For years I've been telling people that classical music has real rhythm and syncopation, and that much of it has roots in folk music and hence is very approachable by anyone. It's a losing battle, of course, but sometimes in life you have to keep fighting that battle regardless.
Proof positive was Friday night's sublimely enjoyable "Sex, Violins & Tales of the Baroque" concert by SMF Associate Artistic Director Daniel Hope and friends at the Morris Center. I'm a Baroque fiend from way back, so I didn't need convincing. Still, unlike so many of the half-hearted marketing efforts to sex up classical music you see these days, this show for the most part delivered on its saucy title.
From the opening notes of the concert -- played not on a stringed instrument but on drum and tambourine, by cheeky percussionist Hans-Kristian Sorenson -- this was truth in advertising: A bawdy, kinetic exploration of the folk origins of Baroque music, with Hope emceeing along the way, dishing juicy details of the lives of the various featured composers and the purpose of the compositions, many of them frankly amorous in nature. (Indeed, it seems that every other composition played this evening was banned at some time or another for inducing scandalous behavior.)
We learned of the famed lover Andrea Falconieri, who left a trail of broken hearts, enraged husbands, and extremely robust compositions all across Europe. We learned of the brilliant Nicola Matteis, who left his native Italy for England, fell in love with the folk sensibilities of the British Isles -- and drank himself to death at age 24.
Hope and the virtuosic Lorenza Borrani -- a diminutive Italian who interestingly has a more forceful sound than the always-subtle Hope -- held down the violins, while Baroque keyboard/harpsichord genius and frequent SMF performer Kristian Bezuidenhout played what in rock terms would be the role of the rhythm guitar. A cello and various lutes rounded out the sound.
The short, punchy, selections in the program -- some no longer than a Ramones song and all from Hope's acclaimed early music program and captured on CD, which was "coincidentally" on sale at the venue, he joked -- were played with heavily accented but spritely syncopation. They weren't just rhythmic -- with the extended added percussion, they were -- well, a little sexy.
In a twist, the encore was the usually very unsexy "Air on a G String" by Bach. However, this edition -- while still not sexy in the least -- was a refreshing change from the usual grimly saccharine wedding version we all know and mostly hate. Light, trilling, with delightful grace notes, this was an innocent way to wrap up a not-so-innocent concert.