Sometimes, one just might have to pinch themselves to realize they are indeed in Montana.
A case in point is the upcoming Musikanten Montana Early Music Festival, “Viva Vivaldi!,” being performed Jan. 16-19 in four Montana cities.
There aren’t many groups in the Rocky Mountain West performing Early Music, which is music written before 1800 and standardized Classical orchestras.
Helena just happens to be home to its own Musikanten Montana choral group that draws Early Music musicians and singers of national caliber to perform here each year.
This year, Musikanten Montana Artistic Director Kerry Krebill chose to celebrate the music of Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi.
They will perform the Venetian master’s popular “Gloria,” and two Psalms for double choir and double orchestra, “Beatus Vir” and “Dixit Dominus.”
A special treat is MEMF concertmaster Carrie Krause playing “Winter” from “The Four Seasons,” from Vivaldi’s famous set of four violin concertos.
For the fifth consecutive year, the ensemble will perform in four Montana cities.
Helena’s concert is 4 p.m. on Sunday Jan. 19, at the Cathedral of St. Helena.
Other concerts include: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, at Holy Rosary in Bozeman; Friday, Jan. 17, Immaculate Conception in Butte; and Saturday, Jan, 18, at St. Francis Xavier in Missoula.
The Musikanten Early Music orchestra features 16 musicians playing period instruments – Baroque oboes, bassoons, natural trumpets, violins, cellos, organs and a bass.
All of the stringed instruments use gut strings, Krebill said, which make a softer sound than modern instruments and all are played at a lower pitch.
“The strings have a totally different sound,” Krebill said. “They are silvery and sweet.
“The whole thing is more intimate.”
Players come from such Early Music hotspots as Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Indianapolis, Seattle and Denver.
Vocal soloists are Kathryn Radakovich and Abigail Chapman (sopranos), Marjorie Bunday (contralto), Daniel Hutchings and Thomas Gregg (tenors), and Rob Tudor and Art Bumgardner (baritones), all specialists in “music before 1800.”
The quality of the performances are “every bit as good as what you would hear in New York,” Krebill said, and she’s never seen these works being performed anywhere in the United States. “It’s really special.
“This is going to be a great treat for everybody -- the audiences, singers and musicians,” said Krebill. “I love the repertoire. This is the only Early Music Festival in Montana that includes both a chorus and an orchestra.”
Concertmaster and violinist Carrie Krause of Bozeman calls this year’s concert, “a show stopper.”
To hear Early Music played on early instruments, she said, “is a very unusual opportunity.”
Krause, who started playing violin at 3 while growing up in Fairbanks, Alaska, didn’t plan to be a professional musician, she said, but found she couldn’t stop playing.
She fell in love with Early Music while a student at Carnegie Mellon University.
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“I didn’t know about this kind of music,” she said, but “I always really loved Bach.”
It was in college that she began playing on historic instruments and in a historically-informed style.
“My violin was made in the 1720s and it’s set up with gut strings,” she said, “which is the main difference in the sound the audience hears.”
She also uses a Baroque bow, she said, “which lets the music get up on its toes and dance.”
Early Music “leaves a lot of decisions up to the performer, about how to make the music come alive,” Krause explained.
The player looks for clues in the scores that would not be obvious to a lot of modern musicians.
“With Baroque music there is so much variety. Some music is very folk-like and dance-like, other music requires you to improvise.
“There’s a great deal of personality and personal investment in it that I really love. “It’s about speaking through your instrument.”
The period in which Early Music was written was a time of wars and plagues, Krause said. “There was a need to hear something beautiful, to hear something sublime -- and that has not changed.”
Vivaldi was basically a rock star of the time, she said. He lived in Venice in the late 1600s and early 1700s and is considered one of the greatest Baroque composers.
In addition to performing Vivaldi’s sacred music, Krause is the soloist for the “Winter” concerto from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”
One of the reasons she loves to play it, she said, is that he wrote very specific pictorial notes into the score, such as “suddenly the ice breaks” or “frozen with your teeth chattering.”
“So, it’s great fun as a violinist to try to realize those natural effects with your violin.”
While many people have likely heard Vivaldi’s “Winter,” she said, “they’ve never heard it this way played on historic instruments.”
“It’s just light and transparent and dancey and so full of energy. It just speaks.
“It’s never been played this way in Montana before.
“It will just sparkle with exuberance.”
Tickets for the Helena Cathedral concert are $35 general admission, $15 Students, or $100 for a family ticket (up to 5 members).
A special section for Musikanten Angels (donors of $100 and above) will be reserved in the front of the Cathedral.
Advance tickets available at Birds & Beasleys or Piccolo’s Music.
Call 442-6825 or visit www.musikantenmt.org for more information or reservations.