Happy Birthday C.P.E. Bach

Tara Bradbury
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Hot Earth Ensemble and friends throw a 300th birthday concert

He may not be quite as famous today as his father, but Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach was a forward-thinking musician with an impressive number of solo, chamber music and symphonic works to his credit and was considered a cutting-edge composer for his time.

The Hot Earth Ensemble are (from left) cellist Nathan Cook, flutist Michelle Cheramy and harpsichordist Mary O’Keeffe. — Photo by Shane Kelly

The Hot Earth Ensemble, with a couple of special guests, will celebrate the 300th anniversary of the younger Bach’s birth with a concert at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (the Kirk) next weekend.

The ensemble, composed of flutist Michelle Cheramy, cellist Nathan Cook and Mary O’Keeffe on harpsichord, was founded in 2007, after the trio noticed a gap in the local music scene. There wasn’t much going on in the way of 17th- and 18th-century music.

Their intention, O’Keeffe told The Telegram at the time, was to introduce local audiences to pre-J.S. Bach music, while not restricting themselves just to early music.

Over the years they have made it a mandate to do at least three concerts a year, and have performed at the Sound Symposium and Cupids 400 celebrations.

For their C.P.E. Bach concert, Hot Earth has invited two guest musicians — one local and one from Montreal.

Hank Knox, a founding member of Montreal’s Arion Baroque Orchestra, will perform harpsichord with the trio while Kate Read, an English native who recently moved back to St. John’s after 10 years living elsewhere and returned to her position as principal violist of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, will also perform.

First guest from away

Knox is the first artist Hot Earth has ever brought in from outside the province.

“We are very happy he was able to do this. It turns out he was on sabbatical and this is the first time he’s been to Newfoundland,” O’Keefe said.

“It means a lot to me, because he was my teacher at McGill. I’m a late bloomer. I started doing harpsichord later in life. I was doing piano before that. I would see him play and I was always impressed. I finally started taking a couple of courses with him and then I decided to go to McGill and study with him properly.

“Not only is he a brilliant player, but he’s also a very good teacher, just like C.P.E. Bach.”

The junior Bach was one of a few of J.S. Bach’s children who took up a role in the musical world. he was also the one with the most successful career — in the late 18th century, he was seen as superior to his father and was often referred to as “The Great Bach.”

A lawyer originally, he was a lover of the clavichord, a string keyboard instrument and precursor of the piano, on which he often composed.

His music was a transition from his father’s, O’Keeffe explained.

“His new style, part of it was extremely expressive music and very beautiful melodies, very expressively played and creating emotion in the listeners,” she said.

“All of a sudden there were big surprises, sudden changes and lots of pauses, and this was not at all done during his father’s time.”

Nonetheless, C.P.E. Bach admired his father, who had been his first teacher, and often used him as an example in his writing, including in “The Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments,” sharing techniques and advice on things like ornamentation and fingering.

He created a more modern style of fingering, O’Keeffe said, which is still used today.

“Since a musician cannot move others unless he, himself, is moved, he must of necessity feel all of the affects that he hopes to arouse in his listeners,” Bach wrote in the essay.

Shared philosophy

Hot Earth strives to live by that philosophy, and O’Keeffe said the concert will contain a number of “shocks to the system” in the form of music.

“It will show off the very expressive side of C.P.E. Bach but it will also show the kind of surprising side,” she said.

“Pieces will start with one theme and change to another. It will be loud, it will be soft, those kinds of things."

During the concert, the members of Hot Earth will perform together and separately with Knox and Read, with solo pieces as well.

The show takes place Sunday, Feb. 2 at

3 p.m. (or, in the case of bad weather, Feb. 3 at 8 p.m.).

Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for seniors and $7 for students, and are available at Home on Water Street and at the door.

More information on Hot Earth Ensemble can be found by visiting www.hotearthensemble.ca.


Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Presbyterian Church, McGill, Arion Baroque Orchestra Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra

Geographic location: Montreal, Newfoundland, Water Street

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