Cooking up a Baroque Concert

In Rome, if you return home late at night hungry and to an empty refrigerator you go back to the basics. You’ll always have some linguine around, or maybe spaghetti, and using a few basic ingredients everyone always has on hand you can whip up a spectacular aglio olio in a few minutes: pasta with olive oil, salt, and garlic. If you are feeling feisty you can throw in some red pepper flakes or grate a little pecorino cheese on top. Crack open a bottle of red wine and you have a meal fit for a cardinal.  

Here is a recipe from Marcella Hazan, the Italian grandmother I never had.

Of course, my actual grandmothers came from very different backgrounds. Esther Gureasko was steeped in a Russian/Polish Jewish culinary tradition that holds that the longer you cook something the better it is (a strategy I would not advise for pasta or vegetables). On the Chinese side I have only a dim recollection of wolfing down Von Sung’s dumplings in a vast kitchen.

Family meal at the Yang household, circa 1972

Playing baroque music is a kind of going back to the basic ingredients of our art form. The groundwork for rampant chromaticism and atonality, tone poems, symphonies of a thousand, even epic operatic cycles, was laid down well over three hundred years ago. The Baroque era is when classical music coalesced into the art form we recognize today. And the music of the baroque is as sophisticated and profound as anything that followed.

Johann Sebastian Bach
(b. 1685 Eisenach, Germany – d. 1750 Leipzig,  Germany)

The winter concert starts with a favorite of mine by the master himself, J.S. Bach. The Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue is a virtuosic tour-de-force and for that we needed a special keyboard player. I’m delighted we obtained the services of Michael Sponseller whom some of you might recognize from Handel and Haydn Society or Boston Early Music.

Michael Sponseller

For a fascinating performance of the Chromatic Fantasy have a look at this typically idiosyncratic video of Glenn Gould, the legendary Canadian pianist. Pianist’s brains really are wired differently from the rest of us. How can anyone simultaneously play two separate and contrasting lines with each hand? Gould’s hands move independently as if possessed by malignant spirits, the rest of his body merely trailing along helplessly.

After Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy, we head south from Germany to Venice and the music of Vivaldi.

Nurit Pacht, violin

Nurit Pacht is back to lead the full ensemble in “Summer” from the Four Seasons. By December it might be chilly so I hope this provides a warming whiff of nostalgia. Here is a nice reminder of “Summer:”

As we did last year, the winter concert will mix together smaller works with larger pieces. We have a violin sonata by Handel, a cello sonata by Geminiani, and a harpsichord sonata by Scarlatti.

George Frederick Handel
(b. 1685 Halle, Germany – d. 1759 London, England)

Musicians go where the work is and this was as true in the 17th Century as the 21st. Handel was born in Germany and died an international celebrity in London; Scarlatti, born in Naples, passed away in Madrid; his countryman Geminiani died in Ireland. Bach was the exception to the itinerant artist dying a mere 120 miles from his birthplace. But if he lived close to home his whole life, he was not averse to journeying afield when the occasion called for it. In 1705, 20-year-old Johann was determined to see his idol, organist/composer Dietrich Buxtehude, perform live in Lübeck. However, the only way for a young man of Bach’s limited means to get there from Arnstadt was on foot. 250 miles on foot to be precise. So off he went. (He must have had good shoes.)

The final work we are performing is Corelli’s Christmas Concerto ('Fatto per la notte di Natale’).

Arcangelo Corelli
(b. 1653 Fusignano, Italy – d. 1713 Rome, Italy)

Correlli is the father of the concerto grosso, itself the precursor to the modern symphony. Part of what makes this a Christmas work is that it ends with a very beautiful pastorale, a reference to the shepherds of Bethlehem tending their flocks that fateful night a star appeared in the sky.

If I start with food I need to end with food. Here is Alessandra, my younger daughter (and viola player), now 15, in Italy eating struffoli: deep-fried Italian honey balls traditionally served in Naples over the Christmas holidays.

This is the recipe for those who might want to try something a little different for the holidays this year.

See you in December!

David Yang, Artistic Director

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