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It’s a quintessentially Brooklyn event.
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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 in May.

"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 baroque period."

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.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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