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New Music/Early Music: The New Brandenburgs, pt. 2

A continuation of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s New Brandenburgs, American lutenist Ronn McFarlane, and the Dunedin Consort & Players.

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The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra commissioned six modern composers to write new works inspired by Bach’s Brandenburg concertos. This is the second of three programs devoted to exploring the new compositions alongside the original inspirations.

In part one, composers Aaron Jay Kernis and Christopher Theofanidis were featured. Now we look at Stephen Hartke’s “A Brandenburg Autumn” and Paul Moravec’s “Brandenburg Gate.”

[Special thanks to WQXR, New York Public Radio, for providing recordings of the New Brandenburgs heard on the program.  Click here for more information about this project.]

Stephen Hartke’s composition was based on Brandenburg Concerto #1 in F major, originally scored for piccolo violin, oboes, French horns, strings, and continuo. Entitled “A Brandenburg Autumn,” Hartke’s own scoring is relatively the same, yet he drew from his own experiences of having visited the German region connected to the Brandenburgs. Hartke’s refers to this in a personal statement.

“It’s an autumnal, valedictory sort of piece, and it has turned out to be very much about my strolling through the parks of Potsdam (the capital of Brandenburg, in fact) and the many Hohenzollern palaces and other buildings there. It is all very beautiful to see, especially in the autumn with the trees changing color and the sky dark and feeling so very close. It’s hard not to think about Bach coming here to visit his son Carl Philip Emanuel, who was working at court.”

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Composer Paul Moravec was not only inspired by Bach’s original, but modern Germany, as well. As the title suggests, “Brandenburg Gate,” was a tribute to the German monument and a reference to the Berlin Wall.

“The Brandenburg Concertos are among Bach’s most joyous creations. As part of the “New Brandenburg” series, I wanted to project a similar quality of convivial energy. The title, Brandenburg Gate, suggests a portal through which we enter Bach’s world of exuberant invention. It also refers to the actual monument in Berlin, which I personally associate primarily with the astonishing images of the opening of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. It seemed a joyous moment indeed not only for Berliners, but for all of us watching on television around the world. Among other things, this piece evokes the spirit of that historic moment, and does not intend to describe the events literally.”

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Modern composers have many inspirations for the pieces they produce; the reasons being as varied and the works themselves. For lutenist Ronn McFarlane, the inspiration is more often than not based on life experience.

He’s recorded his compositions on a couple of CDs for the Dorian label—”Indigo Road” and, more recently, “One Morning.” Initially, Ronn started composing after hearing a story a friend told him on a long road trip.

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Featured Release

Our featured release is a new recording of J.S. Bach’s B minor Mass with the Dunedin Consort & Players. Released on the Linn record label, harpsichordist John Butt leads an ensemble of soloists, choir, and orchestra in one of the composer’s monumental works.

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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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