By Stephen Wilson

A beautiful summer night at an amazing beachside location seems perfect for conversation, music, and dancing … to 17th-century country music.

La Fiocco, a late Renaissance and early Baroque ensemble that plays on period instruments, performed its first live show in 18 months at the renowned Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, N.J.

Ensemble founder and artistic director Lewis Baratz said it was an emotional moment for the musicians to be able to gather, socialize, and play together.

While La Fiocco has had over 60 instrumentalists and singers at their performances since its founding in 2010, Jorge Torres joined the group for the second time on this night.

With Torres on lute and baroque guitar, the 17th-century ancestor of the modern guitar, and Baratz on recorder, mountain dulcimer, tabor pipe (type of Irish tin whistle), bodhrán (Irish frame drum), and harpsichord, the ensemble took the audience on a journey of England from the time of King James I (r. 1603-1625), to London around 1700, to Colonial America.

“After the  English Civil, the surviving aristocrats fled London for their country homes, where the Cromwellian regime encouraged them to partake in music, social dancing, domestic endeavors, and to stay out of politics,” says Baratz, instructor of harpsichord and interim director of the Marquis Consort at Lafayette.

More than 1,000 of the dance tunes survive, and La Fiocco indulged the audience in several plus some original arrangements by Baratz, keeping in mind the diversity of instruments available then and that the dances themselves were for small groups and would have been led by a caller, an early form of what became square dancing.

The audience listened attentively, appreciating the pieces, instruments, and cultural moment during the pandemic. 

While the group typically plays three concert weekends a year, COVID-19 drastically altered their professional lives.

Performing in a 6,000-seat venue with world-class acoustics was a great way to reemerge.

“This music is alive and vibrant, created in a time of tremendous passion and emotion, and deserves to live outside the museum and library,” says Baratz. “Period instruments bring a crispness to the sound that is often unheard in modern instruments that are designed to carry sound through a concert hall.”

La Fiocco’s next concert, which is planned for Dec. 19 in Solebury, Pa., will celebrate the holiday season, with director Baratz, Torres, and Linda Kistler, Lafayette College’s violin professor, on baroque violin, along with Abigail Chapman, soprano, Nadir Aslam, baroque violin, and Donna Fournier, baroque cello.  


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