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Spotlight on Wen Yang's New York Baroque Incorporated

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Despite the comfortable presence of early music and historically informed performance on the New York music scene these days, Wen Yang (BM ’07, double bass; Graduate Diploma ’13, historical performance) feels the need for more. “Audiences love early music, and when I go to concerts. I can feel a need,” she says. Yang is the founder of New York Baroque Incorporated (or, for short, NYBI—pronounced to rhyme with “ivy”) and is also the group’s executive director.

New York Baroque Incorporated

From left: NYBI players and Juilliard alums violinist Daniel Lee, cellist Ezra Seltzer, violinists Beth Wenstrom and Nanae Iwata, harpsichordist Jeffrey Grossman, bassoonist Nate Helgeson, violinist Joan Plana, flutist Christopher Matthews, violinist Tatiana Daubek, and gambist and violone player Wen Yang.

(Photo by Matthew Murphy)

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Beginning its fourth season this fall, NYBI has gained footing quickly considering that it’s primarily a self-presenting group. It gave only three concerts in its first season, but things have picked up considerably since then. In May, it made its Washington, D.C., debut with Julian Wachner’s Washington Chorus, which performed Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt. Later that month, as part of Spoleto USA in Charleston, S.C., NYBI played the modern premiere of Francesco Cavalli’s opera Veremonda, l’amazzone di Aragona.

Yang, who plays the violone and viola da gamba with NYBI, got her bachelor’s in modern double bass at Juilliard, and it was while completing her master’s at Yale that Robert Mealy (who’s now director of Juilliard’s Historical Performance program) introduced her to Baroque music and encouraged her to try a Baroque bow. “The moment I began to play with that bow, it just made so much sense to play this music the Baroque way with historical instruments,” Yang told The Journal. She founded NYBI in 2012, during her second year in the Historical Performance program—an ambitious undertaking given the graduate students’ crammed performance schedules and abundant coursework. She was motivated to form NYBI by the desire to create a collective with friends and keep playing after graduation. The fledgling group made decisions by vote in an attempt to consider each player’s opinion, but organization was difficult with no manager or artistic director, and after about six months, Yang became the face of the organization—suddenly responsible for scheduling, programming, budgeting, marketing, and PR. Yang admits that she has no background in any of this, but an entrepreneurial spirit has served her well. “Everything we needed to do I just learned. I just did a lot of research,” she said. “Wen just went about it and made it happen in a very determined and capable way,” violinist Adriane Post (MM ’11, historical performance), who’s been with NYBI since its founding, told The Journal.

Aside from a core handful of members, NYBI’s players change from gig to gig depending on the musical forces required. Yang draws from a roster of about 40 musicians, more than half of whom attended Juilliard, which makes for a shared experience and mutual familiarity that Post said contributes to the sense of ensemble she feels while playing with the group. “I’ve played in many groups—many different setups—and one of the hardest things can be deciding when to stop discussing what to do,” said oboist Priscilla Herreid (MM ’11, historical performance), also a NYBI regular since the group’s founding. “They seem to really know when to nail the piece down,” she said of NYBI’s players.

NYBI has a volunteer staff—violinist Jude Ziliak (Graduate Diploma ’13, historical performance) writes program notes, keyboardist Jeff Grossman (MM ’11, historical performance) does graphic design, violist Kyle Miller (MM ’12, viola, MM ’14, historical performance) helps with librarian duties, and flutist Emi Ferguson (BM ’09, MM ’12, flute; MM ’11, historical performance) helps with marketing. Funding is always a challenge—to help launch NYBI, Yang set up an Indiegogo campaign to bring in a few thousand dollars to cover costs for the website and publicity photos. During the first season, she also made loans to NYBI to cover operating costs until ticket revenue and private support stabilized. “We’re still very grass roots,” she said. “We’re self-managing. Basically all our budget goes to make the musical project happen.” To musicians interested in starting up their own groups, Yang advises a focus on the musicmaking. “Just remember that the purpose of all this is to have fun and make music together. And if we all remember that, it will be a great experience for everyone.”

On October 9, faculty member Monica Huggett will direct NYBI in cantatas by Telemann, J.C. Bach, and J.S. Bach, and the “Brandenburg” Concerto No. 6 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On New Year’s Day, NYBI will perform works by Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Daugherty at the Twelfth Night Festival at St. Paul’s Chapel, which is part of Trinity Wall Street church.

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