Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are six masterpieces of intricacy and lightness that require virtuostic playing and differ tremendously in their scoring. This weekend, the Meyerson’s voluminous hall will stage a chamber orchestra-size instrumentation of Baroque-era music, far more intimate in scale than Classical and Romantic-era symphonies.
A number among the strong cast of six DSO soloists have backgrounds and interest in chamber music, and will be under the direction of Maestro Richard Egarr, an expert in early music.
David Buck, the DSO’s newly appointed principal flute, and violinist and co-concertmaster Nathan Olson talked to me about the thrills and challenges of playing the Brandenburg set.
“Presenting all six Brandenburgs in one program is particularly interesting, as we can showcase Bach’s mastery in writing for different instruments in different combinations,” Olson says.
Each concerto allows these instruments to shine individually and together.
For Buck, the defining characteristic of Bach’s music is universality. “He plumbs the depths of the human condition and man’s relationship with the divine in a way that almost no other composer ever has,” Buck says. “These works have a [light,] dance-like quality to them, but they are also compositions of considerable complexity. […] There is so much to know about Baroque music because the tradition is so remote and so different from the way music is performed today.” But, he continues, “There’s such freedom in Baroque music, and also a kind of intimacy that’s rare in symphonic music.”
There’s a real shift in mindset required to move to Baroque after playing a Classical and Romantic repertoire, both soloists say.
“It’s a different way of using our bows, as well as our left hands [with] less vibrato,” Olson says.
“For flutists, these works are especially challenging because each one was intended for a different kind of flute,” Buck says. “Two were written for different kinds of recorders, and one was written for the Baroque transverse flute. The modern flute is rather different from all of these. For me, personally,” he continues, “it’s a challenge because Bach’s music can be quite taxing to play. A lot of these works have a kind of perpetual motion quality, and for wind players, continuous playing can be very tiring.”
Olson will be playing Concerto No. 4’s demanding violin solos for the first time in his career. There are violin passages in the first and last movements of the concerto, he says, “where the notes fly by almost faster than the ear can account for them.” And, “from the perspective of the listener, I think a concert of this scope is challenging because there’s just so much to hear,” Buck suggests.
But the rewards are rich. Most moving for Buck, who will be accompanied by Kara Kirkendoll Welch on flute: “The second movement of Brandenburg 5. Quite simply, it’s one of the most beautiful things Bach ever wrote for the flute.”