Tuesday, May 12, 2009

ArtsBuzz: St. Paul's music series explores Bach, plans Baroque mini-festival

By Greg Stepanich

DELRAY BEACH -- It's one thing to do a concert of music by J.S. Bach, but it's even more interesting to do one in which the Leipzig master's music is heard in the context of his time.

So says Keith Paulson-Thorp, director of music ministries at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Delray Beach, who runs the church's year-round monthly concert series. This Sunday, Paulson-Thorp's Baroque performance ensemble, the puckishly named Camerata del Re, will present a program called The Bach Legacy, featuring music by J.S. Bach, two of his sons, and their contemporaries.

"I thought just doing a Bach concert was kind of a dull idea. You see those all the time," he said. "But Bach wasn't this isolated individual."

In addition to the Trio Sonata in G (BWV 1039) of J.S. Bach, the six members of the group will perform works by sons Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach (Sonata in G minor for viola and harpsichord, Wq.88, and the Quartet in D, Wq. 94) and Johann Christian Bach (Sonata in C minor, Op. 5, No. 6, for harpsichord).

Also on the afternoon program are pieces by Carl Friedrich Abel (Sonata in F, Op. 9, No. 6, for strings and continuo) and the eccentric Johann Gottfried Muethel (Sonata in D for flute and continuo).

"We're doing two C.P.E. Bach pieces because I think he was so innovative, and so imaginative, and so underappreciated. And I'm going to play a Johann Christian Bach harpsichord sonata that absolutely blows me away every time I play it," Paulson-Thorp said. "The second movement is a fugue that would have made his daddy proud, but the first movement is so Romantic, it's 30 years ahead of his time."

Paulson-Thorp, 53 (at right), has been director of music at St. Paul's for two and a half years, and in that time has expanded the concert series originally founded by Stuart Gardner. "He created a wonderful program, and I'm very grateful for that," Paulson-Thorp said, but he thought some changes needed to be made.

"I wanted to put my own stamp on it, and make it a little more inclusive," he said. "And that's why we introduced the jazz concerts, and we did klezmer, and early music on original instruments." Paulson-Thorp also introduced a two-tier ticket price ($15 for general admission, $18 for preferred seating) that he said keeps the prices affordable but better covers costs.

In September and early October, the series will expand slightly as it hosts a four-concert Baroque mini-festival. In addition to a program by Camerata del Re (Oct. 4) and a a solo harpsichord recital by Paulson-Thorp (Sept. 27), two other early-music groups will be on hand to perform their own programs.

Haagsche Hofmuzieck in concert.

They include Haagsche Hofmuzieck, a three-person group founded in 2005 in the Netherlands (Sept. 26), and Echoing Air, an Indianapolis-based English Baroque group associated with countertenor Steven Rickards, which will perform a concert Oct. 7 featuring works by Henry Purcell, whose 350th birth anniversary is being celebrated this year.

Paulson-Thorp, who also is a violinist and organist, has been playing and studying early music for decades, and founded Camerata del Re after arriving at St. Paul's and meeting Laurice Buckton, a violist who has worked with such eminent early-music leaders as the British conductor Trevor Pinnock.

"I thought maybe we can get together with the people who want to learn the style and do it well, and over the next few years we can build an ensemble," he said. "And that was the impetus. I'd really like to get a real first-class Baroque violinist so that we could do quartet repertoire and all kinds of stuff, and that's still my dream."

The Music at St. Paul's series, for which concerts already have been set through August 2010, featured a multimedia presentation with its March concert, called Music of War and Peace. Poems were recited before the pieces, which included the Agnus Dei from Haydn's Mass in Time of War and Welsh composer Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man, and war footage was displayed during the Jenkins on a drop-down screen.

"It was really powerful, because it showed the whole insanity of the (war) process. And if I thought, if you can do that with art, that's a great thing," he said, adding that more multimedia efforts are possible in the future. "I thought it was a great idea. I would like to find more ways to incorporate that, because I think that's where people are now.... they just expect to be engaged with all their senses all the time."

Paulson-Thorp stresses that the concert series, which has been bringing in good crowds, is an outreach of the larger mission of St. Paul's. He cites two of the Episcopal church's other activities, including a food pantry and housing assistance for the homeless. All of it, he says, fits together.

"This place is doing a lot of good things," he said. "And if we can bring people in and minister to their souls in an artistic way, as well as what we're doing in other ways, then that's what churches should be about."

The Bach Legacy begins at 4 p.m. Sunday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 188 S. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. Tickets are $15 at the door, $18 for preferred seating, and $5 for students. Call 278-6003 or visit www.stpaulsdelray.org for more information.

Echoing Air, specialists in music from the English Baroque.

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