Founded in San Francisco in 1986, American Baroque brings together some of
America's most accomplished and exciting baroque instrumentalists, with the
purpose of defining a new, modern genre for historical instruments. The group's
adventurous programs combine 18th-century music with new works, composed for the
group through collaborations and commissions from American composers. An
ensemble of eclectic, accomplished, and artful musicians, the performances
bridge a gap between the edges of the new music frontier and the familiar roads
to music of the past, and expands the repertoire and scope of historical
instruments into the new millenium.
In its early stages, American Baroque functioned as a studio band, its mission
being to record hitherto unknown quartets by Telemann. Recordings of the "Paris"
quartets and the Fourth Book of Quartets were released and enthusiastically
received. In 1991, the group recorded French Cantatas of the 18th Century with
soprano Julianne Baird, again released to wide critical acclaim on Koch
International Classics. In 1992, American Baroque began exploring the territory
of performing new music written for historical instruments through its
collaboration with composer, member and gambist Roy Whelden and his pieces
Quartet After Abel and Gamba Quartet, which resulted in a CD release on the New
Albion label in 1993.
Intrigued by the unique timbres and subtlety of sounds inherent in their period
instruments as well as the excitement and anticipation of performing new music,
the group continued to pursue projects and programming that involved
combinations of new and old elements. Another collaboration in 1995 with Whelden
yielded the provocative CD Like a Passing River with poet and reader Rudy Rucker,
also on the New Albion label.
Since its founding, the ensemble has been featured at the Tage Alter Musik
Festival in Regensburg, Germany; the Berkeley Early Music Festival; the San Luis
Obispo Mozart Festival; the San Jose Chamber Music Society; University of
California; the San Francisco Early Music Society; on National Public Radio and
West Coast Live; and in the Opus415 New Music Festival. In addition, ensemble
members perform and record together in the finest period-instrument orchestras
in America throughout the year. Recent projects include concerts at the
University of Vermont and at Bowdoin College, and a multi-tracked studio
recording of Songs of Cold Mountain, a cycle of texts by the 7th-century poet
Han Shan. The 1998-1999 season included a commercial recording of eight pieces
by the composer's collective, Common Sense, which were commissioned in 1996; and
a theatrical and multimedia collaboration entitled "The Death of Anton Webern,"
written and directed by ensemble member Katherine Shao; the group will present a
2-week run of performances in May 2000.
American Baroque has also received support from Chamber Music America's
Millenium Commissioning Program to collaborate with Stanford University composer
Jonathan Berger on his new work, Of Hammered Gold (for flute, oboe, violin,
viola da gamba and digital bird organ); the work was premiered at Stanford
University's Lively Arts series on January 7, 2000. The ensemble has been
recognized through grants and awards from the Aaron Copland Foundation, the
Mikhashoff Foundation for New Music, and the Zellerbach Family Fund, and most
recently won first prize for the 2000 ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming.
American Baroque remains the only U.S. chamber ensemble committed to performing
both new music and 18th-century works on historical instruments, while
continuing to explore the issues raised by both genres, old and new.
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