Concertmaster Kemp and the embrace of ‘Beloved Baroque’

Concertmaster Kemp and the embrace of ‘Beloved Baroque’

Baroque music presents a playground in the past for musicians, and MSO Concertmaster Shellie Brown Kemp, for one, is eager to dive into the 18th century fun.

MSO’s first concert of the season, Sept 10 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral, boasts brass at the start, in the middle, and at the finish, trumpeting in an energetic and diverse season ahead. Add strings and it’s full revelry in the rich rewarding program of a fan-favorite, annual concert — Beloved Baroque.

Listen up for the MSO Brass Quintet on Gabrieli’s compact and lively Canzon Duodecemi Toni. Boost your spirits with Principal Trumpet Darcie Bishop featured in Mouret’s radiant and recognizable Rondeau from Premiere Suite des Symphonies. Soar with Torelli’s brass-brightened Sinfonia in D at the close.

Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins is a spotlight piece in the concert, with Kemp, Xie Song, Vince Massimino and Milena Rusanova as the soloists who bring it to shimmering life.

“Next to Bach, Vivaldi is one of the most quintessential violin composers of the Baroque period,” Kemp says. With his famous The Four Seasons a staple in practically every violinist’s playbook, “Vivaldi is a composer that’s really close to home for a lot of violinists.” 

The Baroque period — 17th and 18th century — may seem antiquated and removed from current times and modern styles of expression, she concedes. “We aren’t absorbed in that world all the time, especially with Romantic instruments.”

But the expressive qualities are there, “not necessarily as we know it in a romanticized and emotional way,” Kemp says, “but in the way of rhythm and harmony and line of phrases and even the timbre of instruments — like having four violinists as soloists instead of just one.” That’s where the interest lies. “You have that much more texture,” plus it’s that higher, energetic sound that treble instruments bring, “which I really love.”

This concerto works as a “mood sandwich,” Kemp says, laughing at her term that’s both a little silly and quite apt. With three movements, the outer ones are lively, upbeat bookends for a more somber, moodier middle one. “It’s a great little piece by Vivaldi. 

“It’s really fun to play chamber music in this way, especially in this setting of the church. It’s very intimate and, when you really can connect to it, it can almost feel like music of our day — like even punk rock or emo,” she says. “There’s great bass lines, there’s feeling within the music and the writing.”

The Baroque period in history, architecture and art is known for its super ornamentation and overwhelming beauty. “In the music, the texture is there, the detail is there. You can almost picture yourself in one of these beautiful buildings when the piece is playing,” reveling in the cathedral’s architecture while the music carries you back in time. 

She notes a part where the bass line holds a tone as the violin wanders above it, and other moments when the whole orchestra plays together, and violin solos weave in and out. “It’s so ornamental, and you can get a zoomed in picture of something ornate, and then you zoom back out and get the whole orchestra. Texture-wise, it’s got a lot going on.

“This concert is so different from anything we do,” Kemp says, requiring a different thought process to recreate the sound that instruments of the day would have conveyed. 

It’s a playground in the past for musicians. “You’re getting back to the bones of composing,” she says, likening the music’s ground-holding continuo to the bass line in today’s rock music. 

“It’s really fun to add that to your toolbox of how to play your instrument. And, in St. Andrew’s Cathedral, it’s going to be a more perfect setting to both play, and attend. .. It is easy to just sit there and let it wash over you, especially in that setting.”

For Kemp, the start of her first season as full-fledged concertmaster, after a year as acting concertmaster, is an exciting time. It’s a leading role in the orchestra whose members have schooled her from the start. Kemp benefitted from violist Tammy Luke’s Suzuki program, lessons with the late and legendary Mickey Davis, summer sessions at MSO’s Premier Orchestra Institute, yearly participation in the Mississippi Youth Symphony Orchestra, and learning from Xie Song at Belhaven College. “The majority of my educational influencers have been people from the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, and I was extremely well-prepared to continue my graduate studies at Shepherd School of Music.

“I really attribute so much of why I’m doing this now, to their skill and their teaching and guiding me.”

Beloved Baroque
9.10.22 / St. Andrew’s Cathedral / 7:30 pm / Jackson, MS / Tickets $25

Concert program:

  • Giovanni Gabrieli: Canzon duodecimi toni
    MSO Brass Quintet
  • Georg Frederic Handel: Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 9, in F
  • Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for Four Violins, in D, Op. 3, No. 1, RV 549
  • Jean-Joseph Mouret: Rondeau from Premiére Suite de Symphonies
    Darcie Bishop, Trumpet
  • Jean-Philippe Rameau: Selections from Les Fêtes d’Hébé (Theme to Masterpiece Theatre)
  • Giuseppe Torelli: Concerto Grosso, Op. 5, No. 6
  • Giuseppe Torelli: Sinfonia in D, G. 4
    Darcie Bishop, Trumpet