Lewis Baratz is having a busy October.
First there are his regular monthly activities hosting WWFM’s weekly “Well-Tempered Baroque” radio program — which draws from his artistry and extensive collection of Baroque recordings — and teaching “Introduction to Baroque Music” at the Princeton Adult School.
Then as founder and artistic director of the professional Baroque ensemble La Fiocco, he is presenting “The Golden Age of the Countertenor” at the Princeton United Methodist Church on Saturday, October 29, at 7:30 p.m. An encore presentation follows at Trinity Episcopal Church in Solebury, Pennsylvania, on Sunday, October 30, at 3 p.m.
Yet before that he is performing on harpsichord and recorder — as well as leading a discussion on Baroque music — at the 12th Guild for Early Music Festival (GEM) at Grounds For Sculpture on Sunday, October 16.
“I love GEM,” Baratz says during a telephone interview. “There are two sides to the coin. First, it’s an opportunity to hear early music in a supportive, beautiful setting. Second, the range of performers runs from amateurs to professionals; it’s important for amateurs, who might take a year to perfect a half-hour program, to have a chance to perform.”
He must also love that La Fiocco is participating in the festival this year, performing a chamber cantata by Georg Philipp Telemann and a secular cantata by Giovanni Bononcini.
Founded in 2009, La Fiocco consists of a core group of half a dozen professionals and takes its name from a family of 18th-century composers of Italian origin who were active in Brussels.
Baratz says he has a special connection to Brussels. “I spent two years there and did my dissertation on 18th-century sacred music in Brussels,” he says.
As a Fulbright scholar and a fellow of the Belgian American Educational Foundation in Musicology, Baratz worked at the Collegiate church of Saint Michael and Saint Gudela, now the Cathedral of Brussels. Since the 14th century, the church kept a tradition of training choirboys, about half of whom went into music professionally. An 18th-century cantor of the church for 40 years had collected some 400 music manuscripts, most of which were not published.
“My aim was to reconstruct a cultural and musical analysis of 18th-century Brussels,” Baratz says. “I sifted through thousands of documents, not just music manuscripts — payments, birth and burial records, letters, and contracts. The handwritings were variable. The musical notation was pretty legible, but there were a few conventions that are not standard today. I used individual parts to prepare modern editions that any trained modern musician could use. I wanted to bring the music to life.”
“I developed an affinity for music in early 18th-century Brussels. The leading figure was Pietro Antonio Fiocco, an Italian who lived in Brussels and had two musician sons. The more famous son was named Joseph Hector Fiocco, who lived from 1703 to 1741.” Baratz honored him by naming the ensemble after the musician.
Born in Brooklyn in1961, Baratz grew up there. His father owned a furniture business; his mother worked for the New York State Insurance Bureau. Inspired by his big sister, who studied piano, he chose piano as his instrument at age seven.
“When I was 10,” he says, “my parents took me to colonial Williamsburg, and I heard a harpsichord and a professional recorder player for the first time. Having studied piano for three years, I convinced the people in charge to let me try the harpsichord. I played a Bach minuet and felt heroic. After coming home I began to watch a BBC television series about Henry VIII. The music on the show was authentic for the early 1500s, and I fell in love with it.”
“Those days, in the 1970s, Renaissance and Baroque music were not part of the culture and nobody played harpsichord until they got to graduate school,” he says.
Baratz earned two bachelor’s degrees at the State University of New York in Buffalo: one in music history and one in harpsichord performance. His master’s degree in music history and harpsichord performance comes from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He earned his doctorate in musicology from Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University.
“Today switching between harpsichord and recorder is not uncommon,” Baratz says. “When I was a student it was common to be asked to focus on one instrument.”
He says the back-and-forth between harpsichord and recorder in Baroque music is not difficult. “You can easily get into the zone. It’s a tactile thing. The instruments complement each other. Baroque music is about shaping, phrasing, articulation, and rhythm. It’s not as much about singing quality as it is in romantic music. So mastery of one instrument helps shape mastery of the other. The musical goals are basically the same, although the technique is different.”
After finishing his education in music Baratz completed the certificate program in e-business at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and worked at IT in business for 20 years. About four years ago he returned to music — teaching (at Mercer County Community College and Seton Hall University) and playing full time. He is currently interim director of the Marquis Consort, the early music ensemble at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.
“I bring a strong organizational perspective to Fiocco,” he says.
Turning to the development of the ensemble, Baratz says, “It took me a few years to get a proper mix of people. I wanted Fiocco to be not just local, but regional and now national.” Pleased, he points out that for the third year the ensemble has received a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant.
Baratz conducts and plays recorder, harpsichord, and English square piano. Other members of the basic ensemble are Benjamin Berman, harpsichord — he takes over at the keyboard when Baratz plays recorder; Claire Smith Bermingham, Dan McCarthy, and Linda Kistler, Baroque violins; and Vivian Barton Dozer, Baroque cello and viola da gamba.
As needed, Baratz searches out additional players, often adding performers on instruments no longer in the main stream. For 17th-century music he finds musicians who blow Baroque flutes, oboes, or bassoons; cornettos and dulcians. For Elizabethan and Jacobean music he tracks down instrumentalists who know what to do with increasingly obsolete plucked string instruments, such as lutes, archlutes, theorbos, Baroque guitars, citterns, and bandoras. He unearths musicians who can manage violas da gamba and violones.
More than 30 instrumentalists and vocalists have performed with La Fiocco in the past five years. They come from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, and North Carolina. Baratz refers to them as “East Coast A-list Baroque musicians.”
Fiocco’s first concert this season, “Golden Age of the Countertenor,” features two countertenors in a program of bravura arias and duets. One is Ray Chenez, who has appeared on the cover of Opera News and is building a career as an opera performer in Europe. In addition to Baroque music, Chenez’s repertoire includes classical and contemporary music. The other is Daniel Moody, a rising star and a 2014 graduate from Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory who sang with the Washington National Cathedral Choir during his years in Baltimore. He has earned a master’s degree from the Yale School of Music and Institute of Sacred Music.
Fiocco’s second concert, “Phantasticus!,” features virtuoso chamber music from 17th-century Italy and Flanders takes place in April. And its third concert, “Saints, Sinners, and Shepherds” in June, includes the North American premiere of works from the Brussels Cathedral, edited and transcribed by Baratz. The program of instrumental and vocal Baroque works features soloists Laura Heimes, soprano, and Brian Ming Chu, baritone.
Guild for Early Music Festival, Grounds For Sculpture, Hamilton. Sunday, October 16, 12:30 to 5 p.m. Admission free with paid admission to the park, $10 to $18. www.guildforearlymusic.org or 609-586-0616.
Golden Age of the Countertenor, La Fiocco, United Methodist Church, 7 Vandeventer Avenue, Princeton. Saturday, October 29, 7:30 p.m.
Trinity Episcopal Church, 6587 Upper York Road, Solebury, Pennsylvania. Sunday, October 30, 3 p.m. $25. www.lafiocco.org or 917-747-6007.
Well-Tempered Baroque, WWFM, The Classical Network. 11 p.m. Fridays; repeats 2 p.m. Mondays. Webcasts available. www.WWFM.org.
Lewis Baratz, Introduction to Baroque Music, Princeton Adult School. Tuesdays, October 18 to December 6, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. $130. www.princetonadultschool.org or 609 683-1101.