A rock ‘n’ roll night of Baroque

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Zachary Carrettin blends a night of rock ‘n’ roll with Baroque.
Michelle Maloy Dillon

Zachary Carrettin talks rock ‘n’ roll, but you won’t recognize most of the composers.

The artistic director of the Boulder Bach Festival, Carrettin has put together a program he calls “Venice on Fire,” featuring both acoustic and electronic string instruments playing music of the 17th and 18th centuries. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Boulder (March 18, Dairy Center) and Saturday in Longmont (March 19, Longmont Museum Stewart Auditorium).

“There’s some great music on the program,” he says, describing pieces by Tarquinio Merula, Marco Uccellini, Giovanni Legrenzi, Barbara Strozzi, Tomasso Albinoni and — the one very familiar name — Antonio Vivaldi.

“Some of this program is aggressive and dynamic — it’s really the rock ‘n’ roll of the Baroque,” he says. “I think [Vivaldi’s] two-cello concerto is the kind of music you would hear at a rave or a rock concert. It is so rhythmically driven, so viscerally exciting that I want to get up and dance.”

The concert’s title, Carrettin says, celebrates a time when Venice was not underwater or even sinking, but was the place to be if you were a musician. It was a hotbed of creativity and musical experimentation — or in other words, Venice was “on fire.”

Carrettin says the program will contrast pieces with “vast, spacious, meditative and vocal melodic lines, with pieces that are rhythmically driven, full of imitation, and wild embellishment.”

But more noticeably, the performances will contrast an electric trio — Carrettin on electric violin, Gal Faganel on electric cello and Keith Barnhart on a Fender electric guitar — alternating with an acoustic chamber orchestra of traditional stringed instruments.

For example, the program opens with the Chaconne for two violins and continuo by Merula, played on acoustic string instruments. It will be followed by a violin Sonata by Uccellini, played by the electric trio. Other works will include, in turn: a Trio Sonata by Legrenzi, played by acoustic instruments; an aria by Strozzi, played by the electric trio; an acoustic performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Cellos; and a Sonata for violin and continuo by Vivaldi, played by the electric trio.

The program will end with a Sinfonia by Albinoni, which will bring all the performers together on acoustic instruments.

If playing Baroque music on electric instruments seems outlandish or wildly inauthentic, Carrettin explains his reasoning. “I would ask us to consider what authenticity means to each of us,” he says.

“‘Historically informed’ has a much larger definition for me than it does for some.

“I think ‘historically informed’ would be to consider this music as new and fresh, to embellish it, to come up with new relationships to the acoustic space, because these are all the practices these composers were involved in during their lifetimes. They were ornamenting, embellishing, they were playing multiple instruments — these were the authentic practices of the composers.”

Carrettin singles out a few pieces on the program for particular attention. “I have to point out the Uccellini sonata,” he says. “It’s a really extraordinary one-movement piece, a free-form fantasia type of work.

“The tempos change on a dime, it’s almost operatic in that the form is constantly changing based on the character of the violin line. It’s a violinist’s dream.”

The Strozzi piece is worth paying attention to, because it will probably stray furthest from the original performance practice. It was written for soprano as an aria about perfidious love, but a cancellation by the planned soloist caused it to be taken up by the instruments. In this form, each of the players — electric violin, cello and guitar — will provide variations on the melody, much like a series of jazz solos.

Nor will the soloists necessarily stick to Baroque improvisation styles. “You will undoubtedly hear the various musical influences on our artists,” Carrettin says. He will not rule out blues or rock entering the picture, saying, “I’ve been waiting years to find musicians like Barnhart and Faganel, who are extremely fluent in the Baroque language, and yet have the ability to improvise in a variety of musical styles outside of the classical genre.

“We will be authentic to ourselves and what we want to say as artists.”

Add in the final Sinfonia by Albinoni, which Carrettin describes as “wild, virtuoso string writing,” and it all makes for quite a musical adventure — or a rockin’ night of Baroque, if you will. But beyond the sense of adventure the concert offers, Carrettin wants the audience to hear and appreciate the guest artists he has assembled for the concert.

“They’re all thinking, inquisitive, dynamic personalities, charismatic and delightful to work with,” he says. “I’m sure you’ll see all of them again on our programs, because I benefit so much from being around them and working with them.”

On the Bill: Venice on Fire, Boulder Bach Festival. 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 18, the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder, 303-440-7826. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19, Stewart Auditorium, 400 Quail Road, Longmont, 303-651-8374.