I heard Jesse Irons (baroque violin) and Andrus Madsen (harpsicord) in concert on 10/23/20, presented by Open Space Music. Jesse is a member of A Far Cry, a chamber orchestra in Boston that partners with Open Space Music.
They opened with a sonata by an 18th century composer I’d never heard of, Evaristo Felice Dall’Abaco. It was pretty and well crafted but not particularly distinctive or flavorful. Like Telemann, who wrote more pieces than any other composer in world history, but how much of it is really worth hearing…? Am I throwing shade at Telemann? What did he ever do to me? Anyway, I did catch myself wiggling my toes and swinging my head around a bit during the Dall’Abaco, so maybe I liked it more than I thought? It’s probably because Irons and Madsen played it with such care and relish.
Andrus introduced the next piece, a Ciaconna 16th century bass line improvisation. He said that the chaconne was had its origins a dance form from Mexico City! Who knew. The Ciaconna they played was over the same two-measure bass line over and over. Though they cheated a little bit by taking a left turn into the relative minor and then back to the home key. They also made a brief unexpected change in time signature, that was a daring choice. This was one of the highlights of the concert, it was fresh and inventive and I had the feeling that they were firing on all cylinders. Always a good feeling for an audience member. They seemed to be feeding off each other in their improvisation, like the greatest jazz musicians.
Had I heard of Johann Christoph Petz? I’m not sure. They played a sonata by him, which had the daring harmonies that were missing in the Dall’Abaco. They both played with style and guts, which is what we want, especially in baroque music. Irons in particular had some thrillingly virtuosic writing to conquer, and did it with great relish.
Andrus explained the origins of the bass line of “La Bamba.” Yes, the pop song by Richie Valens. Who knew that song could be traced back to a baroque song from Vera Cruz, and the melting pot of West African and indigenous Mexican musical influences brewing there at the time? I would never have recognized the song as “La Bamba,” which was maybe the point? But by the end the “La Bamba” element was unmistakable.
They ended the concert with a set of variations by Arcangelo Corelli on a popular baroque tune, “La Folia.” They preceded the Corelli with a short free improvisation. This was another highlight, they both had their fingers flying. Fascinating how much interest you can pack into the same eight-measure chord progression happening over and over.
The biggest surprise of the concert was an unscheduled encore. The artists did a Q&A after they played, something that happens at all of the Open Space Music concerts. Greg Beaver, the co-founder of the series, asked if they would do an improvisation on "America, the Beautiful," since we were so close to the election. They both shrugged and said, "I don't really know it..." But the violinist started playing it, the harpsicord player doodled around until the found the right key, and they played a deeply moving on-the-spot improvisation on "America the Beautitful." I was completely dissolved in tears. That's the America I want to live in.