Arts June 14, 2019

An Intimate Musical Experience

Boise Baroque ushers in the new season with exciting changes

To mark the end of Music Director Daniel Stern’s celebrated 14-year tenure, the Boise Baroque Orchestra, with the Boise Philharmonic Master Chorale, closed its 2018-2019 season with a stunning performance of Hayden’s masterpiece oratorio, “The Creation.” It was a fitting choice as Boise Baroque embarks on its next phase of creation in the 2019-2020 season: one that promises to bring the organization to a rich maturity with exciting change and opportunity.

Robert Franz, who spent eight fruitful years as music director of the Boise Philharmonic from 2008-2016, will step into the role of artistic advisor as he helps Boise Baroque navigate this transition. “We had applicants from all over the world,” said incoming board president Helen Carter. “But unanimously, Robert came out on top!”

Franz is well-loved in the community and is well-versed in Baroque music: his master’s thesis focused on Mozart’s performance practices, and, as an oboist and conductor, he’s played more than his fair share of Baroque music. “I love Early Classical music,” enthused Franz. “I’m very excited about the music and working with these musicians.”

Franz will conduct three of the five concerts and will continue his other appointments as music director for the Windsor Symphony in Ontario, Canada, associate conductor for the Houston Symphony, and music director for the Fairbanks (Alaska) Summer Arts Festival.  In 2016, he co-founded the Idaho Orchestra Institute camp for advanced high school music students. He lives in Boise with his husband and three teenage stepdaughters.

Franz said his plans for the coming season include “making our identity clear” with what he terms HIP music: “historically informed performances.” Franz said that in music composed before 1800, musicians were expected to perform improvisations on a bare melody. “I’ll expect our musicians to understand and recreate the performance practices of the period,” he said.

To recreate the Baroque sound, the orchestra is in the process of procuring Baroque bows for its string players. Baroque bows are shorter and gently curved, requiring a different bowing technique, and they produce a sound that’s noticeably subtler than modern bows. Playing on these bows will give the audience a closer approximation to what the original music sounded like. Also, the orchestra will buy a second set of bows that they will lend to selected area high school students who will be invited to play in the lobby or onstage with the musicians.

In January 2020, Boise Baroque will move to a new home at First Presbyterian in downtown Boise. “Cathedral of the Rockies is beautiful, but with its trancepts and high ceilings, one side of the orchestra had difficulty hearing the other,” explained general manager Hugh Shaber.

The renovations at First Presbyterian include expanding the stage area of the altar six to eight feet. There will be built-in risers at the back of the stage area for when the Master Chorale joins the orchestra. Acoustically, the church will have what Franz terms a “live” or “wet” sound, meaning there is reverberation—intentionally part of the Baroque musical experience. For better sight lines, the pews will angle slightly toward the center aisle.

In next February’s concert, Monica Huggett, artistic director of the Portland Baroque Orchestra and renowned Baroque violinist, will appear as guest artist and conductor. Having a musician conduct the orchestra was a common practice during the Baroque era and one that we may see more of in Boise Baroque performances. “The musicians key off each other instead of the conductor,” said Carter. “They really have to listen to each other, which is why the acoustics are so important and why we’re looking forward to moving to First Presbyterian.”

For the first time, Boise Baroque will partner with Opera Idaho and present Handel’s opera, “Acis and Galatea.” Grammy-Award winning tenor Karim Suleyman, who has charmed international audiences with his riveting stage presence and versatility, will star.

And in an effort to reach new audiences in the western end of the Treasure Valley, Boise Baroque will kick off its new season with a Baroque Garden party on Aug. 20 at the Chateau des Fleurs in Eagle. Franz will lead the orchestra in selections from the season’s program, and students from the Eagle Performing Arts Academy will perform Baroque dances. 

This article appears in the Summer 2019 Issue of Territory Magazine.