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Conductor Michael Palmer was mentored by the legendary Robert Shaw.

Preview: Conductor Michael Palmer, ASO musicians, take on Bach’s “Brandenburg Affair”

Conductor Michael Palmer was mentored by the legendary Robert Shaw.
Conductor Michael Palmer was mentored by the legendary Robert Shaw.

This Saturday evening conductor Michael Palmer will lead a performance of all six of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Brandenburg Concertos” with ATL Symphony Musicians at the Westside Cultural Arts Center on 10th Street in West Midtown, also known as Westside. 

The combined concert and social event, billed as “The Brandenburg Affair,” is a first-time cooperative production between Palmer’s own Anacrusis Productions, Ltd. and the ATL Symphony Musicians Foundation.

The “Brandenburg Concertos” are a collection of concerti grossi, a musical form where musical material is passed back and forth between a small group of soloists (the “concertino”) and a larger orchestra (the “ripieno”). The score to all six were presented by Bach to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg, in 1721, hence their common collective name.

Except for the first, they directly reflect the available musicians Bach had at his disposal while Kapellmeister at Köthen, and yet within that scope, exhibit remarkable variety. They are widely regarded as being at the apex of baroque orchestral works. Nevertheless, as familiar and frequently programmed as they are, they are rarely all heard together in one performance, as they will be on Saturday.

“Where else could you hear 11 featured soloists in one night?” says Todd Skitch, president of the ATLSM Foundation and an ASO flutist, who will be one of those concertino musicians. Skitch also notes that it’s a great way for the public to meet and mingle with the musicians in an intimate community space which encourages that kind of up-close social engagement.

Since the beginning of this year, Palmer had been shopping the idea of mounting a presentation of the complete Brandenburgs in Atlanta, just talking casually with various musicians he knows. As Palmer recounts the story, some of those musicians happened to be on the foundation’s board and in late spring one of them suggested the possibility of Anacrusis partnering with the foundation on the project. 

Palmer began his professional career in Atlanta. At the age of 21, he was selected by Robert Shaw to become the associate conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Today, he is both artistic director of the Bellingham Festival of Music and professor of orchestral studies at Georgia State University. He has conducted the ATL Symphony Musicians on several previous occasions.

Although Palmer has led performances of individual Brandenburg Concertos many times throughout his conducting career, this is only the second time he has performed all six in one evening. The first time — at an event called “Bach, Beer and Barbecue” — was in the spring of 2014 with Chamber Music Amarillo in the five-story atrium of the Happy State Bank in Amarillo, Texas.

“People came out in droves,” say Palmer. “A lot of people there had probably never been to a classical music concert before. They hung over the balconies. After the big harpsichord cadenza in the fifth concerto, the whole place immediately burst into applause. It was a huge success.”

Palmer hopes to achieve a similar kind of success with this Saturday’s “Brandenburg Affair” event at Westside CAA, a former industrial building that has been renovated into a modern social setting with a capacity of around 500 and a prominent Art Deco bar.

Skitch suggests that late August is an ideal time for the foundation to present a program like “The Brandenburg Affair,” falling as it does late within the 10-week off-contract period for ASO musicians, helping fill a void in the city’s classical music scene in a way that draws attention to the foundation and its purposes. 

The foundation has been primarily associated in the public mind with producing concerts by members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under the moniker ATL Symphony Musicians during two lockouts. But with the 2014 ASO lockout months behind them, the foundation now seeks to become better known for its broader missions of musical outreach and education.