Boy. Them folks sure swing a mean bow.

(Photo courtesy of Gigi the iPhone)

Just got back from the Portland Baroque Orchestra’s version of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons concertos. As promised, it was really well-done. But wanna know the best part? They had fun with it.

Really. They had fun.

When playing music written by 300 year-old dead guys, music so great that it’s lasted this long in the first place, there’s this tendency to get kinda over-reverent about it. Or as a violinist friend once said, in hushed tones, “It’s Vivaldi. You don’t mess with Vivaldi.”

Beautiful music played with that brand of tip-toeing reverence is beautiful music frozen in time. Dead, dessicated, poached-in-amber. Definitely not fun.

What leader/soloist Monica Huggett and her orchestra played tonight was just as alive in my brain as when Vivaldi wrote it. She adds flourishes, takes liberties; she plays to the audience and hams it up in spots.

I didn’t always agree with the choices she made tonight–I’d have prefered a somewhat toned-down cello on many of the movements–but never once did I think about stuffy dead guys. And at some points I was in tears (Winter I always does that to me). Mom and Dad came with me this time, and from the sounds of it enjoyed themselves hugely.

PBO isn’t very large, just 20 or so string players and a harpsichord. They also bring out some interesting instruments of the baroque period (tonight’s theorbo was fun). Be nice if they spent some time in the program discussing the instruments and their roles in history.

Anyway, the Vivaldi was lovely. While I write this, I’m listening to Joshua Bell’s rendition of the same work, in startling contrast. Where he’s chocolately smooth, powerful and creamy, Ms. Huggett is fresh raspberries: Crisp, rich and tart. More of an adventure.

The concert opened with a beautiful piece I didn’t know, Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso in D minor “La Follia.” Very well-led by violinist Adam LaMott, but IMHO it’s a brave piece of music that can stand up to The Four Seasons.

Ditto for the piece played just after the intermission, a cello concerto also by Vivaldi (RV 531, if you follow Ryom). I enjoyed it a bit more, I think, because you don’t hear all that many cello duets and this one has a kind of “dueling cellos” interweaving that really showcased the different styles of the musicians playing it. (Joanna Blendulf and Tanya Tomkins).

I did question Ms. Huggett’s decision to stick the cellos between the Summer and Fall concertos–did she think we needed a break? (We didn’t)

Anyway, nice night out. PBO will be featured on Oregon Art Beat this season (they were filming here tonight), so catch it if you can.