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Five Cities Baroque Festival is back for second season in central Illinois

A group of musicians holding instruments poses for a photo at a performance.
The Five Cities Baroque Festival will perform classical works from the 17th and 18th centuries.

DECATUR- Singers and musicians from across central Illinois are collaborating to celebrate Baroque music this June at the Five Cities Baroque Festival. Performances will be held throughout Champaign and Decatur starting this Sunday, June 16th through Saturday, June 22nd. Morning Edition host Kimberly Schofield spoke with the festival’s founding director, Nate Widelitz, about bringing 17th and 18th century western classical music to the area.

Nate Widelitz: I sort of had the idea, when I arrived here in central Illinois, that although we are fairly far removed from the big cities of America, we do have quite a few talented musicians in this region and if we were to pool the resources of the small cities in our region, we could put together some ensembles that could really rival any that you would find in those major urban centers.

A man poses and smiles at the camera.
Nate Widelitz is the founding director of the Five Cities Baroque Festival. Photo courtesy of Five Cities Baroque website

Kimberly Schofield: What has the reception been like from people in the community?

NW: Well, the response has been really overwhelming. It was something of a leap of faith for me to try to start something like this and I could not possibly have imagined how supportive and how receptive and how enthusiastic the communities of our region have been to this event. In our first year, we got over 400 people to come out to this weekend of music without us having any established reputation whatsoever. Ever since, the community buzz about it has been really positive.

KS: What are we going to see at the festival?

NW: Lillian Gordis, who’s a world renowned harpsichordist, she’s a real rising star in the Baroque world, will be coming to kick off the recital in Champaign. She’s giving an all Bach program centered around the theme of the number six. It sort of serves as a sneak peek recital to an album that she’s going to be releasing soon. The next night, we shift to Decatur, where Alan Held will open his residency at the festival by giving a master class to four early career professional singers. We have a real educational mission in our organization, and this quartet of young artists is one of our attempts to expand our educational offerings here. The following night, four of our established professional singers will be giving a vocal recital, accompanied by harpsichord and cello. The music is mostly by Barbara Strozzi, with a few scattered pieces thrown in there by Claudio Monteverdi. The recital is entitled Barbara Strozzi and her World. It’s an exploration of her music and some contextualizing pieces.

A man poses and smiles at the camera.
Photo courtesy of Five Cities Baroque website

The following night, we are celebrating the overlap of Juneteenth withthe festival. One of our board members, William McClain, happens to be the artistic director of the Millikin Decatur Symphony Orchestra and he has a real interest in jazz music, and he’s also a fantastic Baroque violist. And so he’s going to be giving a lecture recital on the evolution from Baroque music to jazz and the legacy that the Baroque era has left through the work of the Black musical community. That’s going to be on Wednesday night.

The next night, we’re back in Champaign, where Stephen Buzard, a very renowned organist, is going to be giving a recital. Friday night, we are wrapping up our other educational venture for this year, the Five Cities Baroque Youth Academy, with a culminating recital. This will feature our high school-aged musicians who will be spending the week learning from some of our professional artists. They’re going to be giving their final recital. We bring the festival to a very climactic close on Saturday night with a performance of Bach’s St John Passion. It’s the 300th anniversary of this work.

KS: Nate, there may be some listeners who are unfamiliar with Baroque music. What can they hope to gain out of attending this festival?

NW: The music has a few very distinctive characteristics. It is pretty complex at times. It’s very melodramatic, it’s very exciting, and it’s all about the contrast between emotions and colors and tempos and everything else. You’ll expect to hear the highest highs and the lowest lows. The other guiding principle of our organization is accessibility. We really believe that you shouldn’t have to have a lot of money and live in a big city in order to enjoy really great performances of this music. And so thanks to the generosity of so many sponsors and individual supporters, the entire festival is free and open to the public. You can just walk straight in, and we hope that many, many people will do so.

For more information, including a schedule and location of performances, visit fivecitiesbaroque.org.

Picture of Kimberly Schofield

Kimberly Schofield

Kimberly Schofield is the host of Morning Edition and covers arts and entertainment for Illinois Newsroom. When she is not covering the arts, she is performing in plays and musicals or running the streets of CU.

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