seems obscure to most people, Gheilmi said it's easy to find work. "Maybe [it looks strange] in California," Gheilmi said. "But in Europe it's very well known."
The recorder was also featured during two pieces, which added to the list of unconventional instruments. Most people would recognize a recorder because it's an instrument most children play at one point.
Marion Verbruggen proved that the recorder is an instrument that takes enormous amounts of technical skill.
The performers that play with Musica Angelica consider themselves exclusively Baroque musicians. Westman also plays with other Southern California Baroque ensembles, but not for any large orchestras.
Being a Baroque musician separates you from other classical musicians. Playing Baroque music takes a long time to learn because it's not taught like conventional classical music, Westman said. "[However], it's what I was meant to do."