The Thrill of Discovery

The view form oboist Debra Nagy's desk with Handel and Haydn Society.
The view from oboist Debra Nagy’s desk with the Handel and Haydn Society.


First in our series of guest articles marking Early Music Month

By Debra Nagy

Everyone can understand the thrill of a really great thrift store find: top quality, lightly used, stylish, perhaps a bit unexpected, and a great price! Retro is IN and it’s new to YOU.

That’s one of the great things about being an early music lover: the thrill of discovering new music that no one else (or at least none of your friends) has heard or performed.

Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society is doing just that this week preparing Juan Cristomo de Arriaga’s Symphony in D with guest director Nicholas McGegan. It’s a rare and wonderful thing when everyone present has the opportunity to discover and enjoy something “new” — we’ll be playing a modern premiere in Symphony Hall on Friday, March 3 and Sunday, March 5.

Arriaga earned the moniker “The Basque Mozart” in his own lifetime. A true wunderkind, Arriaga was born on January 27, 1806 (50 years to the day after Mozart), in Bilbao, Spain, and composed his first piece at age 11. By 13, he had composed an opera, Los esclavos felices, of which only fragments survive. At 15, Arriaga traveled to Paris for studies in violin and composition at the Paris Conservatoire, where he was appointed a teaching assistant just two years later. An incredible, driven talent, Arriaga died of exhaustion just shy of his 20th birthday. His Symphony in D was one of his last works.

I learned today that Arriaga’s only symphony is powerful, richly expansive, and full of beautiful melodies. Audiences will get to hear it for themselves this weekend!

Baroque oboist Debra Nagy found it a bit odd when The New York Times saw fit to call her “busy and fluent” a number of years ago, but these days her playing is “distinctly sensual, pliant, warm, and sweet.” When she’s not busy performing, practicing, or dreaming up new projects, she can be found cooking up a storm in the kitchen or commuting by bicycle from her home in Cleveland’s historic Ohio City neighborhood.

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