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San Francisco Early Music Society to Present Quicksilver, 2/28-3/2

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San Francisco Early Music Society to Present Quicksilver, 2/28-3/2

The San Francisco Early Music Society will present the West Coast debut of one of America's most acclaimed new chamber groups, Quicksilver. The New York Times calls Quicksilver "rock stars within the early music-scene". Early Music America describes their playing as "drop dead gorgeous". And the Huffington Postnames their 2011 recording, Stile Moderno: New Music from the Seventeenth Century, its "Breakthrough Album of the Year". The weekend of February 28 to March 2, Quicksilver performs a program titled The Early Moderns, exploring the strange and extravagant trio sonatas and related music from seventeenth-century Italy and Germany.

Quicksilver is co-directed by violinists Robert Mealy and Julie Andrijeski, with Greg Ingles, trombone; Dominic Teresi, dulcian; David Morris, cello and viola da gamba; Charles Weaver, theorbo and guitar; and Avi Stein, organ and harpsichord. Since it formed in 2009, the group has established itself as an authority on the revolutionary new music and musical forms that developed during the first two generations of the baroque era.

Among the most influential musical inventions of the period was the sonata: a pure instrumental work, a piece simply meant to be "sounded," with no agenda but the imagination of the composer, and no standard form other than the passionate give-and-take of friends in conversation. Quicksilver's program includes sonatas by Italians Dario Castello (fl. early 17c), Giovanni Battista Fontana (d. 1630) and Biagio Marini (d. 1665), and Germans Johann Kaspar Kerll (d.1693) and Matthias Weckmann (d.1674).

Often marked by abrupt transitions, passionate harmonies and quirky dance rhythms, the early sonata's theatricality was canonized in theory texts as the stylus fantasticus. Italians like Massimiliano Neri (d.1670) and Antonio Bertali (d.1669), fleeing the wars in their homeland, helped to popularize the sonata in Vienna before it caught fire across the Holy Roman Empire. Matthias Weckmann, who served as the director of music at the Jacobikirche in Hamburg, was one of North Germany's great exponents of the form.

Quicksilver's program also features an example of the canzona by Johann Vierdanck (1605-1646), one of Heinrich Schütz's most talented students. The canzona was a late Renaissance form that preceded the sonata, and Vierdanck uses syncopated dance rhythms to create a festive atmosphere.

Quicksilver will perform three concerts, one each in Palo Alto, Berkeley and San Francisco. On Friday and Saturday, Avi Stein will perform Kerll's famous Passacaglia. On Sunday's concert in San Francisco, he will take advantage of St. Mark's splendid organ to perform instead a prelude by Buxtehude's student Nicolaus Bruhns (d.1697), who was famous in his time for playing the violin while accompanying himself on the pedals of the organ. Marked by abrupt discontinuities and unexpected turns of phrase, Bruhns' Præludium in G exemplifies the stylus fantasticus.

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