The Music of the Baroque orchestra performed an outdoor concert Friday evening at Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion. The first piece the ensemble played was a familiar movement from George Frideric Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks. This passage is known as La Réjouissance—The Rejoicing—and it felt utterly appropriate to the situation.
That’s because the last time Music of the Baroque performed together before a live audience was on February 24, 2020. Shortly after that, COVID-19 reached pandemic proportions, first forcing cancellation of the final concert of the 2019-20 season, then nuking the 2020-21 season of glorious scheduled live performances commemorating Music of the Baroque’s 50th anniversary.
Unlike most other orchestras, Music of the Baroque declined to forfeit its entire 2020-21 season, instead presenting a scaled-down monthly series of online concerts that ran from January to June. Many followers appreciated the effort, which also helped keep members of the troupe employed, but its leaders—Executive Director Declan McGovern and Conductor Dame Jane Glover—conceded that there is no substitute for live performances.
“We are so grateful to this city. Our musicians are just so excited to have the chance to perform for you again,” McGovern pronounced prior to Friday’s concert.
He also thanked the Office of the Mayor of Chicago and the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) for enabling Baroque in the Park to happen. The concert was part of Chicago In Tune, presented by DCASE. This month-long (August 19–September 19) city-wide, multi-venue event is described by DCASE as a celebration of “music in the key of Chicago during the 2021 Year of Chicago Music.”
The program, under Glover’s baton, was breezy, clocking in at just over one hour. That still provided time to pull out some stops. The orchestra was joined on stage by the Music of the Baroque Chorus (for the first time in nearly two full years, McGovern noted) and, for two pieces, by the Strong Voices Chorus, made up of Chicago Public Schools music students. Katelyn Lee, a soprano with the orchestra’s chorus, performed a lovely solo on the aria Lascia ch’io pianga from Handel’s opera Rinaldo.
The solo on the Finale movement of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C Major was performed stunningly by 18-year-old Chicago native Ifetayo Ali-Landing, a fast-rising star on the classical music scene. And Music of the Baroque Principal Oboe Anne Bach stepped out front to solo on the Rondo-Allegretto movement from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C Major.
The rest of the program was essentially an overture (or sneak preview) of some of the most prominent pieces in the 2021-22 concert schedule. The season opener (to be performed Sunday, September 19, at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie and Monday, September 20, at Chicago’s Harris Theater) is titled Baroque Fireworks: It will feature the full Music for the Royal Fireworks, along with Handel’s Water Music Suite No. 2. It also will include a short, Baroque-styled piece by Chicago composer Stacy Garrop, titled Spectacle of Light, that was commissioned by Music of the Baroque and had its World Premiere at Baroque in the Park.
Other pieces sampled from the season’s schedule were a section from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Easter Oratorio, the Gloria from Haydn’s Creation Mass, and for the finale, the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. In her remarks introducing the latter, Glover said that when it comes to being back making music for a live audience, “Hallelujah” is the one word that sums it up.
It is doubtful that anyone in the audience disagreed.
Nearly all seats for Music of the Baroque’s September 19 concert in Skokie are sold out. Several dozen seats for the September 20 concert in Chicago were available online at this address as of Monday morning, with prices ranging from $35-$90.
This special showcase was a part of DCASE’s Chicago in Tune! This new citywide festival celebrates music in the key of Chicago during the 2021 Year of Chicago Music. This month-long event is meant to bring us all together through the whole spectrum of music events in a variety of venues. Check out all the participating venues and shows over at their website!