The celebrated Venice Baroque Orchestra is touring the United States, and Chautauqua Institution is one of its stops — thanks in part to one Chautauquan and one extraordinary instrument.
The touring group will perform influential pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries at 4 p.m. Monday, July 15 in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. The program includes several pieces from Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi and three of his contemporaries. One of the instruments onstage will be a Chautauqua resident’s antique harpsichord.
Deborah Sunya Moore, vice president of performing and visual arts, said she is excited to have the renowned group play at the Institution.
“They are one of the most recognized baroque ensembles,” Moore said. “It is actually quite a coup for Chautauqua to have them here.”
VBO has toured in the United States and internationally. In fact, the group has performed in more American cities than any other Baroque orchestra in history. Moore said that a stroke of good luck placed VBO at Chautauqua as part of the group’s current tour.
“The reason why we are able to (host Venice Baroque Orchestra) is that they are on a tour of this region,” Moore said. “They do not always tour in this country or in this neck of the woods, so I was really thrilled when they called me to see if we might be interested in being part of the tour.”
Baroque music comes from a period of Western music following the Renaissance. Baroque pieces often emphasize improvisation and elaborate flourishes, and the period saw a great deal of influential pieces.
VBO is dedicated to putting the masterpieces of this era back into the spotlight. In recent years, the group has played in venues from New York City’s Carnegie Hall to Brussels’ Palais des Beaux-Arts. Their performances have been broadcast worldwide in several television specials and documentary videos.
Moore said the VBO concert is among this season’s most anticipated events.
“This is the largest group that’s coming on the Chamber Music Guest Artist Series,” Moore said. “They are a group that we could easily put in the Amphitheater because of their size, their recognition and their artistic excellence. But that’s what Chautauqua is — we have all these gems that appear in our smaller halls.”
But to perform at Chautauqua, Moore said, the group needed one thing: a harpsichord. The large keyboard instrument is visually similar to a piano, but it uses a plucking mechanism to produce a unique sound.
“One of the most challenging things about this tour is that we have to provide the harpsichord,” Moore said. “Harpsichords are not easily accessible on short notice, but we actually have a Chautauquan who is loaning us her harpsichord.”
Chautauqua resident Anna Antemann and her family lent a William Dowd French Double Harpsichord belonging to Antemann’s late husband, Richard Antemann.
“That, by itself, is very special,” Moore said.
William Dowd, who built Antemann’s harpsichord and hundreds more, was an American harpsichord maker and a major voice in the 20th century movement to popularize the centuries-old instrument. Dowd was celebrated for his craftsmanship, and his instruments are praised for their quality.
Antemann said her husband, a musician and chamber music enthusiast, would be happy to see his harpsichord still in use.
“It’s being used, and I think my husband would be very pleased,” Antemann said. “He was an amateur pianist and harpsichordist, and he played around town in Johnstown, Pennsylvania — I was in charge of hauling the harpsichord. But he loved chamber music.”