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on 01 Jul 2024 3:42 PM

by Richard Duckett
Worcester Telegram & Gazette

Published 5:04 a.m. ET April 12, 2024 Updated 5:04 a.m. ET April 12, 2024

Musicians of the Old Post Road intend to evoke “earthy” musical themes for the final concert of its 35th anniversary season on April 21 at the Worcester Historical Museum.

The Boston area classical music ensemble promises that the concert, titled “Earth: Rustic Classical,” will be "rollicking chamber music with a Bohemian flair for flute and strings." "It's fun. Down-to-earth," said Suzanne Stumpf, Musicians of the Old Post Road co-founder and co-artistic director with her husband, Daniel Ryan, about the program. "It's boisterous. Toe-tapping," said Ryan.

And why not? Musicians of the Old Post Road certainly has a lot to celebrate.


'It's a very large number'

"Thirty-five — it's a very large number," said Stumpf, who also plays the flute/traverso (baroque flute) in the ensemble while Ryan is the cellist. The season has included a big award and standing ovations.

The group specializes in period instrument performances of music from the Baroque, Classical and early Romantic periods. The historic Old Post Road was the primary route for travel and commerce between Boston and New York from the late 1680s through 1849.

But it is the forgotten byways that the ensemble has a particular fondness to explore as it has become well known for its rediscovery of lost musical treasures and their composers.

There will be a number of these to be found in "Earth: Rustic Classical." The program includes an arrangement for flute and strings of Mozart’s famous Rondo “alla Turca” from his Piano Sonata in A Major composed in 1800 by his friend and publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister. A Flute Quartet in G Major by Bohemian composer Adalbert Gyrowetz, also a friend of Mozart, includes a Rondo in the style of a rustic Hungarian dance. At one time Gyrowetz's music was performed throughout Europe, but he died in relative obscurity. Musicians of the Old Post Road first performed a Gyrowetz quartet in Worcester several years ago and received an enthusiastic review, Stumpf said. "We have been wanting to explore more of his quartets." Selected movements from Johann Evangelist Brandl’s Notturno in E-flat Major will highlight his musical expression and lively folkloric forms. Born in Bavaria, Brandl was a violinist, pianist, conductor and composer, known for his beautiful melodies.

The Notturno is a type of serenade very popular in southern Germany, Austria, and Bohemia and written for outdoor concerts held at 11pm at night or later, Stumpf said. The program will also include a Quintet for flute and strings by the little-known Andreas Lidl, an acclaimed player in his day of the viola de gamba and the baryton who was employed by Prince Nicholas at the Esterházy court in Hungary. A set of Hungarian dances reflecting the increased popularity of Hungarian Gypsy and Verbunkos styles in the early 19th century will round out the performance.

Besides Stumpf and Ryan, the musicians will be violinist and violist Sarah Darling, violinist Jesse Irons, and violist Marcia Cassidy.

Down to 'Earth'

The 35th anniversary season has been titled "Elements" and has explored little-known and rarely-performed works through the lens of the four Classical elements: water, air, fire, and earth for four concerts. The season began in October with "Water: Cascading Baroque Passion" with performances in Sudbury and Boston. "Air: Heavenly Baroque Christmas" came to First Unitarian Church of Worcester and Church of the Covent in Boston in December. "Fire" Blazing Italian Baroque" had concerts in First Parish, Wayland, and Old South Church, Boston, in March. "Earth: Rustic Classical" will also be performed April 19 in Old South Church.

"It's been going very well," Stumpf said of the season. "Our last concerts in March received multiple standing ovations," Ryan noted.

Musicians of the Old Post Road will have a 35th Anniversary Gala May 14 at The Nathaniel Allen House in Newton with emcee Laura Carlo of WCRB.
The ensemble's eight CD, "Into The Light: Unearthed Treasures by Christoph Graupner," will be released this summer.

Graupner (1683-1760), a German composer and harpsichordist who had descended into obscurity until relatively recently is now receiving attention thanks to Stumpf and Ryan's meticulous research and concert showcasing. "We've been championing his works," Stumpf said. The group has performed Graupner's works at several concerts, including at the Worcester Historical Museum in 2023. Last November, Stumpf and Ryan received the prestigious 2023 Noah Greenberg Award from the American Musicological Society at its annual conference in Denver. Their work to bring attention to Graupner was cited as the
impetus for the award.

Ryan has said there are still likely plenty of musical gems waiting to be explored and rediscovered. The work has been made a little easier in recent years by museums posting musical scores online, he said.

'We think it's here to stay'

Musicians of the Old Post Road first came to Worcester to perform on Sept. 24, 1989, at the Salisbury Mansion with a program titled "Music of the Bach Family." Since then they have visited Worcester continuously, usually presenting two concerts a year.

One of those was at Salisbury Mansion annually in the early years, and then the ensemble moved those concerts to the Worcester Historical Museum (which owns Salisbury Mansion) to accommodate the demand for larger audiences, Stumpf said.

For the 2020-21 season the pandemic saw the group presenting pre-recorded concerts with live Zoom receptions and a concert live-streamed but with no in-person audience. As it resumed live in-person concerts, live-streaming remained an option for audiences.

All the programs this season have been available online. The April 19 performance of "Earth: Rustic Classical” will be live-streamed and also can be viewed later.

Ryan said the virtual performances are very appreciated by Musicians of Old Post Road followers who have moved out of the area, and also draws in new viewers from out of the area who might not otherwise catch one of the ensemble's concerts. "We think it's here to stay. It seems to be a service that people like and enables us to stay in touch," said Stumpf. By the same token, "It does seem like more people are coming back to live attendance," she
said of the post pandemic picture.

As for whether young people are viewing online or filling seats, Stumpf said "it's always a concern of ours. I'd say we're making a little bit of progress. We seem to be drawing more college students." Ryan said that there are several lower ticket price inducements for younger audiences, including $35 tickets for people under 35 (general admission tickets are $55). The group also does outreach to local schools, including regular visits to Hudson High School.
"The students are vey responsive and that encourages us to keep with this work," Stumpf said.

Musicians of the Old Post Road is already planning its 36th season, she said. The title will be "Flights of Fancy."

Earth: Rustic Classical — Musicians of the Old Post Road

When: 4 p.m. April 21
Where: Worcester Historical Museum, 30 Elm St., Worcester (And April 19 at Old South
Church, Boston, and online)
How much: $55 general admission; seniors, $50; under 35, $35; children 17 and under
with adult, free. Virtual single ticket, $35; virtual family ticket, $70; virtual student ticket,