In “Women of Note,” Kansas City Baroque Consortium Celebrates the Influential Women of the Era

Kansas City Baroque Consortium’s summer concert series, now in its third year, is elegant and intimate, and growing into a must-attend event.

These concerts are more than just satisfying collages of Baroque era music, though the players strive for authentic-as-possible performances on period instruments. They also set the music in historical context, bringing to light the overarching social forces, both artistic and political, that shaped the music and how those aspects are considered today.

This season, they devoted their programming to women of that era and examined the variety of influential roles these women had as performers, patrons, and composers, as well as the political, religious and social situations that allowed these exceptional circumstances.

To often, music of women is either offered as a token to diversity or, worse, ignore completely. KCBaroque’s approach investigates the broader role of these individuals, whose work was usually heard privately in court or salons or convents.

Their June concert focused on music for famous singers and muses. Friday’s concert at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, titled “Power, Rhetoric, & Royalty,” celebrated patrons in royal courts, whose support of the arts determined styles and encouraged growth.

Though there were a few such women, KCBaroque focused on two: Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689), and Anne, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland (1665-1714).

The first part of the performance was devoted to music in honor of Christina, from both her time in Sweden and then after her abdication of the throne, as she traveled through Europe, eventually settling in Rome. Many of the works were for chamber ensemble, with concertmaster Zsolt Eder leading from the first stand.

First up was the prologue from Antonio Cesti’s “L’Argia” for strings and soprano. The luxurious opening chords introduced soloist Kayleigh Aytes, who sounded wonderful, her rich tone fully engaged the resonance of the space, especially with the gentle accompaniment by Jeffrey Noonan on theorbo.  Aytes and Noonan followed with Bernado Pasquini’s little heard cantata “Al tra montar del giorna, ‘La Rosa,’” a marvelous introduction to Pasquini’s work with a dulcet melody.

Alessandro Stradella’s beguiling and intricate Sinfonia in d minor, no. 22 belied his dramatic life and violent end, the melodies alternating between contemplative and energetic, with subtle support from organ.

Giovanni Bononcini’s “Siedi, Amarilli mia” brought in countertenor Jay Carter. This was the last performance for Kansas City to claim the nationally recognized Carter as a local; he recently accepted a faculty position with the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ.

I enjoyed Carter’s “suffer no fools” delivery, making expressive use of the demanding text and ornamented melody, and how the violinists, who stood for the performance, shifted and swayed in appreciation of the lively line.

The Christina portion ended with Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in F Major, op. 6, no. 9 for the full instrumental ensemble. Corelli played up the role of the accompanying voices, with interesting counter lines for low voices, sighing intervals under Eder’s violin solo, and a driving pulse created by alternating notes, set against spirited dance rhythms.

The second portion featured George Frideric Handel’s “Ode to the Birthday of Queen Anne.” Anne, who recently entered the public consciousness as played by Olivia Coleman in the movie “The Favourite,” reigned for twelve years, but the film doesn’t examine her role as a patron of the arts.

Handel, newly arrived in England, was young, ambitious and eager to make influential friends, wrote this ode in 1713.  Whether the queen ever heard this particular work is debatable, since she was ill at the time, but she valued Handel’s abilities and helped establish him in the court of England.

Soloists and chamber chorus, directed by Lindsey Lang, joined the ensemble, which also included instrumentalists on trumpet and oboe, adding a sparkle to the timbre.

Carter opened with a stately dedication, almost a call to action, over shimmering chords. Aytes was again delightful, as was baritone soloist Josh Markley, along with cello solo by KCBaroque founder Trilla Ray-Carter.

Though there were plenty of exciting moments, especially when the chorus came in full celebratory manner, it was moments of stillness with the elegant undercurrents that made this such a moving performance.

They dedicate the concert to Mark Ball, who had served as director of music at Village Presbyterian for many years and was a supporter of KCBaroque and the arts community before his untimely death this past February.

KCBaroque concludes their summer series in August with a performance by women composers of the era, including the 400th anniversary of Barbara Strozzi, and a modern commission by Ingrid Stölzel, culminating this well-rounded exploration.

Reviewed Friday, July 26, 2019. Kansas City Baroque Consortium next performance is Friday, August 23, 2019 7:30p.m. St. Paul ‘s Episcopal Church, 40thand Main Street, KCMO. www.kcbaroque.org

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

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