The Austin Baroque Orchestra & Chorus will present “Louis, Louis,” a concert of French baroque music for orchestra and choir, at Northwestern State University on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. in Magale Recital Hall. An informal pre-concert talk will begin 30 minutes before the program. The concert is free, with a suggested donation of $15. NSU and LSMSA students, faculty and staff will be admitted free with valid ID. Baroque oboist and musicologist Billy Traylor, an NSU alumnus, is the ensemble’s artistic director.
Traylor founded the Austin Baroque Orchestra & Chorus in 2011 as Ensemble Settecento, a 10-person chamber ensemble. Since that time, the ensemble has grown into an orchestra and choir with a roster of 35 young musicians with specialized training in historical performance. The players use period-appropriate performance practices and replicas of 17th- and 18th-century instruments, while the chorus sings in an historically-informed manner, including the use of minimal vibrato and period diction. In addition to performances in Austin, the ensemble appears regularly at San Antonio’s historic Mission Concepción, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“We’re thrilled to be performing this beautiful French music in the oldest city in Louisiana,” said Traylor. “We have been planning this concert, our first large-scale program of French repertoire since 2012, for a while now, as we wanted this performance to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the founding of New Orleans.”
The bulk of the music to be performed was composed during the time in which the French were exploring and settling what is now Louisiana and east Texas. NSU faculty members and ABO performers Douglas Bakenhus and Dennette McDermott were responsible for securing much of the funding required to bring the 36-piece ensemble to Natchitoches, in part to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of NSU’s School of Creative & Performing Arts.
“We perform using copies of instruments from the baroque era,” explains Traylor, a native of Denham Springs and a former doctoral student in Indiana University’s Early Music Institute. “So, the string instruments’ strings are made of sheep-gut, and the ‘cello rests on the players’ calves instead of on an endpin.” The woodwind instruments, he says, have far fewer keys than they do today and are made of softer woods than their modern counterparts. “These period instruments are much softer-spoken than modern ones, and some, like recorder, harpsichord and viola da gamba, don’t have a modern counterpart, as they fell out of use by the end of the 18th century.”
The program will be comprised of motets, Mass settings and operatic excerpts composed for and enjoyed by the last three kings of the old Bourbon dynasty: Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI. Some of these pieces, such as a motet composed for the baptism of Louis XIV’s eldest son, were for the private consumption of the king and his closest courtiers, while others, such as the finale from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opera “Les Indes galantes,” were meant to be enjoyed by the greater public in Paris. The ensemble will also perform from the “Manuscrit des Ursulines de la Nouveelle-Orléans,” the only surviving music manuscript from colonial Louisiana.
The Austin Baroque Orchestra & Chorus seeks to entertain and engage their audiences by presenting high-caliber performances of both well- and lesser-known works from the 17th and 18th and centuries. Their concerts, using period instruments and informed by the latest research in performance practice, include works by renowned masters as well as pieces by less familiar composers. Each performance is preceded by an informative and informal discussion of the music and composers, led by the artistic director.