Baroque gems from a passionate trio

Baroque gems from a passionate trio

Trio Amphion — Jesse Lepkoff and friends — plan concerts in Grafton, Brattleboro, and West Dover

Jesse Lepkoff is a man of many musical affinities - early jazz/blues to early music (Medieval and Renaissance); bossa nova to Baroque. Having performed around the world with top musicians, including the premier early-music ensemble, the Boston Camerata, he's earned his chops in each of these genres, too.

Next in queue on Lepkoff's peripatetic musical journey is a set of three area performances with his Baroque music ensemble, Trio Amphion.

On Thursday, July 29, the ensemble performs as part of the Pikes Falls Chamber Music Festival at the White Church in Grafton (7 p.m. with a pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m.; $10 suggested donation).

At Centre Congregational Church in Brattleboro on Saturday, July 31, the trio - Lepkoff on Baroque flutes, Peter Sykes on harpsichord, and Sarah Cunningham on viola da gamba - performs the same program (7 p.m., free-will offering), and again on Sunday, Aug. 1 at West Dover Congregational Church (4 p.m., $20 suggested donation).

Proceeds from the Centre Congregational Church concert will benefit students associated with Cristo Redentor, a small Lutheran Church in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of the city of Apopa, El Salvador, and a Sister Church of Centre Congregational. The fund supports students from preschool through university, with a focus on those in kindergarten through grade 8.

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Lepkoff, originally from Manhattan and, later, New Jersey, is a longtime Marlboro resident who started coming to the area as a child when his parents spent time with the legendary Helen and Scott Nearing before buying their own place in the area.

Smitten with the connections afforded by nature and a close-knit community - “it shaped my life,” he said - he's created and performed from southern Vermont since 1995.

Of the concert, which features works of Rameau, Corelli, Bach, Leclair, Marais, and Couperin, Lepkoff says, “We play on historical instruments or copies of them, employing techniques and practices of performance used in the 18th century in order to get closer to the essence of what this music is expressing.”

Unlike Renaissance music that preceded it, which was more cerebral, “Baroque music is concerned with emotions,” explains Lepkoff.

“Seventeenth- and 18th-century musicians were concerned with the arousal and expression of the passions, among them gaiety, melancholy, boldness, flattery (charming, beguiling), and majesty,” he continues. “Of course, there are many subtleties in between. We, as a group, seek to embody these in our playing.”

Ever prolific in terms of both performance and recording, Lepkoff recalls: “Since my early 20s I have dedicated myself to the pure lovely tones of the one-keyed Baroque flute and of the recorder.”

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His colleagues in Trio Amphion play the old instruments as well.

Peter Sykes, well-known in Boston and beyond, “is playing a copy of the only known extant single manual keyboard French harpsichord,” Lepkoff says.

And Sarah Cunningham - one of the top viola da gamba players in the world - “plays the bass viola da gamba, which unlike its cousin, the cello, has seven strings and has frets on the fingerboard,” among other key distinctions, he says. “Its voice is deep, sonorous, and perhaps a bit melancholic.”

Lepkoff says that when these instruments “are played well together in the gems of chamber music we have chosen, the results are magic.”

Cunningham has played throughout Europe; recorded with the greats, including James Galway; headlined many festivals; and taught at top schools, including the Juilliard School. She is, by all reviews, an incomparable instrumentalist.

Sykes, also on the faculty at Julliard, is well-known at worldwide festivals from the Berkshires to Cologne. Chair of the Historical Performance Department at Boston University, Sykes is sought-after on organ as well as harpsichord, he's recorded a full-range repertoire for various labels.

Lepkoff received his graduate education at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague in the Netherlands with Baroque flutist Wilbert Hazelzet. He's performed with the Smithsonian Chamber Players and the Arcadia Players, and as a soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Christopher Hogwood.

He has also appeared at numerous festivals, from Tanglewood to Wolf Trap to Holland Festival Oude Muziek. He performs and records regularly with the Boston Camerata and, since 1984, has toured with them in 14 countries.

Having recorded for American and European radio, as well as for the Erato Records, Fleur De Son Classics, Harmonia Mundi, and Nonesuch Records labels, Lepkoff has appeared many times live on WGBH and with the BBC; he's given lecture concerts at the Smithsonian, New England Conservatory, and several universities.

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As a singer/songwriter, Lepkoff performs mostly his own compositions, which can have the sophistication of art song, or the knee-slapping earthiness and wit of 1930s jazz and blues.

Now on YouTube, he says, “one can hear many new players at a very high level of performance.”

That is one example of the resurgence of interest in Baroque ensemble music that has emerged over the past several decades, Lepkoff notes.

This trio of concerts offers area music lovers a chance to experience why.