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UNC Baroque Ensemble incorporates history into its concert Friday

The time-honored tones of the baroque period are primed and ready to close out the academic year at UNC.

In its last show of the semester, the music department’s Baroque Ensemble will be performing a free spring concert for students and music lovers alike on campus Friday night.

The concert will be focused on the French influence in European Baroque music, and performed entirely to tradition.

“We all play on period instruments,” said Brent Wissick, music professor and ensemble director. “When we use violins and cellos, they’re strung with gut strings, and we only use styles and techniques known from that time. It’s really authentic.”

Wissick travels around the world as a teacher and researcher of baroque performance, and has been a part of the UNC faculty for 32 years.

He said he founded the Baroque ensemble over his last 15 years at the school, and that while the music is about honoring traditional styles of performance, he still wants its work to be appreciated in a modern context.

“We want it to still be a living ensemble made up of musicians from the year 2014,” he said. “We’re not trying to be sterile reproducers of this music, we’re trying to figure out how this music relates to us right now.”

The ensemble is a mixture of music and non-music majors who share a common interest in the baroque period’s unique sound.

The main instruments they feature are the baroque cello, harpsichord and viola de gamba, all of which require a traditional expertise to play.

“A lot of players are generally modern violinists or cellists, so you kind of have to re-learn to play your instrument,” said junior music major Robert Garbarz. “There are a lot of rules that go into it, so from day one we had to learn about all the minute details that go into the style.”

Garbarz said an important element of playing a baroque piece is trying to examine the original intent of the composer by playing the piece the way it was intended.

He cited the Baroque ensemble as being UNC’s premiere source for historically informed musical performance.

“It’s the sound they would have heard when they wrote the pieces,” he said. “The idea is recreating that sound. (Baroque orchestras) are tuned to different pitches than modern orchestras, so it’s a really different musical environment.”

Wissick said the distinctive music was known as a royal sound in its era, and played in courts across 17th and 18th century Europe.

Despite baroque music’s formality, he said the liveliness of the performances has earned the ensemble a fairly large and diverse audience.

“We’ve developed quite a nice following for our concerts, and I think that’s because we try and make them into real happenings,” Wissick said. “We want them to be something more than entertainment. We want them to be something serious, but fun. A challenge for the mind and a pleasure for the ear.”

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The Daily Tar Heel's 2024 Music Edition