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Music lovers' memories of full concert seasons of music performed on original instruments by Ensemble Courant and guests on the UNC campus fade into the mists of Camelot, but Carolina Baroque, led by Dale Higbee, explores vocal excerpts and chamber works in Salisbury, and similar efforts have been reported at East Carolina University. This summer, aficionados of stylistically-informed period performances have a chance to immerse themselves for a whole week, during the biennial Magnolia Baroque Festival, held in a variety of venues in Winston-Salem.
The Magnolia Baroque Festival was founded in 2005 by tenor Glenn Siebert, a faculty member of the North Carolina School of the Arts who has wide international experience in historically-informed performances. The organizational instigator and prime mover of this festival was (and is) the generous and visionary Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts. Many of the musicians have connections with the NCSA. Imaginative use of local venues involve Salem College, Old Salem, NCSA, the Stevens Center, and local churches. The depth of the rich legacy of the Moravians is explored during every festival season, drawing upon scores in the Moravian Archives. After the 2006 season, it was decided to go to a biennial schedule in the years the Boston Early Music Festival isn't held. This freed a wider number of musicians to come to Winston-Salem.
Perhaps the best-known instrumentalist at the festival will be Seattle-based violinist Ingrid Matthews, who has a number of highly esteemed CDs on the Centaur Records label. Her recording of the Partitas and Sonatas of Bach is regarded one of the finest on period instruments. UNC Chapel Hill-based Brent Wissick, a fixture of Triangle performances of literature for cello, viol, and viola da gamba, will be a member of the orchestra. East Carolina-based John O'Brien, best known to CVNC readers as a keyboard virtuoso, is listed among the violas. Andrew Willis, UNC Greensboro's early keyboard specialist, will be in the festival's opening program. Violist John Pruett, a regular with Carolina Baroque as well as many ad hoc orchestras throughout the state, is an orchestra member. Oboist Meg Owens, an alumna of UNCG, is in high demand as a freelancer and recitalist nationally. Flutist Rebecca Troxler is well-known in the Triangle. Indeed she was featured in UNC's mythical "golden age of Early Music" as a member of Ensemble Courant. The valveless trumpet playing of past festivals has been exciting and will again be in the hands of New Bern-based Barry Bauguess, one of the nation's most sought-after soloists, and his student, Deidre Pelletier, currently pursuing a trumpet performance degree at UNC Chapel Hill.
Triangle Music lovers will get a chance to sample the festival on June 17, when its opening program, "The Moravians' Passion for Music," is given in Kirby Horton Hall at the Doris Duke Center in the lovely Sarah P. Duke Gardens. The same program opens the Magnolia Festival on June 18 in Calvary Moravian Church in Winston Salem. Quintets by Moravian composers J.F. Peter and W. Pieci and a trio by Graun will be featured in addition to music by other late baroque and early classical composers. UNC Greensboro's Andrew Willis will be featured keyboardist along with violinist Gesa Kordes.
The second festival program, "The Excitement of Improvisation," to be held in Gray Auditorium at the Old Salem Visitors Center, will feature the guest ensemble The Harmonious Blacksmith. Among the musicians will be violinist Ingrid Matthews, cellist Nika Ziatzric, and harpsichordist Joe Gascho, with John Lenti, lute and theorbo, and Justin Godoy, recorder. They will be joined by soprano Ah Hong.
Both of J.S. Bach's single violin concertos, his double violin concerto, and the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto are featured on the June 20 program, "Love of Bach," in Watson Hall on the NCSA Campus. Noted baroque violinist Ingrid Matthews will be the featured soloist.
Choral forces and dancers will join the musicians on June 21 for the finale of the professional portion of the festival, planned for the Stevens Center, a lovingly restored early-20th-century movie theater on Fourth Street. Scenes from three Purcell masques — Dioclesian, The Fairy Queen, and King Arthur — will be given. Paige Whitley Bauguess and Tom Baird, principal dancers from the New Bern Dancing Assembly, will join with members of their company and the Magnolia Festival Chorus and Orchestra. These final concerts feature the largest performing forces of the festival, and these should be exciting performances.
On Sunday afternoon, June 22, Magnolia Baroque Festival apprentices can be heard in several venues in Old Salem, including the Salem Tavern, the Single Brothers' House, St. Philips Church, and the Vogler House.
Except for the 1,380-seat Stevens Center, all the festival venues are intimate spaces. Many past festival performances have sold out. Use links to the festival's website to order tickets in advance, and support this ambitious and imaginative biennial festival, which has great potential for growth as it explores baroque and early classical music!