Rebel to expose 'gorgeous' Baroque music at Cal Tech

The world of Baroque chamber music usually isn't the place to look for rebellious ways to present and interpret that style of musical expression. After all, it's a genre of the 17th and 18th centuries, and one might think that the last word has been heard on the subject. Just don't tell that to the ensemble that goes by the name of Rebel.

Named for the obscure composer Jean Féry Rebel (1666-1747), Rebel is an ensemble that has championed Baroque repertory for over 20 years. While the tone row is associated with 20th-century composers, it was Rebel who first introduced it in his work. Karen Marmer and her husband, Jorg-Michael Schwarz, are both violin and viola players who co-direct the group and from their home in Peekskill, N.Y., they spoke about the music, Rebel, and their upcoming appearance at Cal Tech's Beckman Auditorium on Sunday afternoon.

What: Rebel

Where: Beckman Auditorium, Cal Tech, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena.

When: Sunday, 3:30 p.m.

More info: (626) 793-4191,

“The first piece we played together,” says Marmer, “was by Rebel. When we knew that we were ready to play for the public, we searched for a name; Rebel seemed perfect for us and for the times we live in.” Rebel is one of the leading exponents of period instrumentation.

“We find that the early instruments have an authenticity to them that you can't find elsewhere,” Schwarz notes.

When asked what the mission of the ensemble is, Marmer doesn't hesitate to answer. “We play works by the well-known composers like Bach, Handel, Purcell and Telemann,” she says, “but we are also trying to expose our audiences to equally fine, lesser-known people like Marini, William Boyce, Biagio Marini and Arcangelo Corelli; there's so many of them.”

Schwarz enlarges on that credo: “We're really trying to further the exposure and appreciation of the great music from the 17th and 18th centuries — especially the music that most people don't get to hear very often.”

The Baroque period followed the searching creativity of the Italian Renaissance. It was an era of great extravagance, which yielded monuments like Rome's Trevi Fountain and Bernini's “Ecstasy of St. Theresa” sculpture. The period may have been ripe for overwrought expression but it also ushered in some features that have remained staples of western music: our system of tonality, opera, concertos, oratorios, cantatas and sonatas.

“Within the compositions of that period,” Marmer enthuses, “is a smorgasbord of music that's gorgeous, exciting and exuberant. Its profundity deeply reflects human emotions — all the deeper feelings of the human condition are explored in this music. Some of it is extremely outgoing and exuberant.” Jorg adds, “Baroque music definitely wears its heart on its sleeve, but at the same time, there is great solitude to be found in the music.”

Marmer and Schwarz share Rebel with Matthias Maute on transverse flute and recorder, cellist John Moran and Dongsok Shin on harpsichord. “The essence of our performances,” Schwarz points out, “is in the fine bow strokes, the articulations and the shadings. The composers knew that the music was not finished when the ink was dry — it requires interpretation. Then it becomes a conversation between the artists and the listeners.”

Chamber music ensembles have an unusually high incidence of members who are romantically linked to each other. “It definitely plays into the group dynamic,” Schwarz sighs. “But when your spouse is your other violinist, it can bring about an extra dimension of closeness.”

“You have to be able to separate the musical arguments from your married life,” Marmer confides. “We find ourselves discussing tempos and intonation at the dinner table, but we try not to do it too much. Sometimes we play with a slightly expanded personnel and our members have spouses that will often join us.”

“We think of ourselves as provocateurs, a little,” Marmer concludes. “We played a concert in Chicago once and people called the box office to find out what kind of rock band this group Rebel was. We loved that!”


KIRK SILSBEE writes about jazz and culture for Marquee.

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