By Scott MacClelland
FOUR MEMBERS of MUSA, the SF Bay Area early music ensemble, opened the Santa Cruz Chamber Players’ new season with a program of 18th century Baroque and Classical rarities—obscurities actually—in Aptos on the weekend. MUSA’s founding harpsichordist Derek Tam, who served as MC, was joined by violinists Cynthia Black and Addi Liu, and cellist Gretchen Claassen—each playing on period instruments.
All eight works, most of them from virtually unknown composers, could claim to be local premieres. Even the more familiar names, Francesco Geminiani, who lived long and successfully in Britain, and Georg Philipp Telemann, who stayed home in Hamburg, were represented by oddities, the former a set of sonatas inspired by Scottish folk tunes from his Treatise of Good Taste in the Art of Musick, the latter a suite for two violins alone inspired by Gulliver’s Travels. (Try to imagine a Lilliput chaconne and a Brobdingnag gigue.)
Gulliver was not the only one who traveled, however. Teodorico Pedrini (1671-1746) wrote his Sonata in G (in the style of Corelli) while in prison in China, where he otherwise spent some 36 years as a Vincentian missionary to the imperial court. The Brit James Hewitt (1770-1827) came to America soon after the Revolution and in 1797 commemorated Washington’s “Battle of Trenton” with a laughable depiction for solo keyboard that ranged from bugle calls to cannons to chaos to grief of the Americans for their dead (the latter played with the muffling lute stop.)
Two black composers, Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780), who was born on a slave ship, and Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799), son of a slave mother and white Caribbean planter, were represented respectively by a suite of minuets and dances, and a violin/keyboard sonata in two movements. (Saint-Georges, who rose to prominence in France for his musicianship and his military prowess, displayed some sophisticated musical techniques, including classical sonata development and, in the final rondo, a truly spooky episode for the keyboard.)
Antonio de Salazar (c. 1650-1715), a Spaniard who spent most of his career in Mexico, opened the show with a locally-flavored instrumental villancico. The concert ended with “Oygan una xacarilla,” a highly danceable jácara from Guatemala composed by Rafael Antonio Castellanos (d. 1791.)
You could be forgiven for not knowing these works or their composers. But you would not get away with calling the Sunday audience incurious.