An entertaining evening is virtually guaranteed whenever Patrick Dupre Quigley visits Chicago to conduct the Music of the Baroque orchestra. This was again the case this week when he was back in town, leading the players on a program titled Baroque Heroes at Skokie’s North Shore Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday and at the Harris Theater on Tuesday. At this event, Quigley earned MOB’s Visiting Conductor Medal.
Quigley’s main gig is as founder/conductor/artistic director of the innovative Seraphic Fire choral ensemble based in Miami. The program notes for the ensemble’s Baroque Heroes concert describe Quigley as “equal parts scholar and P.T. Barnum.” His staging in 2019 of Music of the Baroque’s annual Holiday Brass and Choral Concert at St. Michael’s Church in Old Town was perhaps the most immersive classical performance I’ve attended, with musicians taking to the aisles and playing among the seated guests.
Tuesday’s Music of the Baroque concert at the Harris had a different and unusual touch of theater. The orchestra was accompanied by performers from the South Chicago Dance Theater on the opening piece, Dances from Terpsichore by Michael Praetorius.
The colorful performance—choreographed by Kia S. Smith who founded the troupe in 2017—merged the 17th century music with the 21st century sensibilities of modern dance, with bends and angles and stretches rather than balletic leaps and spins, and it received a warm reception from the audience.
The dancers had a lot to work with in the selections from Terpsichore, named for the muse of dancing in ancient Greek legend. Praetorius was something of the King of Pop for European royalty, with Quigley describing his work as the “jukebox and Musak of 17th century court life.” The range of dances featured in the program ranged from a Pavane inspired by the familiar Christmastime tune Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (A Rose Has Bloomed) to the lively Bourée with which the dance troupe completed its performance.
The ”Baroque Heroes” title gave way to multiple definitions. In some cases, the heroes were the subjects of the compositions, such as Greek immortal Terpsichore; hero-in-his-own-mind Don Quixote in Georg Phillip Telemann’s Burlesque de Quixote; and Castor and Pollux, symbols of brotherly love in Greek and Roman myth, in the Suite from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opera Castor and Pollux.
The heroes of the other two pieces were the legendary composers themselves: Johann Sebastian Bach (Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major) and his son Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach (Cello Concerto in A Major).
Under Quigley’s brisk direction, the Music of the Baroque orchestra captured the vivid musical depictions of the errant knight Quixote’s snoring before he awakens, galloping as he tilts with windmills that he thinks are monsters and dreams of new adventures, and the torments of Squire Sancho Panza as he is tossed up and down on a blanket by swindlers trying to empty his pockets of money. It was quite a romp for Telemann, who usually wrote in a more serious vein.
The concerto by C.P.E. Bach featured the evening’s most compelling individual performance, with Paul Dwyer, Music of the Baroque’s principal on cello, performing the solos. According to Quigley, the piece was written in the sentimental style, with drastic shifts in mood.
The opening Allegro movement presents the protagonist of the piece as happy-go-lucky. It then downshifts into the Largo con sordini, mesto movement; mesto means sad and pensive in Italian (Dwyer stood out in this movement as he drew from the great emotional range of his instrument). The concerto then returned to upbeat in the final Allegro assai movement, with the cello recovering from the dolorous second movement to join in the fun.
The music from Rameau’s Castor and Pollux might have benefited from a return of the South Chicago dancers. Like the opening piece, the suite focused on dance rhythms, including gavottes, passepieds (folk dances) and a lively Chaconne finale in which the tambourine played by percussionist Doug Waddell was featured prominently. It was well-played but long (even in this condensed version), and the music wasn’t especially memorable.
That certainly was not the case for Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 masterwork. It is best known for its Air movement, better known as Air on a G String, one of the most familiar passages in the Baroque canon. The entire piece was totally engaging, though, from the lively Overture through the three dances (Gavotte, Bourrée, Gigue) that rounded out the piece. The power of the performance was accented by kettle drums and three trumpets led by brilliant principal Barbara Butler.
A delightful concert and one that reminded how fortunate we are to have Quigley as a visiting guest conductor.
The recording of the concert will be available on-demand starting Friday; click here for access at $15 per household. Music of the Baroque will be back live with “Reginald Mobley Sings,” featuring celebrated counter-tenor Reginald Mobley. Tickets for the performance on Sunday, November 20, at the North Shore Center for Performing Arts range from $35-$100 and can be purchased by clicking here; tickets for the performance on Monday, November 21, at the Harris Theater range from $25-$100 and can be purchased by clicking here.