Saturday, January 10, 2015

Going for Baroque

Flashback to August 2010. Once again, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

Today's plan was lunch with a friend followed by music at the library, nothing too earth-shattering. My friend had recently been in a car accident and while I'd heard all those details, we hadn't sat down just to catch up in a good, long while.

As I was walking out the door to go wait for him to collect me, the phone rang. He'd gotten caught up in doing errands and wanted to meet me there.

I made it to the Gellman Room at the main library minutes before the program "Music and Conversation" was to start, snagging the only two available seats next to a couple of teens who'd been dragged there by their parents to hear the Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia give us their best winter Baroque.

After thanking the audience for coming out on such a cold day, the ensemble of two violins, harpsichord, cello and theorbo (which at that point I assumed was a lute) play a Baroque piece by Jean-Baptiste Lully. The only thing as lovely as the music was the view of the impossibly long neck on the lute theorbo against the enormous window and blue sky behind it.

Artistic director and cello player James Wilson followed that with a Baroque primer, explaining to the musically-deficient such as me about this music. He had considerately made copies of a very old handwritten musical score, explaining that the few notes on the sheet were "all the information we have to work from. In Baroque music, you can add in or take away as many notes as you want." Sounds a lot like the non-rules of jazz to me.

They demonstrated this by doing part of a piece with just cello and violin, then adding in harpsichord and finally the theorbo to create more imaginative bass lines than what was on the page. One of the unexpectedly funniest moments was when he instructed violin player Marty from Chicago to play just the notes, with no expression.

"You want me to play with no expression?" Marty asked incredulously. James may as well have asked him to play naked for how surprised he was. Naturally, that made for a pretty boring sound, but as James explained, that was apparently how Baroque music was played as recently as the '70s. "But no more! Now it's played very emotionally."

It was easy to imagine this music having been created to be played in homes and private spaces rather than public halls for the enjoyment of audiences and musicians alike.

Each of the musicians explained their period instrument, all of them centuries old, some dating back to the 1720s. The French harpsichord made in the Italian style had been borrowed from a man in the audience.

The finished with Lully's "Trios for the Bedtime of the King," mentioning that the composer had been in residence to Louis XIV, just the kind of over-the-top ruler to need musicians to lull him to sleep in his chamber.

Midway through the hour long performance, my tardy friend had arrived, sitting down next to me. After the music, we looked at Bob Coles' photography show before heading out to lunch. We'd barely settled in the booth when he sprung some major news on me, much the way he'd done in August 2010.

Then he'd surprised me by sharing that he'd fallen hard for a woman. Consequently he hadn't been getting much sleep. They broke up after a few years, but I recognized the same grin on his face today as four and a half years ago.

What do you know, they're back together and once again, he was over the moon to have her back in his life. He's not getting any more sleep this time around than he did last time and he couldn't be happier about it. In just the past couple weeks since they got back together, they've already begun making plans for living together, sharing work spaces and taking trips.

As his friend of six years, I was just thrilled to see him this happy again. Nobody makes him as happy as this woman does. Unlike his last girlfriend, this one has enthusiasm and energy and likes to go out and do the things he enjoys. He was about to bust his buttons telling me that they were going to a show tonight, something he'd all but given up with the last one.

As we lingered over lunch with him spilling all his good news, our poor server kept stopping by in case we needed something, but her services were superfluous.

Like that August lunch, when a friend comes bearing the good news of love reunited ("You know she's always been the one"), all that's needed is the other friend's attention and support. I gave him both.

All I can say is thank goodness he wound up being late for the performance so we could eat afterwards. Had he spilled the beans beforehand, we'd have sat there for the same two hours and missed it entirely.

Then I'd never have known the beauty of the theorbo or the creative freedom of Baroque music. Everything happens for a reason.

When I said that to him about his latest turn of events, though, he corrected me. "No, things happen and then we come up with reasons to justify them."

Says the man who can't stop smiling...or yawning. Lucky guy.

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