Phil’s back with Bach in the Barn
Intimate performances return to Decuis Farm following 3-month strike
As we were happy to report March 8, after three months on strike, the Fort Wayne Musicians Association signed a new contract with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra.
All parties went right back to work on what’s left of an ambitious 2022-23 season. The orchestra and Music Director Andrew Constantine rehearsed for a week ahead of their performance for Fort Wayne Ballet’s Swan Lake.
“It eased the orchestra back in gently,” Constantine said. “We were getting to know each other again and ended up playing particularly well, I thought.”
Now the Northeast Indiana community is looking forward to another annual installment of a favorite tradition: Three nights of Bach in the Barn, April 13-15, at the Joseph Decuis Farm outside Columbia City.
“Bach in the Barn” makes a snappy headline, but there’s more than Johann Sebastian in this concert. It will feature music from Bach’s generation, roughly 1710-1760, in the style period called the Baroque.
Talking to Whatzup from his Maryland home, Constantine said he is particularly looking forward to an intimate experience with the audience, challenging himself to perform music that, while 300 years old, is rarely heard and mostly new to himself and the players.
The sumptuously furnished performance space at the Joseph Decuis Farm was, in fact, built as a barn. The audience of less than 200 will sit at tables and listen to the music up close. Since they’re not in a theater, I asked, ‘Do the players need amplification?’
“Oh my goodness, no,” Constantine said. “People are virtually sitting on the laps of the players. It doesn’t get any more intimate than this other than being in somebody’s practice room with them.”
On with the show
The orchestra for these concerts consist of 25 musicians, far less than the 65 or more usually employed in Philharmonic performances. But 25 would be considered a large group in Bach’s day.
The structure of the music is different from the modern symphonic form as well. With only a handful of horns, flutes, and oboes, a bassoon, and a small string section, the pieces are anchored by the chords played on the harpsichord, the predecessor to the modern piano. You’ll have to listen closely for its musical texture. A harpsichord sounds rather like today’s 12-string guitar, played from a keyboard.
The concert will open with a trio sonata, featuring two oboes and strings by G.F. Telemann, a German contemporary of Bach who, like many composers on this program, was better known in his day than Bach. However, this piece was never published in Telemann’s lifetime. It was rediscovered only a few decades ago.
Next will be a famous piece Bach wrote for pipe organ, his Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, but in a new form. The Philharmonic’s bass player of 50 years, Adrian Mann, transcribed Bach’s music to be played by the orchestra, and this will be its debut.
The featured soloist is The Phil’s Dennis Fick on bassoon. He’s been with the orchestra since 1978.
“Dennis is part of Fort Wayne’s musical furniture, we could say, in the best possible way,” Constantine laughed.
Fick will play Concerto in C Major for Bassoon and Strings by a composer little-remembered today named J.F. Fasch.
“I hadn’t come across him until Dennis suggested this piece,” Constantine said. “It’s a very typical Baroque concerto much in the vein of Vivaldi. And it shows off both the melodic and the sort of ‘jocular’ aspects of the bassoon as well, I’d say. So nothing heavy, nothing overly serious.”
The Philharmonic’s lead oboist, Orion Rapp, will be featured playing the melody in a simple, stripped-down setting of a song from Handel’s opera Xerxes, “Ombra mai fu.” It was originally written for an alto singer.
Finishing the program and providing a bridge from the Baroque period to the Classical is one of the major works from Josef Haydn, his Symphony No. 7, “Le midi” (“The afternoon”). The elder Haydn was a great influence on Mozart and outlived him as well.
More shows to come
Back in Fort Wayne, the larger Philharmonic has three more programs to perform until the season closes in May.
On April 22, guest conductor Troy Webdell will lead a sensory-friendly family concert called The Remarkable Farkle McBride at the Arts United Center. Children and parents can try out many different orchestral instruments in a musical “petting zoo” in the lobby.
On May 6 at Embassy Theatre, Constantine Conducts Classic Broadway will bring musical theater stars Lisa Vroman and Doug LaBrecque together with the orchestra to perform everything from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Sondheim to Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Constantine closes the season at the Embassy on Friday, May 12. The Fort Wayne Philharmonic Youth Orchestra will perform with the Philharmonic in movements from Prokofiev’s The Love of Three Oranges.
Then the Philharmonic will perform Prokofiev’s melancholy Symphony No. 7. Pianist Ilya Yakushev, a longtime friend of Constantine’s, will lead with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and the orchestra will finish with one of the all-time greatest crowd-pleasers, An American in Paris.