The Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, without a music director since the retirement of conductor John Hsu after the 2008-09 season, has just appointed his successor. It’s a very intriguing choice.
Julie Andrijeski is a period-instrument violinist and teacher as well as a baroque dancer and choreographer. Originally from Idaho, now living in Cleveland, her résumé says she has taught music and dance at Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. She has performed with substantive early-music ensembles around the country, including Chatham Baroque, Cleveland’s Apollo Fire, the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra and the King’s Noyse. She has also choreographed opera productions. She’s worked with the ABO several times over the past 15 years, usually leading the group when dance was part of the performance.
“Ms. Andrijeski’s performance and direction is greatly influenced by her knowledge and skilled performance of baroque dance,” said ABO resident director Daniel Pyle, who is also the group’s keyboard player. “Audiences in Atlanta can expect to hear the spirit of dance infuse ABO performances.”
Noting that dance and opera are the cornerstones of baroque music, Pyle suggests that Andrijeski’s “thorough knowledge of period movement and mannerisms promises to bring new sweep and delight to the ABO delivery.”
A tighter fusion of music and dance is a welcome development from the early-music crowd. There’s growing awareness that 18th- and 17th-century performers and audiences did not feel the same distinctions between the art forms that we feel today. Historically, most music was made for either dancing or singing, or both, and even musicians in the nascent concert-hall culture likely adopted danceable and singable tempos and energy — with phrasing that accommodated and encouraged movement. (Listen to Bach or Rameau by Mitteleuropa early-music performers from the 1950s to hear how un-danceable baroque music could get. The pendulum has swung back: recent recordings of, say, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos by Richard Egarr’s Academy of Ancient Music or John Eliot Gardiner’s English Baroque Soloists are fit for the ballroom.)
Andrijeski will be the ABO’s third music director, following Hsu, who departed after just three seasons, citing health concerns, and Lyle Nordstrom, who helped found the group in 1997. She will have a relatively clear canvas on which to draw the group’s future. During Hsu’s brief but electrifying tenure, performance standards rose dramatically but attendance eroded steadily, which the ABO attributed to Hsu’s repertoire choices: he tended to shun the excessively popular works (such as Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”) as well as most vocal music. The group has a base of enthusiastic fans and a strong artistic reputation, but it lacks a clear sense of identity.
Last year, without a music director, the ABO also changed venues, from a centrally located church in Buckhead to an acoustically wonderful church in Roswell that offered a much better deal on rent. The only concert I heard at the new venue wasn’t well attended but sounded glorious.
As concertmaster and music director, Andrijeski will participate in just a few of the ABO’s concerts this season, increasing the number next season. The scheduled four concerts for its 2010-11 season at Roswell Presbyterian Church (pictured above) will be on October 17, December 19, February 6 and May 1. Repertoire for these performances has yet to be confirmed.