Baroque, By and Large
By Sara Beitia for Boise Weekly
Now in their third season, Boise Baroque Orchestra has already had its first performance of the season with brand-new conductor, Daniel Stern. To find out more about this amazing chamber orchestra, its current season and what lies ahead, BW chatted with Stern and got the skinny on Boise Baroque.
BW: How did you come to be the orchestra's new conductor, and why were you interested in the position?
Stern: To make it very simple, they asked me. Richard Roller, who was the founding director and started the orchestra a couple of years ago, we knew each other--when Richard's regular employment took him out of state, the board of the orchestra approached me to replace him.
The principle area of my training was as a musician. I was a director of a philharmonic for many years and so forth. It's not what I do for a living now, but you never really leave it. Given an opportunity to conduct on a part-time basis, and to do it with a group of fine professionals such as these, was just an opportunity I couldn't pass up.
When my relationship with the [Boise] Philharmonic ended in 1987, my intention at that time was to go back into teaching. And, for lack of a better description, reality and I had an abrupt meeting in 1987--which was that in order for me to have done that after having been out for so long, I would have had to make several adjustments in my life, both geographically and financially, which made it ... highly desirable for me to stay here in Boise. And obviously there aren't that many jobs for conductors here in Boise, so I took the opportunity to expand my horizons and had a mid-life career change. I was approached by a friend who at that time was in the insurance business, and that's how I got into the financial world.
Really nothing until now [with Boise Baroque] came up that really attracted my interest all that much that was in the realm of something I could realistically consider.
There are things you do because they're meaningful to you and they're enjoyable. Musicians are especially good at doing something they enjoy not being paid very well for.
How is the season shaping up?
The orchestra is just a fine, fine group of people--fun to work with and able to do amazing things. I think people who have not heard us are going to be very surprised at what's available to the community that they may not have been aware of ... We have the product and we're out trying to build the audience, as compared to the other way around 30 years ago [with the Boise Philharmonic].
What are you looking forward to in working with Boise Baroque?
All of the musicians in Boise Baroque are there because they want to be, obviously. They're not there for any other reason. They're there because they enjoy making music and I'm there because I enjoy making music. No one gives up that many evenings for hardly more than it costs a babysitter to be there except if they truly enjoy what they're doing.
When you really enjoy something, you want to share it with people and our objective is to play beautiful music--that which is somewhat outside of the purview of the Philharmonic, due to size considerations. The Philharmonic, of necessity, concentrates mostly on 19th and 20th century music, with some forays into the 18th, but that's not where most of their repertoire lies. So we have a large bunch of music that if Boise Baroque doesn't do it, will probably not be performed here very often. This is very enjoyable, very accessible music and we enjoy playing it a great deal and more than that, we enjoy sharing it with people. So our challenge is to get people to know and hear what we've done and hope that they enjoy it so much that they come again and bring 10 friends. You have to share things that you really love.
Boise Baroque Orchestra doesn't play just baroque music ... ?
I think the people in New York had it right. There's an orchestra there called Mostly Mozart and they say, "This is our main objective and our main focus, but it's not our exclusive focus." Basically, we're a chamber orchestra, and occasionally we will wander from the baroque. ... Quite frankly, 2006 is the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth and we're not going to ignore that. Most of the time, if we do [non-baroque] composers, we will do works from their repertory that are not likely to be done by the Philharmonic. Typically, if Boise Baroque does a Mozart symphony, it would be one of his earlier works, one that normally the larger orchestras wouldn't do. Same thing with Hayden. Hayden wrote 104 symphonies and you hear maybe five of them.
How will you leave an imprint on Boise Baroque Orchestra?
My approach to baroque music is not to be overly fussy about authenticity on the hardware end, but to try to be as close to authentic, while at the same time, not having it be a distraction for the audience but rather something that enhances their enjoyment. And that's a compromise we have to make.
There are practical limitations [to period authenticity] when you don't live in London or New York. If we want to perform baroque music with original instruments--if we want a mandolin player, it's a little tougher for us to find one, or a basset horn player, or a viola da gamba player. And it's not enough to just find one; it wouldn't do us any good to have two authentic 17th century violins in the orchestra--you'd never hear them because the others wouldn't be authentic. So what I try to do is try to approach authenticity in other ways--through the ornamentation that we use, through the tempos we select, through the way the pieces are played. Yet we playing these pieces with modern instruments for modern audiences.
Boise Baroque Orchestra performs highlights from Handel's Judas Maccabaeus with the Boise Baroque Chorus on Fri., Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. in Caldwell at Jewett Auditorium, Albertson College of Idaho, 2112 E. Cleveland Blvd., and again in Boise on Sun., Nov. 13 at All Saints Episcopal Church, 704 S. Latah St., 344-2537.
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