As its name would suggest, the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra doesn't perform much music by composers possessing a pulse, preferring the time-tested tones of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and other greats who introduced their bold, ornamented compositions roughly between 1600 and 1750.
But in reaching its Sweet 16th year, the group wanted to not only look back (by playing selections from its first season) but to give a nod to the future. That's where longtime Atlanta composer Martha Bishop comes in.
Her commissioned work “Jubel!” — described by ABO Artistic Director Julie Andrijeski as a “celebratory testament to the orchestra” — will receive its world premiere in this weekend’s concerts in Atlanta and Roswell.
An ABO member in the ensemble’s debut year of 1998, Bishop struggled when asked if there is an accepted phrase that covers her situation: a 21st-century composer writing in a Baroque style.
“I don’t know if there’s such a word as ‘post-Baroque,’” she finally concluded, “but that’s sort of what it is.”
In the program notes, she reveals some of her thinking about where the five-minute-long “Jubel!” (German for joy or jubilation) fits in the music firmament: “The overall aim of this piece was to evoke a feeling of elation, to utilize some Baroque techniques of rhetoric as applied to music — not to simulate a Baroque sound, but to bring the sound of a Baroque orchestra a bit into the future using a few techniques not usually encountered in Baroque literature.”
In an interview, Bishop, a multi-instrumentalist who performs with Atlanta’s New Trinity Baroque and the North Carolina Baroque Orchestra, also shared thoughts …
On her writing process: "An empty sheet confronts all of us composers. It's terribly frightening, especially for an important commission such as this one. … Some things in Baroque music are dictated to you a little bit, (such as) the ranges of the instruments are not as great as with modern instruments. And where they sound loudest in the instrument is not necessarily the same as where modern instruments do. These are things that play into it. But then the actual getting of the music on the page is a bit of magic, I think."
On if she hears sounds when, say, driving: "Sometimes, yes. Out hiking, biking, absolutely. Melodies come and you get them down and start working with them. You see what you can do to develop them."
On writing for Atlanta Baroque Orchestra: "I wrote 'Jubel!' with them in mind, very definitely. It's a very good group. All the players are sophisticated players. They are also players of modern instruments in every case, so I know they have the techniques to bring off anything I ask them to do."
On the anxiety of having only heard her premiere played on the software program Sibelius before ABO rehearsals begin this week: "It will be exciting and a little terrifying. I think any piece is not really finished until you've heard the first time. So there may need to be tweaking, I would imagine, especially to dynamics and, maybe, some articulations."
On if she's hoping concertgoers will be smiling when her premiere concludes: "Yes, I would think they should smile at the end. I would hope they didn't cry! It's not a profound piece in the sense of Bach. But it's a very upbeat piece and it does change mood at times. There are different kinds of joy illustrated in it."