Violinist Stephen Redfield describes playing all six Brandenburg Concertos as a marathon, albeit an enjoyable one.
“It’s both a challenge and a pleasure to play them,” he explained. “It requires a lot of intense technical demands. Instrumentalists have to be able to change their perspective radically from piece to piece since each concerto is in its own world. Playing all six of them in one concert makes for a varied and interesting performance.”
Santa Fe Pro Musica presents the Brandenburg Concertos next weekend in St. Francis Auditorium with the organization’s music director, Thomas O’Connor, in the role of conductor.
Composed in 1721 for Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg, the works were stored in his library and remained untouched until they were rediscovered in the Berlin Imperial Library during the middle of the 19th century. According to Santa Fe Pro Musica, Bach biographer Philipp Spitta named them the Brandenburg Concertos in his 1873 book about Bach.
The Brandenburg Concertos were written in the style of the concerto grosso where a group of solo instruments are supported by a larger group of string instruments. A harpsichord and a bass instrument reinforce the bass line. The only instrument that does not have a solo role in the concertos is the bass.
Redfield has a solo role in Concerto No. 1 in F Major, which features an 11-part score with French horns, oboes, bassoon and string orchestra. In this work, he plays the violin piccolo part, which requires that he brings a second violin to the concert.
“The violin piccolo part has a special altered tuning,” he explained. “It’s tuned higher than a regular violin. Because of that, it has a different range and sound. What I do is tune up one of my violins. The other I keep normally tuned so I can play it during the rest of the concert.”
Redfield also is one of three violin soloists in Concerto No. 3, which was written for violins, violas, cellos and continuo. For this concerto, he uses his regularly-tuned violin.
Concerto No. 4 is scored for three solo violins, two flutes and a large group of string instruments. The fifth concerto features a solo violin, flute and harpsichord along with string accompaniment. The harpsichord has an extended solo cadenza at the end of the first movement. The sixth concerto showcases the string instruments in the middle and lower registers of the strings. The concert ends with a rendition of Concerto No. 2, which is scored for high-voiced instruments including the trumpet, flute, oboe and violin.
A behind-the-scenes discussion of the music takes place one hour before each concert and is free to ticket holders.