Houston’s Grammy-Nominated Music Org Gets ‘Bach’ to Basics with Concert and Book Release

Houston’s Grammy-Nominated Music Org Gets ‘Bach’ to Basics with Concert and Book Release

Matthew Dirst (photo by Jacob Power)

FOR FANS OF early music — an often scholarly lot who aren’t afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves — bad-boy Baroque-era painter Caravaggio certainly nailed something in his dramatic 1595 painting, “The Musicians.” (Simon Schama talks about this in his TV series The Power of Art.) One look at his masterpiece, and you feel as if you’ve stumbled upon and surprised a roomful of dewy-eyed musicians, their youthful faces swollen with melancholy, with the lutist looking like he’s about ready to burst into tears before he’s even tuned his instrument. So no, you certainly don’t need a Ph.D. to enjoy and be moved by the music of Handel, G.P. Telemann, or J.S. Bach, but a little bit of scholarship never hurt anyone. Knowing the history of this music may even deepen your appreciation of it.

With that in mind, on Saturday, Jan. 13, at Duncan Recital Hall at Rice University, GRAMMY-nominated early music organization Ars Lyrica Houston presents Fugal Games, a “quintessentially Baroque program” of music by Bach and Telemann. The ensemble includes Colin St. Martin (Baroque flute and recorder), Elizabeth Blumenstock (violin and viola), Stephen Redfield (violin), Sydney ZumMallen (cello), and Dirst (harpsichord) performing specially orchestrated excerpts from Bach’s Art of Fugue and Musical Offering, as well as two “miniature marvels” by Telemann.

The concert also celebrates the release of Ars Lyrica artistic director Matthew Dirst’s new book Bach’s Art of Fugue and Musical Offering, an in-depth and accessible study of Bach’s two masterworks, written for readers of all backgrounds. The concert will be followed by a book talk and an audience Q&A with Dirst. Dirst is very much at ease explaining music in terms anyone can understand, and his love for Bach is contagious, as seen in a series of entertaining and beautifully filmed YouTube videos where he performs the Big Man’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 on a single-manual harpsichord. Saturday’s concert and post-concert talk will no doubt be just as engaging and educational.

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