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Red Priest taps into baroque 'Nightmares'

The Renaissance and Baroque Society gets a jump on Halloween celebrations Saturday night when it presents Red Priest in a program called "Nightmare in Venice" and invites members of the audience to "Be a cool ghoul, come in costume!"

Red Priest's theatrical stage style and flamboyant virtuosity, which have proven winning on previous appearances in Pittsburgh, seem perfectly suited to a pre-Halloween concert.

The group's artistic leader and recorder player, Piers Adams, feels affinity for baroque's music of the night in part because he's a night person -- although that has had to change recently. He's married to Red Priest's violinist, Julia Bishop, and says, "We've got a 2-year-old, Sylvie, and I've become a morning person out of necessity. I drink lots of strong coffee."

Red Priest is touring without Bishop this season because, Adams says, she's staying at home to give Sylvie a break from touring. Sylvie already has been to 20 countries. David Greenberg will be the violinist for "Nightmare in Venice."

Adams, 43, loves to dispel the notion that baroque music is straight and easy listening. He notes that the "stylus phantasticus" that flourished in Venice in the 17th century "has no fixed structure and can wander off in any direction. It's quite compelling and operatic."

Many pieces on Red Priest's program have strong programmatic qualities, such as Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto "La Notte" (The Night), which will start the concert at Synod Hall in Oakland.

"I think it must be the spookiest piece of music written, at least to that point. It's all about nightmares and fitful sleep. If you didn't know anything about baroque music, you would have no idea when it was written. It could have been written in 1960 with those kinds of avant-garde, spiky, jagged chords," Adams says.

Another piece on the program, Giuseppe Tartini's "Devil's Trill" Sonata, is literally music of the night. Tartini wrote that the devil appeared to him in a dream and stood at the foot of his bed, playing the violin "with such mastery and intelligence, on a level I'd never before conceived as possible." The composer wrote the musical ideas down when he woke up in the morning.

Such music will give Red Priest plenty of theatrical opportunities. Adams says getting rid of music stands and performing from memory is an important first step toward a more audience-involving stage presence. Then there are "phrases in the music that can be acted out in a little drama. Occasionally, we may foray out into the audience, and there will be a small amount of costumery."

Yet Adams also believes "people often get the wrong idea about us. We're not a theatrical group. It's amazing how a little goes a long way in making the performance seem more three-dimensional." Additional Information:

'Nightmare in Venice: A Baroque Fantasy'

Performed by: Red Priest

Presented by: Renaissance and Baroque Society

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $15-$30; $10 for full-time students

Where: Synod Hall, Oakland

Details: 412-361-2048

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