Available to watch on-demand until April 27 at 4:30pm EST.
Flutist Emi Ferguson (“wonderful,” The New York Times; “irresistibly vital,” Portland Press Herald) is joined by the continuo band Ruckus in a wild technicolor romp through some of Bach’s most playful and transcendent works reimagined and realized for 21st-century fans of 18th-century performance practice. Having earned widespread critical acclaim for its fresh, visceral approach to early music, Ruckus’ core members form the baroque equivalent of a rhythm section: guitars, keyboards, cello, bassoon, and bass. The ensemble aims to fuse the early-music movement’s questing, creative spirit with the grit, groove and jangle of American roots music, creating a unique sound of “rough-edged intensity” (The New Yorker).
Immediately following the concert, there will be a Q&A with members of Ruckus and Emi Ferguson, with an opportunity for the audience at home to ask questions; moderated by Caramoor’s Artistic Director, Kathy Schuman.
Emi Ferguson, baroque flute
Clay Zeller-Townson, baroque bassoon
Coleman Itzkoff, baroque cello
Doug Balliett, baroque bass
Paul Holmes Morton, baroque guitar, banjo
Adam Cockerham, theorbo
Elliot Figg, harpsichord, organ
FLY THE COOP!
Bach / Sonatas and Preludes
These works were not created equally. They represent three distinct stages of J.S. Bach’s life, and each inhabits their own stylistic world. We’ve responded accordingly.
Johann Sebastian Bach, realized and reimagined by Emi Ferguson and RUCKUS /
The Craftsman, BWV 1034 (ca. 1724)
Prelude in G Major, after BWV 884
Sonata for Flute and Continuo in E Minor, BWV 1034
Prelude in E Minor, after BWV 884
Sonata for Flute and Continuo in E Minor, BWV 1034
The Teacher, BWV 1033 (ca.1721/1731)
Prelude “in G Minor,” after BWV 847
Sonata for Flute and Continuo in C Major, BWV 1033
Prelude in C Minor, BWV 999
Sonata for Flute and Continuo in C Major, BWV 1033
The Eccentric, BWV 1035 (ca. 1741)
Sonata for Flute and Continuo in E Major, BWV 1035
Prelude in E Major, after BWV 815a
About the Music.
The transverse flute underwent a major redevelopment in the 1680’s thanks to musicians in the court of Louis XIV. While it became hugely popular in French aristocratic circles due to its sweet and pleasant tone and the ability to play both soft and loud dynamics, it took several decades for the instrument to develop widespread use across Europe.
Bach was well into his 30s before he was introduced to the flute by the visiting French flute virtuoso Pierre- Gabriel Buffardin. This meeting is widely believed to have inspired Bach’s first composition featuring the flute, his Brandenburg Concerto no.5, (perhaps intended for Bach and Buffardin to play together) followed shortly thereafter by his Partita for unaccompanied flute. While most of Bach’s secular instrumental chamber music was written between 1717-1723 during his time in Cöthen, he wrote six* sonatas for the flute over the course of his adult life in Leipzig in addition to featuring the instrument in other chamber music works and many sacred cantatas. *The exact number of sonatas Bach wrote for the flute is hotly contested with many scholars disagreeing on the authenticity of BWV 1020, 1031, and 1033. While we may never know how many sonatas he wrote for the instrument, what we can agree upon is that hearing the instrument for the first time around 1720 inspired Bach to write secular chamber music for the flute for the rest of his life.
Bach’s three flute and continuo sonatas, BWV 1033, 1034, and 1035, distill his most wonderful musical qualities down to just a two-line texture: treble (flute) and bass. While the flute part is obbligato (the composer writes out all the notes they want performed), the bass part is a continuo line, an open-ended accompaniment part used in 17th- and 18th-century music consisting of a bass line melody along with numbers that indicate chords, similar to the chord changes that jazz musicians use, allowing performers to contribute unique improvised performances. Many composers, including Bach, understood that a composition was not complete until the performers had added their own interpretation to the piece. The use of continuo in a composition is an open-ended invitation from composers that allows ensembles the freedom to orchestrate, to shrink and grow from one person (most often keyboard or cello or guitar) to large groups of a variety of bass instruments like Ruckus. The epic forces of Ruckus –baroque bassoon, cello, viola da gamba, theorbos, baroque guitars, baroque bass, harpsichord, and organ – give a wonderful array of possibilities that allow us to explode Bach’s bass line into a rainbow of colors.
The three sonatas, and their accompanying preludes (arranged by Emi and Ruckus) each inhabit their own artistic world and represent three distinct stages and aspects of J.S. Bach’s life.
Bach’s E Minor Sonata, BWV 1034, written in 1724, is musical architecture at its most grand. Possibly written during his early Leipzig years (during which he also composed over 60 cantatas) this sonata has the weight of his larger musical sermons, and its technical sophistication shows Caramoor the hand of a seasoned craftsman. The first movement, Adagio ma non troppo, features a constant push and pull between the treble and bass, reminiscent of Sisyphus and the rock, that unfolds into a tour de force Allegro of the second movement that features running 16th notes that do not let up until the ecstasy of the third movement arrives. This Andante is one of Bach’s most sublime, simple, and beautiful movements, and the perfect respite from the intensity of the other three movements of the sonata – a welcome break before the roar of the fourth movement Allegro that features all of Ruckus at their most intense.
At the other end of the timeline, written in 1741, is the E Major Sonata, BWV 1035. It is sensual, simple in form, and perfumed with luxurious harmony. There’s a galant breeziness throughout, yet the harmonic twists and melodic interplay between flute and bass reveal Bach’s love for thorny, contrapuntal music. A delicate Adagio ma non troppo, the yin to the yang of the BWV 1034 movement of the same name, is followed by a bawdy Allegro. The third movement Siciliano features Bach’s original melodic interplay between flute and cello/ bassoon with a newly added bass line, unique to Fly the Coop, providing a rhythmic groove alongside dueling baroque guitars and fantastical harpsichord – a true Baroque rhythm section that takes the listener to an exotic land of unusual sights and sounds. This raucous nighttime music is followed by the morning light haze of the fourth movement Allegro assai that brings the sonata to a gentle conclusion.
Falling somewhere in between the poles of the E Minor and E Major sonatas is the lightly more anachronistic C Major Sonata, BWV 1033. Open-hearted, inviting, full of grace and generosity, this sonata features an unusually simple continuo line that may have been composed by a young C.P.E. Bach as part of his studies (possibly 1731) in response to an existing solo flute work by his father (possibly 1721). This unique
compositional process invited us to experiment. Using C.P.E.’s bass line as a springboard, we interwove other music by Bach, rewrote bass lines, and added newly composed material.
The opening Andante is full of warm, almost romantic chord progressions that unfold into a Presto featuring a single pedal bass note with the flute dancing merrily above. The second movement of the C Major sonata bears uncanny similarities to the sixth
variation from the Goldberg Variations, and so, we felt that a mashup-of the two would show (in addition to our keyboard prelude arrangements) how Bach used material and instruments interchangeably and repeatedly throughout his career. We start our mash-up with the A section of the flute sonata, transitioning to the Goldberg sixth variation at the beginning of the B section, then returning to the flute sonata for the final B to round things out and get us back home to C Major. A newly composed bass line,
based on the octave-jumping left hand of the Goldberg variation six, accompanies the flute throughout, with CPE Bach’s original bass line now found several octaves higher in the baroque guitar – a playful homage. The third movement, Adagio, is a true aria in A minor, with the flute soaring above an intense and powerful bass line that mines the depths of the instruments on hand. Ending things are two spirited and joyful Menuetts, the first a more traditional dance, with the second borrowing its accent from French dances.
These sonatas are often introduced to flute players at a young age and while they are beloved standards in the repertoire, they continue to challenge and inspire with their capacity for individual interpretation. The way that we share them today is by no means the only way to play these pieces, and is certainly a unique take on them, but we think our interpretation shows and augments all the characters and colors that these sonatas are naturally imbued with, turning them into true ensemble pieces.
The album, Fly the Coop: Bach Sonatas and Preludes, was recorded in idyllic southern Vermont where we convened to live, work, rehearse, and record together in July of 2018. All of us involved with the album have been close friends and collaborators for many years, and so the evolution and creation of Fly the Coop was one that felt very natural and organic both interpersonally, and musically. Rehearsing for long days in a beautiful old barn with views of the Green Mountains was wonderful inspiration for us as we experimented with ways we could bring these pieces to life together. All of the instruments and techniques used in todays performance are learned from historical treatises and practices, yet we are distinctly aware of the fact that we are influenced by the centuries between our time and Bach’s. It was natural for some of these influences to sneak into our interpretations of these sonatas, in the same way that Bach himself was influenced by the music of his own time. It is our own attempt to take it out of the museum, and breathe life into them from a historically informed, yet personal and contemporary perspective.
Peppered throughout the program are our arrangements of iconic and obscure keyboard works by Bach, movements from the Well-Tempered Klavier, addenda from his French Suites, and early drafts of pieces found in the Anna Magdalena and Wilhelm Friedrich notebooks. Bach’s love of family and friends is evident in his writing, and our arrangements of these keyboard works are our love letter and homage to the sense of community imbued in his writing and work.
– Emi Ferguson and Clay Zeller-Townson
For more information, and to purchase or stream the album, please visit flythecoopbach.com.
Our debut album, a collaboration with flutist Emi Ferguson, is a joyous, kaleidoscopic romp through some of Bach’s most playful and transcendent works. The album features new arrangements of Bach’s Flute Sonatas and Keyboard Preludes, orchestrated for baroque flute and the forces of Ruckus that include theorbos, baroque guitars, baroque bassoon, cello, viola da gamba, harpsichord, organ, bass, and the occasional banjo. We explode Bach’s bass lines into a rainbow of textures and colors, continually shifting like light over the landscape as Ferguson’s flute lines dance above. Contrasting the three flute sonatas on the album are new arrangements of a variety of Bach’s keyboard preludes, with selections ranging from the beloved Well Tempered Clavier, to alternate movements from keyboard suites that are rarely performed.
Ruckus is a baroque band with a fresh, visceral approach to early music. The ensemble’s debut earned widespread critical acclaim: “achingly delicate one moment, incisive and punchy the next” (The New York Times), “superb” (Opera News). Ruckus’ core members form a continuo group, the baroque equivalent of a rhythm section: guitars, keyboards, cello, bassoon and bass. The ensemble aims to fuse the early-music movement’s questing, creative spirit with the grit, groove and jangle of American roots music, creating a unique sound of “rough-edged intensity” (The New Yorker).
Ruckus’ first album, an acclaimed collaboration with Emi Ferguson of Bach Sonatas and Preludes, debuted at #2 on the Billboard Charts. Through an annual residency in Stamford, Vermont, Ruckus is continually developing new programs. Current programs in development include Holy Manna, a revisionary look at American Hymnody through Shape-Note Music, and a recital featuring Davóne Tines.
Hailed by critics for her “tonal bloom” and “hauntingly beautiful performances,” English-American performer and composer Emi Ferguson stretches the boundaries of what is expected of modern-day musicians. Emi’s unique approach to the flute can be heard in performances that alternate between the Silver Flute, Historical Flutes, and Auxilary Flutes, playing repertoire that stretches from the Renaissance to today.
Emi can be heard live in concerts and festivals around the world as a soloist and with groups including AMOC*, the New York New Music Ensemble, the Handel and Haydn Society, and the Manhattan Chamber Players. She has spoken and performed at several TEDx events and has been featured on media outlets including The Discovery Channel, Vox’s “Explained” series on Netflix, Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Juilliard Digital’s TouchPress apps talking about how music relates to our world today. Her debut album, Amour Cruel, an indie-pop song cycle inspired by the music of the 17th-century French court was released by Arezzo Music in September 2017, spending 4 weeks on the Classical, Classical Crossover, and World Music Billboard Charts. Her 2019 album Fly the Coop: Bach Sonatas and Preludes, a collaboration with continuo band Ruckus debuted at #1 on the iTunes classical charts and #2 on the Billboard classical charts and was called “blindingly impressive…a fizzing, daring display of personality and imagination” by The New York Times. In addition to her solo recordings, Emi has also been featured on recordings for New Focus Records, Old Focus Records, Cantaloupe Music, National Sawdust Tracks, Brontosaurus Records, Coro, and MSR Classics.
Emi was a featured performer alongside Yo-Yo Ma, Paul Simon, and James Taylor at the 10th Anniversary Memorial Ceremony of 9/11 at Ground Zero, where her performance of Amazing Grace was televised worldwide. Her performance that day is now part of the permanent collection at the 911 Museum.
Emi is passionate about developing new music and has premiered works by many of today’s leading composers. Emi has been a featured performer at the Marlboro Music, Lake Champlain, and Lucerne Festivals, Portland Bach Festival, Bach Virtuosi Festival, June in Buffalo, Twickenham Fest, and Chamberfest Dubuque, and has performed and taught with Juilliard Global in Brazil, pianoSonoma in California, Juilliard Baroque in Germany, and Les Arts Florissants in France and has been featured as a soloist and ambassador for Elliott Carter’s music in China and Japan.
As a historical Flutist, in addition to her appointment as Principal Flute of the Handel and Haydn Society, Emi is thrilled to be a frequent guest artist with period ensembles including Tafelmusik. She can also be heard with period instrument groups including Voices of Music, the American Classical Orchestra, and Trinity Baroque Orchestra. She was the only flutist accepted to Juilliard’s inaugural Historical Performance class, and has performed alongside William Christie and Les Arts Florrisants, and with Christophe Hammer, Massaki Suzuki, Christopher Hogwood, and Nicholas McGegan.
Emi is currently on the faculty of the Juilliard School teaching Ear Training, the Bach Virtuosi Festival, and has taught on the faculty of the University of Buffalo. Emi was the first person to have graduated from Juilliard with Undergraduate and Graduate degrees with Scholastic Distinction in flute performance, as well as a second Graduate degree in Historical Performance as a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow.
Her principal teachers have been Carol Wincenc, Sandra Miller, Robert Langevin, and Judy Grant. Born in Japan and raised in London and Boston, she now resides in New York City.
“Wit, panache, and the jubilant, virtuosic verve of a bebop-Baroque jam session electrified and illuminated previously candle-lit edifices as Ruckus and friends raised the roof, and my mind’s eye will never see those structures in quite the same light again.”– Boston Music Intelligencer
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