You may not be a die-hard classical music purist, but the Mississippi Academy of Ancient Music (MAAM) can make you feel like one. The organization’s 2014-2015 concert series consists of seven performances and marks its 30th season of presenting early classical music the way the composers intended it to sound.
When it comes to music from the 18th century or earlier, Dr. Richard McGinnis, a MAAM founding organizer, says the problem is “we play it the same way we would play [songs that were written] today. It turns out that’s not remotely what was expected. So people like Bach and Handel sound very different when played on the kind of instruments they intended to be used as opposed to what we do today.” McGinnis says even when we have similar instruments we play them differently. Luckily there are an elite few dedicated to replicating sounds that are truer to early music. Beyond authentic instruments, they’ve studied old instruction books on how to properly play those instruments.
Some would-be concert goers may be put off by the term “ancient” but they shouldn’t be. McGinnis says that by “ancient” they are not referring to music from biblical times. He explains that in the 18th century there was a group called Academy of Ancient Music and “apparently at that time “ancient” meant 20 or 30 years old.” Based on this, Mississippi Academy of Ancient Music was methodically named because its acronym, MAAM, happened to play on the southern term ma’am, used to show a woman respect. In comparison, the often times difficult classical pieces showcased by the organization merit such respect as do the skilled musicians who interpret them.
Delving further into the origins of MAAM, McGinnis credits former Tougaloo College colleague Dr. Ernst Borinksi for bringing everyone together. Borinski who passed away in 1983, was a Jewish sociologist who fled Germany as a result of the Holocaust. Upon moving to the South he strongly opposed prevalent Jim Crow laws. “Borinksi was very well known in the civil rights period back in the days of freedom summer,” McGinnis says. It was at one of Borinski’s annual birthday bashes that co-founders McGinnis, John Paul and Max Garriott first performed together.
After 30 years, MAAM, Jackson’s undisputed official curator of ancient music, continues to show strong support for outstanding local talent while drawing internationally acclaimed artists to the city. This season’s opening performance on November 20th 2014 featured an über-talented trio made up of John Holloway, violin; Jane Gower, dulcian (baroque bassoon); and Lars-Ulrik Mortensen, harpsichord. Holloway and Mortensen have produced works together for nearly thirty years. One of their most significant recordings is “Corelli’s Op. 5 Sonatas,” the only recording to use the instrumentations specified by Corelli. According to the group’s bio Holloway and Mortensen had the trio sonatas for violino and fagotto by Castello and Fontana on their repertoire wishlist. That wish came true when Jane Gower appeared. Gower is one of the very few bassoonists in the world capable of playing this spectacular music.
The next performance will showcase Taylis Fernandez- cello and John Paul – piano on Thursday, February 5, 2015. The duo will perform Beethoven sonatas for ‘cello and piano. Get all show dates, time and locations at ancientmusic.org. You’ll also find a full list of performers and prices.
A version of this article first appeared in Jackson Free Press November 19-26, 2014 issue.