BWW Review: HANDEL IN HARLEM at Bargemusic - A Weird and Amazing Evening

BWW Review: HANDEL IN HARLEM at Bargemusic - A Weird and Amazing Evening

Bargemusic took me on a quirky, weird journey that shouldn't have worked, but in a bizarre way, absolutely did - and we didn't even leave the dock!

They have a wonderful, wood paneled venue on the water in Dumbo. The intimate space contains a small stage at one end with sparkling views of lower Manhattan as its permanent backdrop. It's the perfect cheap date, because, with all the gentle rocking, you'll spend the entire concert with a buzz - no drinking required.

On this particular evening, Bargemusic's offering had me puzzled. It was either going to be a fascinating evening that would expand my understanding, or it was going to be complete trash. Composer and saxophonist Daniel Schnyder was at the helm of the program, guiding the audience on a hypothetical journey. It was the scaffolding of said journey that initially gave me pause. His assertion was - what if Handel had taken a voyage to Harlem? What would that musical orgy look like?

In theory, the concept was interesting, yet I couldn't help but wonder: was it possible to execute successfully? I can see the parallels between jazz riffs and classical ornamentation, intellectually, but do these concepts work when aurally abutted? I tried my best to be optimistic. I sat in the back before the concert began and enjoyed the quiet lulling of the rocking boat. As I got my bearings, I took in the room and started to notice the trio's instruments: a saxophone, bass trombone, and violin. Huh. How was this going to work?

They started the first piece. I was uncomfortable. And then, as if by magic, became completely entranced. I forgot about the bizarre pairing of instruments with Handel's 16th century compositions, and, in fact, began to prefer the sound of the saxophone. This was a sublime success. The treatment was so respectful to Handel's original work it was shocking. It was like peeking through a window and stumbling onto an epic love making session. Handel and the jazz knew just where to put everything and as soon as one would zig, the other would zag. It was steamy and sweaty and undeniably arousing.

As the evening progressed, Schnyder incorporated jazz riffs where traditional classically ornamented runs should go, marrying the styles in an exacting manner. The union was adept and delicately executed. The ornamentation was genius - it was very clearly jazz and yet so precisely Handel. These arrangements had not been done haphazardly. There was great thought, effort, and expertise infused in this treatment. I was in awe.

By the time we reached the end of the evening, it felt like Handel had returned home. He'd left his hot love affair with jazz, its memory now influencing his artistry instead of playing the same driving role it had earlier. All in all, the performance was a surprising success and I can't wait to return to the venue for more. I wonder if the company has ever considered a scaled down Il Tabarro...could be fun.

Check out Bargemusic's future offerings here.

And be sure to keep an eye on Daniel Schnyder here.

Photo Credit: Anja Tanner

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