Rediscovered Bolivian Baroque music premieres on Feb. 20


GUILFORD >> It's a long way from the jungles of Bolivia to Guilford Community Church, epicenter of Friends of Music at Guilford performances, but FOMAG's Administrator Joy Wallens-Penford managed to acquire, then persuade the committee to incorporate, Bolivian Baroque music into Fomags's 50th Anniversary Season. The second of these performances never heard before in the area – perhaps even in the country – is set to take place this Saturday at the church with the "Barroco Boliviano" concert.

Early in the '90s, in search of a subject for his dissertation, musicologist Fr. Piotr Nawrot got a tip that the Bolivian jungles held a treasure trove of Baroque music manuscripts. He set out in search of these manuscripts that were squirreled away in Bolivian church attics and basements. Little did he realize that this was the start of what would become a life-long endeavor.

Over the centuries many Native Americans treasured this music left behind by Jesuits in the 1700s, enough to take these manuscripts with them as they fled into the interior jungles in the early 1900s avoiding a government relocation plan. Finally convinced that Nawrot held these manuscripts with as much reverence as they did, and with promises to keeping these documents safely stored in a climate-controlled environment, the elders of the Moxo and Chiquito Indian tribes entrusted Nawrot with centuries-old, Baroque-music manuscripts. Hundreds of them. That was the first of many acquisitions as Nawrot scoured Bolivian churches of manuscripts of chants, masses, hymns, operas and more. He was able to amass and preserve Bolivia's precious musical heritage for a total of 13,000 manuscripts. For over 25 years Nawrot and a slew of volunteers have painstakingly restored these documents to publish a total of 36 volumes. Concerts were being performed world-wide, however not in the U.S.

Then Wallens-Penford just happened upon a TV show one Sunday morning. She said, "I had never heard of it until one Sunday in 2007, when I skipped church to watch CBS Sunday Morning, the show Charles Osgood has been anchoring since forever. Correspondent Bob Simon, usually seen on the network's '60 Minutes' program, was featured in a special segment set in Bolivia. He introduced viewers to Polish priest and musicologist Piotr Nawrot, who was taking him on a journey through the Amazon, to demonstrate how today Baroque music is being reborn in music schools across the jungles of Bolivia."

She thought, "This is soooo FOMAG!"

She couldn't forget about that intriguing segment, "In 2009, I looked up the British early music group Florilegium, whom I had seen in performance on the CBS program. Since the group didn't appear to travel to the States, I asked them about the cost to book them here with some of the Bolivian singers they tour with in Europe. Such an option, alas, was not financially feasible. It took me till 2011 to ask instead about borrowing music for our regional players to perform. I was advised to contact the source himself, Fr. Nawrot, whose email address they happily provided."

She told her story in an email to Fr. Narot, touting all the wonderful musicians and events in this active music community and could she please buy some of the manuscripts. Well .. he said, he'd be in the states shortly, he would gather some pieces together and ship them to her once here – a much cheaper proposition than shipping from Bolivia.

A few months later the box arrived with an eclectic mix of pieces, along with an invoice quoting the price for each manuscript that she would like to purchase, and to return the rest. She couldn't bear to part with any of them. Luckily her father came to her rescue and purchased all of them, gifting them to her.

After numerous concert committee meetings she finally convinced FOMAG to take advantage of her incredible find by including Bolivian Baroque music in the season's programs, the first of which happened in December's Christmas at Christ Church event. Next up is the Midwinter Musicale on Saturday, and finally, works for organ and chamber instruments for the May concert at The Organ Barn. Most exciting of all, Fr. Nawrot himself has agreed to be here for the May event to talk about his Bolivian Baroque reclamation project.

The Midwinter Musicale, The "Barroco Boliviano" concert, will take place on Saturday, at 4 p.m. in the Guilford Community Church, Selected works featured include trio sonatas as well as solo or duo works for soprano and baritone with continuo accompaniment. Performers include local specialists in Early Music performance: Peggy Spencer and Michelle Liechti, violins, Pedro Pereira, cello, and Gordon Jones, harpsichord. Special guest artists include the In Stile Moderno duo from Boston: Agnes Coakley, soprano, and Nathaniel Cox, theorbo; and baritone Rami Martinez from Mexico City, who has been performing Spanish American Baroque music there for the past three years with his Favola in Musica ensemble. Martinez has also arranged some of the materials for this performance.

The concert is followed by a teatime reception with a warming soup and both sweet and savory treats. Admission at the door is $10, with a $50 patron ticket option that includes a CD recording of the performance. The Guilford Community Church is located a mile south on Rte. 5 from Exit 1 off I-91 in Brattleboro. Contact the Friends of Music office for further information, 802-254-3600 or

Contact Cicely M. Eastman at 802-254-2311 ext. 261.


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