Venice Baroque Orchestra (2018)

Venice Baroque Orchestra (2018)

Nov 2, 2018

Venice Baroque Orchestra (2018)

“Now in its 20th year, the group is one of the most adventurous and interesting of chamber ensembles…” ~Washington Post

"The classical concert hall meets the canals of Venice as this ensemble of early music virtuosi—along with Prague-born, Berlin-based Anna Fusek on recorder—invigorate works by Antonio Vivaldi and Francesco Geminiani. The Venice Baroque Orchestra, committed to the rediscovery of 17th- and 18th-century masterpieces, lends flair and finesse to Vivaldi’s polished baroque music and a distinguished air to the lively sounds once heard reverberating through calles and canals.

Featuring Anna Fusek, recorder; Gianpiero Zanocco, violin; Massimo Raccanelli, cello; Federico Toffanao, cello"

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Performance date and time: 

Friday, Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m.


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Program Notes by Marc Shulgold

This concert features three types of music, each thought to have been invented, or at least developed, in Italy during the baroque era (approximately 1600-1759). We'll hear a pair of sinfonias, a concerto grosso and five concertos—three of them for two instruments, one for solo violin, one for solo recorder. Here's a look at each category:


Both halves of the performance open with these purely orchestral works by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). Known primarily as the composer of some 600 concertos (more on that below), the so-called “Red Priest” became something of a godfather of music in Venice. At that time, sinfonias served different purposes. Vivaldi and other composers, including Bach, used them as overtures or inserts in operas, orchestral suites and sacred works, or for celebratory occasions.

The G major sinfonia, for example, was written for a program in Dresden honoring Prince Friedrich Christian of Poland in March of 1740. The C major sinfonia is from Il Giustino, performed in 1724 at carnival time in Rome—an extravagant opera that features numerous borrowings from earlier Vivaldi works (including The Four Seasons). Each of these works has three movements, a construction that would later extend to four movements and evolve into the symphony.

Concerto Grosso

The idea of placing a group of two or three soloists (the concertino) in front of an instrumental ensemble (the ripieno) began in Rome in the late 1600s. Perhaps the concept grew out of the verse-and-response element in Catholic services. Created as a sort of conversation between soloists and orchestra, the concerto grosso (“large concerto”) grew in popularity thanks to the brilliant works by Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), notably a set of 12 published after his death as Op. 6. Those made their way to a pair of composers who had settled in London.

In 1740, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) created his second set of concerti grossi, also Op. 6, which likewise numbered 12, all heavily influenced by Corelli's collection. In 1729, Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) recast a dozen violin sonatas by Corelli, with whom he had studied in Rome. The last of those explored the repeated chord progression of “La Follia,” a popular tune adopted by a dozen or more composers. Its origins can be traced back to Corelli and Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-87). Geminiani would go on to publish two sets of his own concerti grossi in 1732.

Solo Concerto

For generations, music lovers have embraced the glories of this exciting genre. We've been thrilled by it many times in the concert hall, watching a famous virtuoso pound away on the keyboard of a shiny, black grand piano, valiantly matching a huge orchestra in volume. But things started small way back when.

The birth of the concerto goes back to the early 1700s in northern Italy. Two influential elements contributed to its development. As with Rome's concerto grosso, the notion of a musical dialogue likely came from masses celebrated in great cathedrals. In Venice, late Renaissance composers Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli authored glorious works that utilized the spaciousness of St. Mark's, where instrumental and vocal groups were positioned at opposite sides of the sanctuary, creating an exciting stereo “antiphonal” effect. Equally significant were the contributions of the great instrument builders in nearby Cremona: Amati, Guarneri and, most famously, Stradivari. The beautiful tone and ease of playability surely inspired musicians to improve their technique, which in turn encouraged composers to ramp up the virtuosity and invention in their concertos. Vivaldi led the pack, turning out hundreds of works, mostly for solo violin (his instrument of choice). He and other Venetian composers, including Alessandro Marcello and Tomaso Albinoni, were fashioning concertos that quickly traveled through Europe, expanding the musical horizons of Bach, Handel and others.

Two of tonight’s Vivaldi solo concertos show his imagination and endless melodic gifts. The Violin Concerto, RV 273, is set in the relatively unusual key of E minor and features an episodic Largo filled with surprises. Part of a set known as the “Farewell Concertos,” it was apparently written late in the composer's life, perhaps within weeks of his death in Vienna, where he was ill, impoverished and all-but-ignored. The Recorder Concerto, RV 428, is known as “Il Gardellino” (The Goldfinch), due to the bird-like entrance of the soloist. The European Goldfinch carried religious significance, based on a legend that the bird had landed on Christ's crown of thorns and received a drop of blood around its bill (see Raphael's “Madonna of the Goldfinch”). The RV notation, by the way, refers to a catalog (in German, Verzeichnis) assembled in the 1970s by Peter Ryom.

Double Concerto

Influenced by the popularity of the concerto grosso, numerous composers in the baroque—and in later centuries—explored the idea of two soloists (or more) in front of an ensemble. Here, we have three examples by Vivaldi: two for different instruments (RV 535 for recorder and violin, and RV 547 for violin and cello) and one for a pair of cellos (RV 531).

It's likely that these were written for an unusual group of musicians—the young girls of Venice's Ospedale della Pietà, one of four orphanages for foundlings and orphans. These unwanted newborns were delivered to the Ospedale with the knowledge that they would be raised there to become productive citizens. The boys learned useful crafts while the girls were taught to play musical instruments, with hopes that they would grow to be ladies worthy of marriage. Vivaldi served there off and on for 35 years and was eventually named the director of instrumental music. During that period, he composed numerous works of all different stripes for these talented girls.

His D minor Double Concerto, RV 535, was originally written for two oboes, here arranged for recorder and violin. The Concerto in B-flat for violin and cello, RV 547, is played in its original instrumentation, highlighted by a celestial Andante and dance-like final Allegro. Incidentally, the unusual combination of violin and cello would appear 150 years later in a double concerto by Brahms. Vivaldi's only known concerto for two cellos was composed when the fretless instrument was relatively new, soon to succeed the fretted viola da gamba as an expressive, low voice. Here, it seems clear that the composer was attracted to the earthy bottom of the cello's range, all but ignoring its upper notes while cleverly alternating close harmonies with some cat-and-mouse chasing by the soloists.

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News and Review

"... vivid, nearly reckless performances, tearing the powdered wig off this music once and for all … what was revealed was breathtaking."

Washington Post

Sharps and Flatirons

"The Venice Baroque Orchestra is known for their energetic and brilliant style in playing Vivaldi’s music. This has distinguished them from some of their more staid predecessors in the Baroque performance world, and in particular providees an individual sense of personality to each work they perform."

Peter Alexander, Sharps and Flatirons

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Venice Baroque Orchestra

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