This Colorado orchestra is using classical music to have modern day conversations about gender

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Eden Lane/CPR News
Violinist Lindsie Katz, left, rehearses with Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado Artistic Director Frank Nowell.

When you think about 17th-century classical music, a few things likely come to mind: lavish arrangements, prim and proper regalia. Now, however, one Colorado orchestra is using baroque music to spark a different conversation, one based around gender. 

The Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado is diving into the topic and dedicating one of its Confluence series concerts to explore gender in a new way — with new partners.

Frank Nowell, the artistic director and harpsichordist of the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado, said he believes that it is natural for the group to be part of the conversation.

“I always think that even though the music we play is old, for me at least, it seems very connected to my world in 2024,” Nowell said. 

The concept for “Kaleidoscope” blends stories of gender and discovery with baroque music. Nowell said he thinks the style has a direct way of expressing ideas, “and it's very accessible, but also it's all about the emotion.”

To enhance the emotional expression, guest poet Hayden Dansky will be accompanied by violinists Rafa Prendergast and Lindsie Katz. Katz is also the co-curator of the program.

Dansky emphasized that the program’s goal is to establish a connection with diverse audiences. 

“I was thinking about ‘What is the story that we want to tell?’ I don't know who all will be there, but wanting to hit audiences that maybe are transgender or non-binary or queer or questioning,” Dansky said. “But also people who have never thought about gender before and explored these concepts before.”

To combine baroque melodies with contemporary poetry, the team plans to incorporate improvisational elements. 

"We're thinking sort of violin fantasy styles. So whatever that means. And we get to decide, and it'll be really fun to work in person with Hayden and to see how the timing works and how much improv we actually want to do, when we want to respond—when Hayden starts— when we start,” Katz said. “So I think it'll be a really fun process."

Dansky said they are using some of their personal transitioning story to make a connection with the audience.

“I think that's the power of memoir: It helps build empathy because it's the easiest way to try to understand what it might be like to live as somebody else,” Dansky said. “And some of it is just like the stories of trans and non-binary and gender-questioning people and the ways in which we're experiencing this world and becoming ourselves.”

Nowell said he hopes the program sparks an exchange of appreciation between poetry enthusiasts and music lovers.

Kaleidoscope” will be performed at the Center for Musical Arts in Lafayette on January 13 and the Kim Robards Dance Venue in Denver on January 14.

Editor's Note: The Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado is a financial supporter of CPR Classical. Financial supporters have no editorial influence.

Eden Lane/CPR News
Violinist Lindsie Katz, left, stands near Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado Artistic Director Frank Nowell, center, and spoken-word artist Hayden Dansky after rehearsing.