It’s a quintessentially Brooklyn event.
In the middle of Stuyvesant Heights sits a bed and breakfast
called the Akwaaba Mansion. It’s not the kind of venue usually
associated with classical music concerts, but that’s exactly
what will take place there this Sunday, May 5, when Bach at Zion
– an ensemble founded by flutist Kathy McDonald – performs a
program of 18th-century French baroque music. Since admission
is free, and there’s a wine reception afterward, there’s no excuse
not to free up some time this Sunday afternoon.
Performing baroque music has been the core of McDonald’s musical
activities for some time.
"I’ve been playing early music for over 10 years now, on
original instruments," McDonald told GO Brooklyn in a call
from her home in Brooklyn Heights. For many aficionados of baroque
music, for example, playing 18th-century music on the period
instruments for which it was written gives the performances an
authentic quality often missing from modern-instrument recitals.
How did Sunday’s convergence of program and setting occur? According
to McDonald, its genesis was long and involved.
"When Monique Greenwood [proprietor of Akwaaba and former
editor in chief of Essence magazine] first opened the mansion,
my husband [classical guitarist Pasquale Bianculli] played a
concert there," McDonald explains. "Monique obviously
loved to have music there, so I called her at one point and asked
her about having another concert there – in that community, in
that neighborhood. And she was an extremely big help, and she’s
a major reason why this is happening."
This concert has many supporters. "Our ensemble has been
together since 2000," McDonald says. "We started in
the Zion German Evangelical Church on Henry Street, since they
gave us a stipend to begin the series. After that, I was able
to get a grant from the Brooklyn Arts Council for us to perform
at the Akwaaba Mansion."
Of course, the music that Bach at Zion is performing is tailor-made
for the intimate confines of the 1860s Italianate mansion – baroque
music, by definition, is rarely written for large forces, and
the small ensembles that do play early music are entirely at
home in the kind of musical setting Akwaaba Mansion affords.
"Cantatas and Chaconnes" is the title of Bach at Zion’s
Akwaaba program – works that will be performed by McDonald, soprano
Elizabeth Weigle, harpsichordist Kenneth Merrill and Bevery Au
on the viola da gamba. McDonald notes that both types of pieces
feature all of the performers.
"Cantatas are vocal pieces and chaconnes are instrumental
pieces," McDonald explains, "and our program features
a spring cantata, which is quite appropriate for the first weekend
"That spring cantata is by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier,
who is a very well known flute player from 18th-century France.
His cantata is about springtime and how all our cares are thrown
away upon its arrival. It’s really a quartet from the middle
The rest of the program juxtaposes several familiar and obscure
French composers from the same era.
"We’re playing some Francois Couperin and Louis-Antoine
Dornel, and also some Michel Pignolet de Monteclair and Andre
Campra, whose piece ’Arion’ is based on a Greek mythical story
about a dolphin."
Part of McDonald’s musical mission is to raise the profile of
classical music concerts in her own backyard. "I’ve been
living in Brooklyn for nearly 15 years, and I’m happy to say
that I’ve played in a lot of concerts in the area," she
explains. "I want to go out to all of the communities in
Brooklyn and bring music to places that otherwise would not get
the chance to hear it. My home is here, and I want to get this
music to as many people in the Brooklyn area as possible."
Bach at Zion’s local performance at Akwaaba (which means ’welcome’
in Ghana) is a huge step in the right direction.
Bach at Zion performs Boismortier, Couperin, Dornel, Monteclair
and Campra at Akwaaba Mansion [347 MacDonough St. at Stuyvesant
Avenue], Sunday, May 5, at 3 pm. Admission is free. For more
information, call (718) 643-4608, or go to www.akwaaba.com.