ArtsATL > Music > Classical weekend: Atlanta Baroque’s new artistic director, Emory gamelan and John Adams

Classical weekend: Atlanta Baroque’s new artistic director, Emory gamelan and John Adams

We’re entering peak bloom of the spring concert season, and from now through May there are compelling events almost every weekend. Here are top picks for the coming days:

It’s a John Adams Saturday. His first opera, “Nixon in China,” from 1987, is credited with nothing less that shaking the risk-averse American opera scene out of its creative stupor. The Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series will broadcast it Saturday afternoon, February 12, at high-definition movie theaters around town. And in what might prove to be mere coincidence, at 8 p.m. that evening in Spivey Hall, the estimable St. Lawrence String Quartet will perform the Atlanta premiere of Adams’ String Quartet, which they commissioned, along with classics by Haydn and Mendelssohn — a thoroughly winning program from an exciting group.

Also on Saturday, February 12, in the coolest free concert imaginable, the Emory Gamelan Ensemble will perform “Sounds of Sunda,” at 7 p.m. The ensemble and its director, Tong Soon Lee, play the “classical” music of West Java, Indonesia, including instrumental and vocal music with the gamelan — a hauntingly serene collection of tuned-percussion instruments, often referred to as a gamelan orchestra — plus narrative singing and folk or popular songs. Like a Cremonese violin, gamelan orchestras often have a name, personality and documented life history and are made by celebrated artisans. Emory’s West Javanese gamelan is named Nyai Mandala Sari, and she was made by Asep Ahum in 2006 in Bandung, West Java, and was unveiled at Emory in February 2007. Nyai Mandala Sari was named by two renowned artists from Bandung, Nano Suratno and Rita Tila, in a ritual ceremony in March 2008. That’s a little background. The concert is free.

English composer John Tavener, born in 1944

The event with the potential for the biggest local impact comes Sunday afternoon at 4, when the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra inaugurates a new era with its new artistic director, Julie Andrijeski, at Roswell Presbyterian Church. The program includes John Tavener’s “Song of the Angel,” from 1997, and three Baroque standards: Handel’s Concerto grosso Op. 6 No 1 and the “Chandos” Anthem No. 4 (“O Sing Unto the Lord a New Song”) and Telemann’s E minor Suite from “Tafelmusik.”

Andrijeski is a combination that’s rare today but was natural 300 years ago: she’s equal parts violinist and dancer. But never at the same time: “Ooh, that makes my brain hurt!” she said in a conversation before her first ABO rehearsal. “I rarely play and dance on the same program. Each takes a lot of preparation and comes from different parts of my brain and body.”

She has worked with the ABO several times over the years, mostly in programs involving dance. This is the first time she has directed an ensemble, although she gleaned insights into running a successful early-music ensemble with Chatham Baroque, where she was violinist for a dozen years. The award-winning group based in Pittsburgh, now celebrating 20 years, has made several lauded CDs, reached into the community by performing in a variety of sacred and artsy spaces, toured nationally and has been broadcast nationally on NPR.

Andrijeski’s starting ABO contract is for one year. “Although I’ve not been a music director, I have a lot of experience shaping the music and dealing with the board and finance committees and all the administrative stuff,” she said. “It’s imperative that Atlanta Baroque get an administrator. They’ve not had luck getting grants, and they volunteer their time for rehearsals, getting paid just for performances. I’m not willing to do anything for free.”

Atlanta Baroque Orchestra's new artistic director, Julie Andrijeski

So what’s her plan? “I have a lot of goals for this group,” she said. “Atlanta has great resources. I’d like us to collaborate with local choirs and theaters,” with the eventual goal of performing grand or infrequently performed works. In other cities, for example, she has prepared and choreographed Handel’s opera-ballet prologue “Terpsichore,” and it’s the sort of delightful, genre-bending work that Atlanta seems ripe to appreciate.

First up in Atlanta, she said, will be to “solidify who we are. We should bring out the color and vibrancy, get into the sound and create our own sound. I’d like to bring Baroque gestures and rhythms” to the interpretations, with a repertoire that spans the Baroque era, roughly from Monteverdi to just before Haydn and Mozart.

For the ABO musicians, it will require a mindset adjustment. Its previous artistic director, the acclaimed conductor and Haydn scholar John Hsu, pushed the group into classical-era symphonies, his specialty. While Hsu’s two-year tenure (2007-2009) lifted playing standards and delivered a few electrifying concerts, attendance sagged. After the 77-year-old conductor resigned for health reasons and the economy tanked, the ABO lost its artistic momentum. When it abruptly moved from Buckhead to Roswell, which offered flexibility in scheduling and a rent-free venue, much of its loyal (intown) audience felt left behind.

For now, Andrijeski has few answers but a lot of questions. When she and I spoke, she’d not yet visited the Roswell church, with its splendid acoustic but large altar, which is seemingly incompatible for dance and theatrical productions.

Questions and ambitions tumble easily: “How can we incorporate dance in the current space? Our marketing has been a great improvement, on Facebook, but can we get much more? I want to build our base in Roswell but hang on to people who attended [at the former venue in Buckhead]; can we do that? We’ve presented concerts one at a time; why not make our season a ‘series,’ with subscribers? Should we perform one of our concerts in town? In this business, you think one day at a time and three to four years out. There are big hurdles to jump, but I wouldn’t have accepted this if I didn’t have confidence in the musicians and confidence in the community.”

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