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With over 375 concerts of works by over 70 composers, 35 premieres, a dozen albums as the only American baroque orchestra on the European label Chandos, five international tours, and millions of broadcast listeners, Tempesta di Mare has plenty to celebrate for its 20th anniversary. With a robust catalog and reputation, it’s hard to imagine that Philadelphia’s acclaimed baroque orchestra began so modestly.
The baroque music you’ve never heard
Gwyn Roberts (recorder and baroque flute) and Richard Stone (lute) met in 1990 playing a recital of early music as freelancers with multiple gigs in regional groups. But in 1995, Roberts was approached by an audio engineer seeking projects for a new label. Roberts and Stone (who married in 1994) suggested the recorder sonatas of Francesco Maria Veracini, recorded at a friend’s church in the middle of a blizzard. Later, as the album’s program book was going to print, the label asked for the name of their group—something they hadn’t considered. Stone suggested “Tempesta di Mare (Storm at Sea),” the title of a Vivaldi concerto that evoked the drama and imagery they found in baroque music. The name struck a chord, and in 2002, the ensemble was formed.
Roberts and Stone aimed to discover and present works from lesser-known corners of the baroque that were “dramatic, depictive, and narrative” (Roberts) and “music we hadn’t heard already” (Stone). There was (and still is) a belief that 16th and 17th-century compositions come from a universe fixed in style and repertoire. But the duo believed otherwise, and from the beginning, they worked to uncover forgotten or neglected compositions and bring new ideas to illuminate the music and its era. Stone, who transcribes and arranges their discoveries, says: “Music of the baroque is about the underlying aesthetic that instrumental music can speak.”
Building a legacy
One of the group’s early challenges was building a structure to support the complex mechanism of an orchestra, especially one playing without a conductor (the baroque-era practice). Ulrike Shapiro, a singer and German diction coach, has been executive director since 2006 and helped build that structure. Shapiro says that, though specifically American in style and energy, Tempesta is built on the Dresden model of a baroque orchestra: each musician a specialist playing only one instrument. Year by year, Tempesta continued to explore, concertize, and build a reputation. Now, they find themselves with 20 years of expertise and repertoire.
Over its two decades, Tempesta has been no stranger to touring, but this year’s trip was highly anticipated for several reasons. After their acclaimed 2017 Telemann 360 “rediscovery” performance project, Tempesta was asked to appear at the March 2020 Telemann Festival in Magdeburg, a venerable German chamber music destination that had never before invited a non-European ensemble. Of course, Tempesta’s appearance at the festival was canceled due to the pandemic. But Roberts, Stone, and Shapiro worked diligently in the ensuing months to keep musicians working and ready for a festival return, and the invitation was re-extended for March 2022.
Heard all over the world
In March, the ensemble played concerts in five German locales: first in Leipzig (at Thomaskirche, J.S. Bach’s church), then in Berlin, Köthen Castle, Dresden, and culminating at the Telemann Festival in Magdeburg with Klangfarben (Sound Colors). There were works by J.S. Bach, Vivaldi, Rebel, and Couperin, among others. But the performance focus was on large-scale works by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) and Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758), featuring some works composed specifically for the Dresden Court and heard here for the first time in Europe since the 18th century.
Tempesta also broke into small chamber groups for educational outings, including a particularly moving concert at a Ukrainian refugee camp in Magdeburg. A special tour highlight was a visit to Dresden’s Saxon State and University Library, where the musicians were able to see and study the original 300-year-old scores of the music they were performing. As the tour concluded, Shapiro felt a sense of “organizational triumph,” while Roberts and Stone expressed “delight, joy in our colleagues, and relief.”
Tempesta’s concert in Dresden—a city twice affected by war, in 1760 and World War II—was at historic Dreikönigskirche (Three Kings Church), one of the city’s cultural monuments. Filmed live, the performance anchors On Tour from Dresden and is streaming online from April 20 through May 19. As well as the March 25 concert, the full-length film features a look at the Dresden library’s archive, interstitials, views of the city, and a look back at some Tempesta firsts.
Tempesta’s 20th anniversary season began in October 2021 and is still underway. It will conclude with Season XX: Orchestra, featuring composers and works that the group has introduced to American audiences. Like many of this year’s concerts, it will be presented live (May 21 and 22) and streaming (June 20-July 19). There are still discoveries to be made, and Tempesta continues to make them. In its vivid concerts, the ensemble finds that there is still so much new in the old—and presenting it freshly has become both their signature and their bedrock.
What, When, Where
On Tour from Dresden. Directed by Gwyn Roberts and Richard Stone. Streaming on-demand through May 19, 2022. $5-$29. (215) 755-8776 or tempestadimare.org.
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