“Many of the most exciting events that happen to musicians happen by accident,” says Debra Nagy, who is the founder of the Baroque music group Les Délices, which will perform on Sunday, April 17, at 4 p.m. as the finale of this season’s Candlelight Concerts at the Wilton Congregational Church. Les Délices is one of North America’s most acclaimed Baroque music groups and Debra is a leading performer of the baroque oboe. She has received countless awards and praise for her “dazzling technique and soulful expressiveness” and her musical approach “that’s distinctly sensual, pliant, warm and sweet.”
She describes how Les Délices began. “I was attending a summer workshop at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. I was 21 and I was restless; the workshop seemed kind of dull. My teacher suggested I try their Baroque workshop. I did and fell in love with it. The Baroque instruments of the 16th and 17th centuries were fascinating. The instruments had a different, mellow sound.”
Though French Baroque music will probably be familiar to the intensely devoted chamber music lovers of the Candlelight Concerts, many of us are not exactly sure of what “Baroque” means. It is basically a more jubilantly intricate style, in music and in art. To further embellish it, the Baroque program of the April 17 Candlelight Concert is music for the dance. In the court of Louis XIV, skill at dancing signaled one’s social standing and quality of education. Dance wasn’t just a leisure activity. It required training and discipline, a form of body language. Music for the dance was its own poetic language.
Les Délices performers play authentic instruments. Debra Nagy plays the baroque oboe, and recorder; Beth Wenstrom, baroque violin; Emily Walhout, viola de gamba; and Simon Martyn Ellis, baroque guitar and theorbo (which is like a bass lute).
Debra explains that the new sound “is often defined as bizarre or irregular but is actually dramatically accessible. The fact that it was written to be danced in the 1700’s produces an extraordinary new listening experience for the audience. “My Baroque oboe was especially made for me,” says Debra, “the sound is extremely mellow, warm, and sweet.“
The Baroque guitar and the theorbo, which is a Baroque lute, are played by Simon Martyn Ellis. He also discovered how much he liked Baroque music at school, the University of New England (which happens to be in Australia). Simon was studying classical guitar (whose history actually goes back to the 10th Century). A lecturer came to the school, a harpsichordist who knew all about Baroque music.
“I found the Baroque style immediately appealing, “says Simon. “There is a certain quality to it which is so approachable. Each of the instruments looks different, elegantly so. After the university, he studied the Baroque lute in Sydney, then received a grant to study and perform in Germany. He came to the United States in 2013.
Simon is a treasured performer in many groups.
“I prefer group performance to solo playing of the modern guitar,” he says. “I believe that the Les Délices program on April 17 is virtuosic, approachable and seriously beautiful. It’s bound to be thrilling to those who are familiar with Baroque music and a glorious discovery for those who are newcomers to it.”
Being in the pristine atmosphere of the Wilton Congregational Church, at 70 Ridgefield Road (Route 33), at a Candlelight Concert featuring Les Délices can transform a Sunday afternoon into a momentous occasion. Tickets are $30 at the door, $25 for seniors, children under 16 are admitted free.