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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Making music with old and new friends

We had a wonderful performance of Messiah last night (odd to do it now, you think? Well, it was the 250th anniversary of Handel's death! Why weren't you celebrating Handel?). This came about because two friends were celebrating 40 years of making and bringing music to Spokane, WA.

David Dutton (oboe) and Beverly Biggs (harpsichord) settled in Spokane after David became principal oboe of the Spokane Symphony. They quickly became enmeshed in the musical life in Spokane and both tirelessly worked to bring other music to their adopted community: a concert series with guest artists or ensembles, plus their own friends with whom they made music.

In the mid-70s I got to know David when he came to Seattle to hear a performance of the Bach Matthew Passion I did with my Seattle Pro Musica group. He and Bev were already planning a Bach Festival in Spokane with period instruments, to take place in January and they were looking for a choral conductor.

So a couple years later this became reality and I worked in Spokane for at least seven years with a terrific group of people. Over the years the orchestra included musicians such as baroque flutist Janet See, violinists Stanley Ritchie, and Daniel Steppner, and many others. Vocal soloists included Nancy Zylstra and the Dutch baritone, Max van Egmont. In the seven years or so I was there I conducted a wide variety of works, from Bach cantatas, motets, the Magnificat, and Johannespassion to a scene from Rameau's Les Indes Galantes and Telemann's short opera Pimpinone. I had many wonderful experiences there, but especially remember conducting a performance of Bach's Ich habe genug with Max. I love accompanying a soloist with orchestra--whether a vocal or instrumental soloist--and conducting that particular piece with Max, who sang it from memory and felt it deeply, was a special moment in my musical life.

Even though Beverly lives in South Carolina now, she still takes part in some of Allegro Baroque's productions, and she and David had the idea of doing this big production of Messiah for the 30th anniversary of their making music in Spokane. There were certainly both old and new friends involved: most of the chorus was from Spokane (including a few I'd worked with before), with soloists taking part as well, plus a few extra singers from Seattle (the choir was 6-4-4-5). Most of the strings were from the Seattle Baroque Orchestra, and leading the orchestra was Stanley Ritchie (on sabbatical from IU). Besides David playing baroque oboe was Sand Dalton, another old friend from early days in Seattle, and Margaret Gries, who came in as principal 2nd violin. I hadn't worked with any of these people for a long time, so it was truly "old home" week. To make it truly special, Max van Egmont came from the Netherlands to sing the bass solos, even though he is formally retired from his performance career. At 72, he still sings wonderfully, and it was a special pleasure to work with him. Max has such a wonderful approach and is so musical and expressive--pure pleasure. Everyone was a joy to work with.

I had a couple rehearsals earlier with the Spokane chorus members and then arrived after my Good Friday concert from Edmonton via Seattle. We had one rehearsal with the orchestra and chorus Sunday evening (my first time with any of the soloists or extra singers in Seattle), a rehearsal with orchestra and soloists Monday morning, then a dress rehearsal Monday evening--so not a lot of time, particularly since we were doing the work uncut (as it should be!). Everyone rose to the occasion last night and the performance went extremely well. Simply a great time.

Thank you, David and Beverly!

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