Do you like Baroque music?

By Barry Kempton

Last Sunday afternoon, we presented the Montréal-based Ensemble Caprice on our Music in the Park Series in St Anthony Park. Their program was titled “Salsa Baroque” and included music by Spanish and Latin American composers of the 16th and 17th Centuries. Not only were these technically fabulous musicians, they played with spirit and brought personality to music that was new to most if not all of us in the audience.

Not only was the music making of a very high quality, but their presentation included a narration which tied the pieces together and provided a sense of drama. Musicians made entrances, performed “off-stage” and moved around the stage to accentuate the focus on particular musicians and musical lines.

The audience response was very positive. I heard from several different people that they don’t consider themselves early music lovers, but particularly loved this performance in spite of the fact that it was a program made up entirely of obscure Baroque music.

More so than other periods of music, Baroque (or early) music seems to divide the classical music audience. Many either love it as a special category of classical music but more appear to choose to avoid it. The Schubert Club used to present an early music concert series but ceased doing so a number of years ago because the audience, though enthusiastic, was relatively small.

Categorizing music can be very convenient. It helps us all make decisions about whether to listen, to buy a recording or to attend a concert. But Sunday’s experience demonstrates that a person who claims normally not to like Baroque music may well have loved Sunday’s performance of entirely Baroque music!

A quotation attributed to jazz legend Louis Armstrong goes as follows: “There is two kinds of music, the good and the bad. I play the good kind.” I think I agree for the most part, but if there’s good and bad music, then there is also good and bad performance quality, and good and bad presentation skills. In other words, it’s not just the music, but also the ability of the performers and the way they perform which affects my own enjoyment of a live concert. Even for those who might consider Baroque music “bad” (for which a better term might be low on their preference list), the musical ability of Ensemble Caprice’s musicians and their presentation style made for a most enjoyable performance.