Monica Huggett knows that some people might view her passion for Baroque music as nothing but an intellectual pursuit. After all, Huggett hails from the American hub of musical academia: the Juillard School, the New York music conservatory where she serves as artistic director and founder of the historical performance program.
But the way she sees it, these old tunes aren’t just elevator-music for the ivory tower; they’re a wide-open gateway to human emotions.
“Sometimes I suspect people might think that those of us doing early music are just a bunch of nerds and musicologists,” said Huggett in a telephone interview early this week. “But we only play these old instruments because we think they make the music more exciting. You know, classical instruments have become more and more homogenous and similar over the centuries, so that a symphony orchestra sounds like one big instrument. But on old instruments, you hear these different colors that are so much more vivid and individualistic. It’s really a great way to sort of rediscover the beauty of music.”
Plenty of people around this region know exactly what Huggett means. For the past seven years, she has been a featured fixture at the Montana Baroque Music Festival, a three-day event held on the lawn of Quinn’s Hot Springs in Paradise.
Next Thursday, Huggett will visit Missoula together with harpsichordist James Johnstone and violist Emilia Benjamin for a concert at the University Congregational Church. Collectively known as Trio Sonnerie, the group will perform a program of Baroque chamber music that samples widely from the diverse musical cultures and musical voices of the 17th and 18th centuries.
That music ranges from the elegantly refined strains of French composer Marin Marais’ “La Marésienne,” to the “dry melancholy” of Englishman John Jenkins’ Fantasy in D Minor, to the virtuoso splash of Austrian composer Heinrich Ignaz Biber’s “The Assumption of the Virgin.”
Huggett, who will perform on two different ancient violins, said that the program intentionally aims to provide a glimpse into the diversity of music found within the broad historical categorization of “Baroque.”
“We designed the program to give it a bit of an overview of Baroque music, from just before the middle of the 17th century right through Bach,” she said. “I think it will really help put this music into context and show the diversity and beauty that existed in music at the time.”
Although the classical music world has become crowded in recent years by Baroque specialists, Huggett and her Trio Sonnerie nonetheless stand out. Before she helped found Juillard’s program, the British-born violinist was known across Europe and in America as one of the most respected groundbreakers in the so-called “period-performance” movement, whereby musicians aimed to perform old music in the same way and on the same instruments as it was originally presented.
Huggett was co-founder, with Ton Koopman, of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, and a founding member, with Christopher Hogwood, of the Academy of Ancient Music – both of which ensembles have garnered international recognition. In addition to her academic duties, she currently serves as artistic director of the Irish Baroque Orchestra and the Portland Baroque Orchestra. She has also toured the United States with famed flutist James Galway.
Trio Sonnerie was formed in 1982, and went on to perform and record internationally. Over time, the group grew from a chamber ensemble to a small orchestra. In 2009, the orchestra’s recording of Bach’s “Orchestral Suites for a Young Prince” was nominated for a Grammy Award.
But recently, Huggett decided to revisit the small-scale music that got the trio started those 19 years ago. She enlisted longtime collaborators Benjamin and Johnstone; and together they’ve been touring Europe and the U.S., performing programs at major concert-halls on both sides of the Atlantic – and, now, in Missoula.
Here’s a recording of the trio of a piece that they won’t perform, but which should give a sense of their skill and beauty:
….And here’s an actual video of Huggett, though not with the trio, performing a Vivaldi concerto…
The local stop serves as a reflection of Huggett’s love for this place that she discovered quite by happenstance years ago, while biking across America.
And it will also serve as a rare opportunity for the Missoula audience to immerse itself in a type of musical performance that is rarely heard around here, yet instantly appealing.
“I think what ultimately attracts people to this music is that it has a very direct connection with the senses,” said Huggett. “It’s a very immediate experience when you’re in the concert hall. It transports you.”
Trio Sonnerie, featuring Monica Huggett, Emilia Benjamin, and James Johnstone, will present a concert of Baroque music at the University Congregational Church on Thursday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m. A donation of $25 is suggested. The performance is sponsored by the Alex Morrison Family and the Sanders County Arts Council.