Quigley to switch on the Enlightenment for Seraphic Fire’s first festival

By David Fleshler

Patrick Dupré Quigley will lead Seraphic Fire’s Enlightenment Festival from Wednesday through February 23.

Forget, for a moment, the conventional divisions of classical music into such periods as Baroque, Classical and Romantic.

Seraphic Fire’s Enlightenment Festival mashes together two musical periods to focus on the composers who thrived in the 18th century, an era in which science and reason started to challenge faith, superstition and received authority.

During this time, composers such as Handel and Haydn achieved some professional independence from churches, dukes and kings. They composed secular music, cast off the composer’s traditional status as glorified (or not so glorified) servant and helped set out the path that would lead to Beethoven, Berlioz and the rest.

“The Enlightenment is really the beginning of the individual stepping out from the institution,” said Patrick Dupré Quigley, the Miami choir’s artistic director, who will serve as guide as well as conductor through this week’s festival. “So the composer as well as the performer are stepping away from the church or the court and beginning to perform as individuals rather than as servants.”

The ten-day festival, which takes place at churches across South Florida, will include four concert programs. The programs will include a semi-staged Handel opera, three of Bach’s suites for solo cello, songs by Haydn and works by several other composers, drawing from a musical era that’s often passed over in favor of the more grandiose works of the 19th and 20th centuries.

“The idea of this festival is to give someone the ability to take a deep dive into the music of the 18th century and over four nights be able to experience a vast array of music from a vast array of composers,” said Quigley. “We have festivals in Florida that bring us robust offerings of contemporary music and Romantic music. We are less served by music of the Classical and Baroque periods.”

Despite their vast outputs, Quigley said, the composers of this era tend to be known for works that show only a few sides of their compositional personalities.

“We think of Handel as being responsible for these large-scale oratorios, and Italian operas were part of his public face in London,” Quigley said. “Similarly we think of Haydn as the master of the symphony. But their lives were so rich as musicians and their output was so varied that to pigeon-hole them is such a shame.”

And so the festival will show Haydn’s serious side. It will showcase the usually somber Bach’s ability to write comedy, and it will show a lighter side of Handel, a composer known for the grandeur and occasional  pomposity of his compositions.

Haydn, whose sunny outlook, mastery of secular instrumental forms and late-career professional independence make him the model Enlightenment composer, will be represented by a series of songs and his dramatic cantata Arianna a Naxos.

The Arianna, or Ariadne, myth is best known to music lovers through Strauss’ opera. Haydn composed his version for female voice (with the vocal part taken at its 1791 performance by a castrato, with Haydn at the harpsichord) and keyboard. Quigley describes the work as a mini operatic scene, “very dramatic in the Italian style.”

“It’s serious,” he said. “A lot of Haydn’s music brings in lightness and humor, whereas in Arianna we see a very considered and formed emotional life that is being put into this music.”

For sheer seriousness of purpose, of course, it’s tough to beat Bach, a composer whose output is suffused with his Lutheran faith. But here he will be represented by a series of secular works, his Coffee and Wedding cantatas, as well as three of his suites for solo cello.

“We think of Bach as so saintly,” Quigley said. “We think of him writing for the greater glory of God. But the Coffee Cantata is in essence a 20-minute comedic piece. It’s about a father who’s trying to basically have an intervention with his coffee-addicted daughter. The church cantatas are basically about ‘you will die and it’s your fault.’ But they’re rarely about this joy at an earthly wedding or this humor. This is the human side of Bach.”

Performing Bach’s First, Second and Third Suites for Cello will be Guy Fishman, principal cellist of Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society. Although Quigley’s conducting services won’t be required for the solo cello works, he will serve as host and interviewer.

Handel, known for his Messiah and works composed for the English monarchy, appears in the festival through a more human-scale piece, the chamber opera Acis and Galatea. The work, which will be presented in a semi-staged performance, is a pastoral opera that tells the story of the love between a nymph and a shepherd.

“The music itself is not grand – it revels in its simplicity,” Quigley said. “We see Handel not in the mode of the Hallelujah Chorus, but in something that is more akin to Dido and Aeneas. With his music, we think of the glory of the English monarchy, the coronation anthem, the Hallelujah chorus. We find him writing music that doesn’t have grandiosity as part of its DNA. It’s this cute, lovely love story, that’s sort of tragic but then has a happy ending.”

Seraphic Fire’s Enlightenment Festival consists of four programs that will run Feb. 12-23. Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos, as well as Haydn songs and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach’s Solo Konzert in G Major, will be performed 7 p.m. Feb. 12 at The Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 at Church of the Little Flower in Coral Gables. Bach’s Coffee and Wedding cantatas, as well as works of Monteverdi and Stefano Landi, will be performed 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Coral Gables, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15 at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale and 4 p.m. Feb. 16 at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Boca Raton.

The Bach Cello Suites will be performed 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18 at Church of the Little Flower in Coral Gables and 7 p.m. Feb. 19 at The Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale. Handel’s Acis and Galatea will be performed 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale and 4 p.m. Feb. 23 at Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church in Naples. SeraphicFire.org

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