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Beyond the Baroque

Inspired by her research on the period’s music, flutist Jennifer Grim created a first-of-its-kind festival for UNLV and the community.

Arts & Culture  |  Mar 28, 2017  |  By Kristen Peterson
Jonathan Rhodes Lee and Jennifer Grim perform

Harpsichordist Jonathan Rhodes Lee and music professor Jennifer Grim are planning the Las Vegas Baroque Festival April 18-23.

Driven by a curiosity innate to researchers and artists, Jennifer Grim recently — and happily — found herself at the edge of a new realm within her discipline. Although an accomplished soloist and ensemble performer with several accolades under her belt, the flutist and UNLV associate professor of music had one specialty she’d yet to take on: the traverso, or baroque flute.

With a sound softer and darker than contemporary flutes produce, this wooden keyless instrument was played during the time baroque music was written and provides an authenticity that takes today’s listeners back centuries.

Baroque Times

From 1600 to 1750, baroque composers tapped into the Greco-Romans concept that music could communicate directly and powerfully to the senses. The baroque era gave birth to opera, new instruments, and highly emotional works. Cantatas, concertos, and sonatas became part of the musical landscape. Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel composed their way into history. Harmony came to the fore, and performances that once only triumphed in churches and aristocratic halls reached the public realm.

Grim set out to study baroque music and the traverso with some of the world’s top baroque flutists, using an $18,000 Faculty Opportunity Award (FOA) she received in 2015 from the UNLV Division of Research and Economic Development to assist in her quest. Never before had she applied for funding of the magnitude she received or immersed herself so deeply in the baroque experience.

The opportunity not only influenced Grim’s approach to baroque, whether playing on traverso or contemporary flute; it allowed her to quench her thirst for new knowledge once again.

“After teaching for a decade, I had an entire six months to become a student,” she recalls, “and use that knowledge toward teaching, taking in what I learned from [others’] teaching styles.”

Traversing with the Traverso

The intense immersion in 17th and 18th century music took Grim to cities on both coasts and beyond. She traveled to Northern California to study with renowned baroque flutist Stephen Schultz. Then she was off to New York City, where she studied with Sandra Miller, a flutist teaching at The Juilliard School, which has a historical performance program. In Boston, Grim studied with soloist and ensemble performer Christopher Krueger. Then she went to Amsterdam, where she studied with Wilbert Hazelzet at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, taking private lessons and sitting in on classes. Grim not only learned the traverso along the way, but also dug into music she hadn’t yet experienced — mostly French baroque repertoire — as well as some of the more unfamiliar literature of the time.

For Grim, who holds both a master’s degree and a doctor of music arts degree from Yale, the trip was invaluable.

“Experts opened my ears,” she says. “The range and sound and color of an instrument shape how you play it. Learning the historical instrument gives a better perspective. Playing on that opens up to the sounds you’d hear in Bach’s time.”

Upcoming Festival

Grim’s interest in the baroque didn’t end with her trips or her traverso lessons. Upon her return, she sought to bring the baroque experience to the campus and community. Hence, Las Vegas’ first-ever Baroque Festival was born.

Jonathan Rhodes Lee, a harpsichordist and musicologist specializing in baroque-era music who was considering joining UNLV as an assistant professor at the time, says Grim’s research and festival idea piqued his interest in the university, as it signaled to him that UNLV was a place where new ideas and efforts like it would be supported.

Lee came aboard in 2016 and helped plan the Las Vegas Baroque Festival, which will open with his University Forum lecture “What Is ‘Baroque’ About Baroque Music?” on April 18. Lee will also play harpsichord during Grim’s performance of Francois Couperin’s work on April 22.

“We wanted it to be a multidisciplinary event,” says Grim, who also used part of her FOA funding to purchase two baroque flutes — one for the student body and one for herself. “We wanted to reach out through the music as much as we could.”

The festival April 18-23 will bring the Bay Area Archetti Baroque String Ensemble, prize-winning Notre Dame University organist Craig Cramer, faculty and student performers, and even musicians interested in joining in a baroque play-along together to share and celebrate the unique musical experience.

“The expectation of the era’s composers is that you will add to the music, ornament it, and make each performance unique,” Lee says, noting that the Las Vegas Baroque Festival seeks to capture and honor this sentiment. “It was such a period of explosive creative fervor.”