Something old, something new. Something borrowed. Something ...? No, it's not a wedding and they're not playing the blues. The Aulos Ensemble, which made a splash at Staller Center a few seasons back with Handel's "Water Music," returns with an all-Bach weekend, starring each of Johann Sebastian's six Brandenburg Concertos.
Playing all six Brandenburgs is rare enough that this concert marks the first time Aulos, five musicians from Juilliard's class of '73, have performed them together. The concerts - and Sunday nights, plus a family matinee - will be performed using period instruments. This was unusual when the ensemble formed, but has become de rigueur since the mid-'80s, when CDs created demand from discriminating classical music audiences.
Bach and the instruments are the old part. What's new is the spate of recordings the Internet has made possible for groups like Aulos, enjoying a fine reputation with a niche audience. The guest artists, including student musicians of the Stony Brook Baroque Players, are borrowed.
THREE'S COMPANY "Doing all six concertos in one night is a bit of overload," says Marc Schachtman, who plays Baroque oboe for Aulos. "And we wanted to take advantage of all the Stony Brook harpsichord students." Tomorrow's program of Brandenburg Concertos 3, 5 and 1 will be supplemented by Bach's Concertos for Multiple Harpsichords. Sunday's lineup - Brandenburgs 6, 4 and 2 - will include probably a first for many who attend: four harpsichords playing another Bach piece for the precursor to the piano.
Besides Schachtman, Aulos musicians include Christopher Krueger, flauto traverso and recorder; Linda Quan, Baroque violin and viola; Myron Lutzke, Baroque cello, and Arthur Haas, harpsichord.
WHY PERIOD? "We don't pretend to play the music as Bach heard it," says Schachtman, "any more than we play Beethoven as he might have heard it - especially since Beethoven was deaf much of his life." With just two keys, the oboe of Bach's time may be the most visually distinctive period instrument. Today's oboe is covered with keys from top to bottom. "The sound was different with these instruments," says Schachtman, "built for an intimate setting. When music commanded larger audiences, instrument makers felt the need to strengthen them. Violins had to be beefed up to support increased tension of the strings, sacrificing a certain vitality." To accommodate the softer sound, the Aulos concert is in the acoustically rich Recital Hall.
PAPA BACH Celebrating the man as well as the musician, "An Afternoon With the Bach Family" concert Sunday reminds us that J.S. was a dad. Indeed, he fathered 20 children; several who survived were composers. "Since there were no recordings, the only way to hear music was to play it. So Bach created an instructional notebook. We'll play selections from that," says Schachtman, "and music by his children."
WHAT Aulos Ensemble's all-Bach weekend
WHEN | WHERE Three Brandenburg concertos Saturday night at 8; remaining three Sunday night at 7; family concert Sunday, 3 p.m. at the Staller Center Recital Hall, Stony Brook University
INFO $42 for two evening concerts, $12 for family matinee; stallercenter.com, 631-632-2787