The period music ensemble Grand Harmonie, which performs on centuries-old instruments, will present two distinctive concerts in Boston later this month: an interactive concert experience at the Arts at the Armory in Somerville, and a traditional program at Second Church in Newton.
The March 24 Somerville performance will be an “in-the-round” concert mixing Beethoven, Mozart, and Weber. The program invites audience members to sit, stand, or roam around the venue; each segment of the show will include a discussion with the conductor and the musicians.
“Grand Harmonie is really working to meet the audience where they are,” said conductor Scott Allen Jarrett, who is working with the group on the Somerville and Newton performances. “Instead of requiring folks to come to a concert hall, they’re bringing the music to the neighborhood (to the pub!), and offering an exhilarating evening of fantastic music.”
The Somerville performance will have a salon vibe, while the encore performance on March 26 in Newton will be a more traditional concert experience, with the pieces performed straight through with an intermission.
While both performances are sure to display the vibrancy, lightheartedness, and virtuosity Grand Harmonie is known for, the performance at the Arts at the Armory will be a more immersive concert experience.
“Two hundred years ago, concerts were equal parts social event and musical performance,” said horn player and Grand Harmonie co-founder Yoni Kahn. “The programming was lively and varied, sometimes mixing large orchestras with solo performances. We’re taking what we see as the best aspects of that experience for our March 24 concert: splitting up the movements of the symphony across the program, encouraging the audience to converse with the musicians during the breaks, and featuring lots of fun and virtuosic music.”
The program will open with Movements 1 and 2 of Beethoven’s First Symphony, followed by the wild, romantic horn antics in Weber’s Concertino in E Op. 45, featuring Kahn, who will be playing an original Halari French horn from around 1830.
“I was fortunate enough to acquire this instrument from a collector in near-perfect condition,” he said, “with a period mouthpiece and a full set of crooks which lets me play in all the keys required in orchestral and operatic repertoire of the time. This instrument is very similar to the one Weber would have been writing for in his concertino.”
As with all Grand Harmonie concerts, Kahn noted, the rest of the orchestra will be playing on “a mix of original and replica instruments from the turn of the 19th century: strings made of gut, natural trumpets, woodwinds with fewer keys, and calfskin drumheads.”
Mozart’s “Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio” for wind band, played from the balcony, will usher in the second half of the concert. Movement 3 of Beethoven’s First Symphony will officially open the second half, followed by soprano Jacquelyn Stucker singing Beethoven’s impassioned concert aria “Ah! Perfido.” The concert will conclude with the final movement of Beethoven’s First Symphony.
Founded just five years ago, Grand Harmonie has established a reputation for uniting scholarship and musicianship while stepping outside of traditional classical music repertoire and venues.
“We have wanted to do an orchestra concert in a non-traditional venue for some time,” said Kahn. “Churches are great venues, but they can feel a little formal, even if they do have great acoustics. On the other hand, contemporary music venues are great for amplified music but not so much for acoustic instruments. The Somerville Armory is the perfect combination: an acoustically friendly, informal mixed-use space with a bar and a cafe on site.”
Grand Harmonie used to perform without a conductor. But for these upcoming concerts they are working with Jarrett, Director of Music at Marsh Chapel in Boston.
“We typically think of classical music as a purely aural experience,” Jarrett said, “but I think we often underestimate the visual aspect of live performance. Recordings are so perfect that we forget that real people are making the music through often extraordinarily physical—even athletic—feats. Grand Harmonie really strives to enjoin the listener in this experience.”
Grand Harmonie performs March 24 at 7:30pm at Arts at the Armory in Somerville, and March 26 at 3:00pm at Second Church in Newton.