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IndyBaroque: 25 years of sonic time travel

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Ensemble Voltaire's current lineup, from left: Thomas Gerber, Christine Kyprianides, Allison Edberg, Barbara Kallaur, John Abberger.
  • Ensemble Voltaire's current lineup, from left: Thomas Gerber, Christine Kyprianides, Allison Edberg, Barbara Kallaur, John Abberger.

Take it from Ensemble Voltaire founding member Barbara Kallaur: "Twenty-five years is pretty extraordinary for a chamber music ensemble." People move away. They grow dissatisfied with just breaking even (and the market's much tougher these days for chamber music, says Kallaur). They come to blows over tempo choices.

But, as Kallaur puts it, "We've all learned how to play together over the years, and we don't have as many spats as we once did." The group will celebrate its 25th anniversary Sept. 24 and 27 with a concert spotlighting founders Kallaur (flute) and Thomas Gerber (harpsichord). Gerber is the firebrand of the group, says Kallaur: "I tend to be risk-averse, and he pushes me to take risk I wouldn't take on my own. I was so mad at him in a rehearsal I threw a hymn book at him because he was pushing the tempo so much." Not that she really tried to hit him, Kallaur adds.

Ensemble Voltaire hasn't always gone by its present name. It was founded as Ensemble Ouabache, which is the old French spelling of Wabash. "But nobody could spell or say it," Kallaur says. "It was a huge problem; the first time it was spelled in the press, it was spelled with a Q, and we knew we'd made a horrible mistake." After years of delaying the inevitable, a record company demanded a name change before it would release a recording of the music of Telemann by the group. A lunch meeting yielded nothing; half-price martini night at the Mass Ave Scholar's Inn would be the last port of call.

Kallaur was walking through her house when a book title caught her eye: The Age of Voltaire. Sure, the French philosopher more or less hated music, but the average educated person knows his name, he was active during the Baroque era - and, in the end, it settled the argument. "I advise any new group to think about the Google ramifications of their name," Kallaur says. "Be able to spell it. It was traumatic."

There have been other big changes over the years. Ensemble Voltaire gave birth to the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra when the members of the chamber group found themselves interested in doing larger-scale works. Both groups are under the umbrella of IndyBaroque, which hired a new executive director, Maarten Bout, this summer. Kallaur says she and her cohorts are careful to maintain separate seasons for both ensembles, in part because the audience for each is a little different.

Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra's current artistic director Barthold Kuijken came on in 2008. "He's one of the worlds greatest musicians, and I'm not just saying that because he's my former teacher," says Kallaur. "Amongst baroque orchestras, Indianapolis has a big name."

A vintage program from the Ensemble Ouabache era.
  • A vintage program from the Ensemble Ouabache era.

Another big change: Ten years ago, members of the two ensembles decided it no longer made sense to tour. "Everyone was kind of old and cranky and tired, and we weren't 25 anymore," says Kallaur. "The money has gotten worse and worse in touring." They'll break their rule this season by collaborating with Kansas City-based ensemble Spire to present a "small-forces" version of J.S. Bach's Mass in B Minor.

Kind of cranky or not, Kallaur still has plenty of ideas. She'd like to perform J.S. Bach's playful "Coffee Cantata" in an actual coffeehouse, maybe Cornerstone, just down the street from her Broad Ripple home. The group will break new ground in the Baroque world by playing ornamentation in all parts of a chamber piece on a new recording (head to indybaroque.org for a blog about the recording process by Kuijken).

And through it all, IndyBaroque's groups do the kind of miraculous job of recreating sounds long lost by playing pieces in a historically accurate way. "We don't use much vibrato if any," Kallaur says of the groups' approach. "There's a lot of space and lightness between notes and phrases. The sound is much smaller because there wasn't as much noise around." Kallaur says the ideal space for a Baroque chamber group is a medium-sized living room where listeners can sip a glass of wine and catch on to every nuance.

And for those who find themselves intimidated by "traditional" classical performances, Kallaur asks you to keep in mind that all of the classical trappings (clapping only at the end of the entire piece, holding back coughs and farts) are "not about the music; it's all the social stuff on top of that. One thing I remind my students of all the time is that Haydn and the Bachs spent their lives wearing livery. They wore a uniform and went through the servant's entrance. They weren't considered artistes; they were tradespeople, no different than blacksmiths."

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