True Concord Voices & Orchestra is going for Baroque this weekend. And it is getting some help in “A Baroque Feast for the Eyes and Ears” from a man who knows more than a thing or two about the genre.
Phoenix harpischordist Guy Whatley has made a career of playing an instrument aligned with the Baroque era: the harpsichord. It is the precursor to the modern piano with a distinctive legato voice that transports you back to the days when men wore powdered wigs and classical music was heard in a parlor or a piazza.
“I see it as this unbelievably expressive musical medium that has unlimited potential,” said Whately, the 40-year-old Welsh native and Arizona State University alum. “It comes from a different age. It predates the concert hall. When it was invented, the middle class didn’t exist. It was not conceived with the idea of a giant concert hall.”
Whatley will showcase the harpsichord’s historical relevance when he and the True Concord Orchestra perform Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto No. 1, a piece that Whatley said may have started life as a violin concerto.
“About five years before (Bach) arranged it himself, (his son) C.P.E. Bach arranged the piece as a harpsichord concerto. This is the final realized version, which I suspect might have been based on a Bach violin concerto.
“The harpsichord has always been an accompanist instrument. But at this time Bach was going much further,” added Whatley, the organist and music director of Camelback Bible Church in Phoenix. “He experimented with the Brandenburg (Concertos). In those, you get a completely solo part for the harpsichord. It really is raising the instrument to the level of the violin and flute.”
“Guy is a modern day J.S. Bach as a keyboardist. He is really good and he really likes Tucson,” said True Concord Music Director Eric Holtan, who has had Whatley as a guest with his ensemble several times. Whatley also has performed with the St. Andrew’s Bach Society.
In addition to the Bach concerto, True Concord will perform Vivaldi’s early 18th century choral piece “Magnificat” and Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas,” featuring Artifact Dance.
St. Andrew’s Bach Society performed the concert version of the opera in its 2013 summer season. True Concord’s version will include excerpts from the opera including the popular final aria accompanied by nine Artifact dancers.
“They are going to interpret this really fun, delightful plot,” Holtan said. “This has got love and witches and debauchery and womanizing. It’s really a charming piece of music. Artifact is going to bring it to life.”
Whatley said he fully expects the audience to “feel exhausted by the end” of the Bach concerto.
“It’s not quite the same as a later keyboard concerto where there are huge extended passages where I play alone,” he said. “Sometimes I play alone but most of the time I play as part of the orchestra. It’s an intense, driven, dramatic piece.”