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Bravely Mixing the New with the Old

A preview by Marc Shulgold 

“It’s a very eclectic mix,” says the ever-understated Frank Nowell, about the program served up March 17 and 18 by his Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado.

“Eclectic,” indeed, is an understatement.

Oh, there’s some Handel, Vivaldi and Geminiani, as expected. These masters of the Baroque Era pop up frequently in concerts by the BCOC.

But wait – what’s this? Works by contemporary composers Conor Abbott Brown and Jörn Boysen?

Not to worry, BCOC’s artistic director reassured. These works will shoe-horn nicely with those Baroque guys. “This is part of a program we started called ‘Baroque Out of Bounds.’ It’s a learning laboratory.”

One feature of Nowell’s intriguing side project involves asking composers to create new works for old instruments. Thus, Brown has written a Suite for solo viola d’amore – an ancestor of the modern viola. Boysen has taken another approach, Nowell says of the Chaconne in D minor. “Jörn is a performer and conductor who’s steeped in the Baroque language. He writes in the style of the Baroque.”

Viola d’amore

Nowell and his adventurous ensemble have been thinking outside the Baroque box for some time now – as the “Out of Bounds” concept demonstrates. “We put on two or three events a year – informal programs in intimate spaces,” he says of the project. “They’re designed to create collaborations with other art forms. One of our ideas involved having published writers create poems that are based on the structure of some of the fugues in (Bach’s) Musical Offering.”

So, how did Brown and Boysen arrive on BCOC’s March programs? The former was recommended by viola d’amore player Matt Danes, who will play Brown’s Suite, as well as a Vivaldi Concerto for that instrument. “Matt’s been commissioning pieces for the viola d’amore,” Nowell says, adding that the solo Suite is described by the composer as being inspired by the West, with touches of international folk tunes.

Boysen is based in the Hague, Netherlands where he is director of Musica Poetica, an ensemble specializing in offbeat repertory from the 18th Century. He was recommended to Nowell by  Cynthia Miller Freivogel, violinist and leader of BCOC, who divides her time between Denver and her home in Amsterdam.

The March programs offer some more enticing elements, Nowell adds. Since Freivogel will be unable to take her place as lead violinist, BCOC will welcome a prestigious guest – Aisslinn Nosky, the in-demand concertmaster of Boston’s prestigious Handel and Haydn Society. Nowell couldn’t help but chuckle when he compared the HHS with his own group: “When we were celebrating our 10th anniversary, they were celebrating their 200th!”

Prior to the new works by guest composers, soprano Laura Heimes will be soloist in Handel’s early solo cantata, Tra le fiamme, which translates as “In Flames” – keying in with the concerts’ title, “Playing with Fire.”

“Cynthia and I built this program around the Handel, which has been on our list for a long time,” Nowell says. “It’s a real early piece – from his days in Rome – and it doesn’t sound like other Handel works.”

Soprano Laura Heimes

This lively and unusual mix of repertory fits in with BCOC’s goal, the group’s music director stresses. “We want to make each program compelling. We want our audience to be satisfied, to learn something and, of course, to be entertained.”

Baroque Chamber Orchestra will perform Playing with Fire at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 17 in Claver Recital Hall at Regis University, 3333 Regis Blvd., and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18 in King Center Concert Hall, Auraria Campus, 855 Lawrence Way. Information: 303-889-1012 or 

Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado

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