Times Staff Writer

Musical Offering, the five-member, Los Angeles-based Baroque ensemble, has played in prestigious halls in Washington, D.C., and New York City, at the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico, the New England Bach Festival and on university campuses from Massachusetts to Illinois to Stanford.

“Still we have a low profile,” says Kathleen Lenski, one of the ensemble’s founders and its violinist.

“We’ve been in residence at CalArts for several years now, but very few people know it,” Lenski acknowledges. The group’s latest local appearance will take place on the Bach-Handel-Scarlatti-Schuetz series at Calvary Presbyterian Church in South Pasadena, tonight at 8.

Lenski, with her colleagues Owen Burdick (harpsichord), Allan Vogel (oboe), Kenneth Munday (bassoon) and David Speltz (cello), have performed this season in both New York and Washington (at the Library of Congress), as well as in the Midwest.


“Playing very small towns is not one of our options,” Lenski says, “because we can perform only where there is a harpsichord. Of course, most colleges have them, but many little towns don’t.”

Because of the Bach-Handel-Scarlatti anniversaries in 1985, Musical Offering, like many another ensemble specializing in Baroque-period repertory, is busier than usual.

“Yes, it’s a big year,” says Lenski, pointing out that the group’s third album on the Nonesuch label, one devoted to music by J. S. Bach and three of his sons, is being released this month.

This is not familiar music, Lenski points out, “but it’s fascinating. Most Bach lovers know about Carl Philipp Emanuel and Wilhelm Friedemann, and Johann Christian. Bach’s other composing son, Johann Christoph Friedrich, is much less well known, but deserving. His style is a lot like Wilhelm Friedemann’s, and he wrote much music for the fortepiano.”


As an ensemble, Musical Offering goes back 12 years, Lenski says. “At first, we just got together for fun. We were at that time all members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and our playing together was very casual.

“But, after a while, we realized we really had something good there--a special rapport among us. We made our formal debut in 1977, in the Mark Taper Forum, as an official offshoot of the chamber orchestra.”

Two changes of personnel and one wedding later (Lenski and Munday married each other six years ago), the ensemble is still going strong, Lenski reports.

“We’re all busy--I concertize as a soloist and teach privately, Ken (Munday) plays in the chamber orchestra and teaches at Cal State Northridge, Allan also plays in the chamber orchestra and teaches at CalArts, David (Speltz) plays in several orchestras and our newest member, Owen Burdick, also teaches at CalArts.

“So, our availability for touring has to be arranged around a lot of other schedules.”

As a group specializing in the Baroque repertory, Lenski says, Musical Offering has only one drawback.

In some places, due to the fact that we play modern, not period, instruments, some people assume that we’re not authentic. It’s silly, of course. We all love the period instruments, and emulate them in our playing. And we all feel we have a larger range of expression, tone color and dynamics with our contemporary instruments, though we are very careful to stay within bounds.”