Founded in 2007 by British baroque violinist Garry Clarke, Baroque Band has rapidly established itself as a leading member of Chicago’s musical community. As Chicago’s period instrument orchestra, the Band has been consistently hailed by critics and audiences and has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting period instrument ensembles in the United States. In his year-end round up in the Chicago Tribune, music critic John von Rhein singled out Baroque Band as one of the top ten most important happenings on Chicago’s classical music scene of the entire decade (2009).
Now in its fourth season, Baroque Band has already given nearly 100 performances in Chicago and throughout the Midwest and is regularly heard on the airwaves, broadcasting from the studios of 98.7 WFMT Radio. In the summer of 2008, Baroque Band was appointed WFMT’s first-ever Resident Ensemble and continues in that role today.
In Baroque Band’s first three seasons, the orchestra presented each of its four subscription programs in three Chicago-area locations: downtown at Chicago’s Symphony Center, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO); on the City’s north side at The Music Institute of Chicago in Evanston, and on the south side in Hyde Park, home of the University of Chicago. In 2009, to commemorate the 250th year since Handel’s death, Baroque Band added to its regular concert series three performances of Handel’s rarely heard “Dublin” Messiah— the original version of his masterpiece that was given at its premiere performance in Dublin in 1742. These performances were chosen by NewCity, alongside concerts by Simon Rattle with the Berlin Philharmonic and Riccardo Muti with the CSO, as one of the top five classical concerts of 2009. In April 2010, Baroque Band was featured as one of the principal performing ensembles and partners in the first-ever Chicago Early Music Festival, organized by the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. Also, in April 2010 the Band began a three-year collaboration with Chicago Opera Theater to perform a trilogy of Medea operas starting with a production of Cavalli’s Giasone. The Wall Street Journal praised the orchestra, saying “The best musical work came from the excellent nine-member period instrument orchestra.”
Writing of a performance at the beginning of last year, Chicago Classical Review said, “Last week would have marked the tercentennial of Pergolesi’s birth, and Garry Clarke and his Baroque Band saw fit to celebrate the occasion with a trio of concerts. If there was a lesson to be learned, it’s that this talented ensemble shouldn’t wait for another anniversary to bring out this composer’s vibrant and provocative music. This was period-instrument playing at its finest.”
Following Baroque Band’s highly acclaimed Ravinia Festival debut in 2009, the orchestra returned in August 2010 to this prestigious festival. Other performances by Baroque Band have included those at the Madison Early Music Festival, American Bach Society Conference, the International Viola d’amore Society, Dame Myra Hess Concert Series, City of Chicago Sunday Salon series, Chicago Latino Music Festival, Purdue University, Grinnell College, the Birmingham Sister Cities, and the British American Business Council 2009 Conference.
February 2010 saw the release of Baroque Band’s first CD. Recorded by Chicago’s Grammy Award-winning Cedille Records and distributed by Naxos International, the recording of Biber’s Mensa Sonora is already meeting with international acclaim. Classics Today called it “A fine disc that all fans of Baroque music will want to consider.” Fanfare magazine called it “An excellent, urgently recommended debut disc.”
During Baroque Band’s first three seasons, the orchestra welcomed international guest soloists including former Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal oboist, Alex Klein; baroque violinist and director of the newly founded Juilliard historical performance practice program, Monica Huggett; mezzo-soprano Jennifer Lane; violinist Rachel Barton Pine; soprano Jennifer Ellis; and French bassoonist Marc Vallon. For its 2010–11 season, Baroque Band welcomed international conductor Harry Bicket, director of the UK-based English Concert, who directed the orchestra’s program “Heavenly Angel,” which also featured the renowned English soprano Lucy Crowe. As well as performing with the orchestra, these artists offered educational classes for students as part of Baroque Band’s International Master Class Series, giving opportunities to the next generation of period instrumentalists to work with these celebrated musicians.
Baroque Band’s fourth season, entitled “Angels and Demons,” opened in October 2010 with “Hells Angels”—music of Locatelli and Tartini, and continued with: “Charlie’s Angels”—music from the court of Charles II; “Heavenly Angel” with Bicket and Crowe; and Handel’s La Resurrezione—Lucifer and the Angel! Other season highlights included participation in the 2011 Chicago Early Music Festival and continued its collaboration with Chicago
Opera Theater in performances of Charpentier’s Médée, as well as a return for a third visit to the early music series at Byron Colby Barn. Additionally, Baroque Band presented a series of three chamber concerts in Ganz Hall at Roosevelt University and traveled to Grinnell College for a series of concerts and workshops.