The Argentine-born baroque oboist, Gonzalo X. Ruiz, has been with Los Angeles-based Musica Angelia Baroque Orchestra since the company’s inception in 1993 and was named the group’s associate artistic director in 2014. Led by organist Martin Haselböck and hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “Southern California’s most important early music ensemble,” the group has, like numerous arts organizations, found a way to present performances during the COVID-19 crisis.
Filmed live at Don’t Wonder Productions, in the Signal Hill neighborhood near Long Beach, a concert featuring music by Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, George Frederick Handel, J.S. Bach, and Antonio Vivaldi, will be available for viewing beginning Dec. 19 on YouTube and Vimeo. The 12-person performance will be led by Ruiz, who arranged a pair of works and will also play oboe and guitar.
“The logistics were multifaceted,” explained Ruiz, who lives in Manhattan and is in his 10th year teaching at The Juilliard School. “We filmed for two days, including rehearsals, and everybody had to show up with recent COVID test results within the last 48 hours. We were also masked and spread out. The pieces were decided on because of [financial] resources and will also be part of an education series for the Long Beach School District.
“It added up to a nice program of young Baroque composers,” he continued, “because the oldest is Bach, who was 31 when he wrote the fifth Brandenburg Concerto, which we do with [harpsichordist] Elliott Figg. But we start out with a suite from [Jacquet de la Guerre’s] opera Céphale et Procris, because it’s great music and I wanted to include it in the educational series. We played a few little dances from the appendix from the original production. The composer was only 23.”
Ruiz’s chops will be on full display with the Handel Concerto for Oboe in G Minor, written when the composer was only 18, before he brings the concert to a close with his arrangement of the last movement from Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor. “It’s got a ground bass and seemed to be a self-contained encore which he wrote when he was probably in his early 20s.”
While Musica Angelica’s concerts have been canceled since mid-March, Ruiz, who has also appeared as principal oboist and soloist with esteemed ensembles such as Philharmonia Baroque and the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra, said that filming was a “fantastic experience. It was great to see some of our friends again and it also felt great to play music. They were grateful, because many of them hadn’t played with others since the pandemic began. I feel lucky that we were able to play for the camera, if not for the audience. A little bit of that joy of music I hope shows through.”
Pointing out that the pandemic has been particularly tough on musicians, Ruiz added: “It’s an art, it’s a craft and it’s also a kind of cultural ritual — going to hear music together. People are getting comfort from online content and I’m not sure how sustainable it is, but I have no doubt it’s genuine. If three years from now we’re stuck at home and the only way you could get music was from a computer, we’ll miss the social bonding experience. Just like going to a fine restaurant is more than putting food in your mouth, going to concerts is not just throwing sounds at your ears, but it’s a social bonding experience. It’s part of what we do.
“In between,” said Ruiz, “I hope we can create some nice videos that stand the test of time. Even the giant meteor didn’t kill all the dinosaurs — some became birds. And Bach, Mozart, and Vivaldi, they aren’t going anywhere.”