Bach to the Future

Brandywine Baroque revives an old form in a traditional way. Prepare for something totally different.

The late Sergiu Luca, the Romanian-born American violinist who established several chamber music festivals, was known for experiments with Baroque music. The genre was hard to master because the bowing and tension of period violins were different than that of modern violins. In 1977 Luca asked a New York Times reporter, “Do you realize how much great music is never played, simply because it doesn’t sound right on modern instruments?”

Brandywine Baroque is performing that great music, and on historic instruments. There is a wooden flute, and players use strings made of sheep intestines.

“Orchestras used gut till about 1940,” says harpsichordist Karen Flint. “It was only when they started making larger halls that needed bigger sounds that they started using metal strings.”

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Brandywine Baroque has sold out houses by playing music from the 17th and 18th centuries. Attribute that success to talent and passion. This month the ensemble presents “A London Masque,” highlighting English composers Handel and Festing, with excerpts from “Comus,” a chamber opera by Thomas Arne.

Eileen Grycky was a player of metal flutes before joining the ensemble. She now plays a one-key wooden flute. It has to be oiled regularly. Its head joints crack. Intonation is a challenge. Yet Grycky has been converted. “When you play authentic instruments, you think, ‘This is what Bach had in his head. This is what he was hearing,’” she says.

Brandywine Baroque, founded and led by Flint, is comprised of violinists Cynthia Freivogel and Martin Davids, cellist Douglas McNames, soprano Laura Heimes and tenor Tony Boutté.

“Much research of 18th-century music has been conducted, and Karen Flint is a tireless researcher, too,” says Grycky. “They studied the implications of certain rhythmic patterns, and it revealed that Baroque performers expected a certain freedom. Composers wanted players to add notes and their own articulation and dynamics. In jazz, that’s called improvisation. With Baroque, we call it ornamentation.”

Where the group plays is almost as important as what it plays. Fans flock to The Barn at Flintwoods. “Its interior still has the original barn siding, which makes it a unique performance space,” says Flint. “People love to gaze outside the large windows to the woodlands while they listen to music, and they seem to really enjoy coming here.”

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Brandyine Baroque presents “A London Masque”
March 12 – Church of Our Savior, Rehoboth Beach
March 13 – The Barn at Flintwoods
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