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Baroque Orchestra makes its choice

British harpsichordist and early-music champion Julian Perkins will succeed violinist Monica Huggett as artistic director of Portland Baroque Orchestra.

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Portland Baroque Orchestra has named Julian Perkins as its new artistic director. Photo: Luke Koch de Gooreynd

Conductor and keyboard virtuoso Julian Perkins will be the next artistic director of Portland Baroque Orchestra, the company announced Wednesday. Perkins, who is also artistic director of the Cambridge Handel Opera Company and founder-director of Sounds Baroque, will succeed Monica Huggett as artistic leader of the 38-year-old orchestra, one of the leading Baroque ensembles in the United States.

Perkins was one of three finalists to succeed Huggett, the brilliant violinist who has retired from PBO after leading the ensemble for 27 years. He was chosen over fellow finalists Peter Whelan, artistic director of the Irish Baroque Orchestra, and Canadian virtuoso violinist Aisslinn Nosky, concertmaster of the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston.

All three candidates led the Portland orchestra in recent concerts in a sort of playoff for the artistic-director championship. James Bash covered all three concerts for ArtsWatch, and in his piece If it’s Baroque: Portland Baroque Orchestra’s Festival of Candidates declared Perkins the winner. PBO’s board agreed. “Julian is a great fit for PBO, bringing a breadth of experience in artistic creation, production, and direction,” board president William Willingham said in a statement released Wednesday. “His passion, knowledge, and deep commitment to early music make him the ideal person to lead Portland Baroque Orchestra into a new era of excellence.”

“I am thrilled and honored to succeed Monica Huggett as Artistic Director of the Portland Baroque Orchestra,” Perkins said in the same statement. “Last month, I greatly enjoyed collaborating with this group of top-class musicians, making music in ways that I found highly stimulating, moving and stylish.”

Bash, writing about Perkins’ November 20 performance with the PBO musicians, was effusive in his praise. “Perkins created an exciting program right out of the gate, starting with English composer Matthew Locke’s Curtain Tune,” he wrote. “Like slow moving taffy, Locke’s short piece had a hypnotic style that transitioned to a quicker dance-like theme. All of it was shaped extremely well by Perkins, who conducted from the harpsichord.” He added about the performance of Pietro Locatelli’s Il Pianto d’Arianna Concerto grosso (The Weeping of Arianna): “Perkins guided the Portland Baroque Orchestra with terrific emotional clarity,” and concluded, “I think that Perkins’ superb keyboard artistry and deft conducting made for an exceptional one-two combination (leading with a jab and following with a right hook) that gave him a TKO in this festival of candidates.”

Perkins, who advocates for what he calls “a historically inspired approach to period music,” offers a generational change to PBO, with maybe more than a dash of flair: BBC Radio 3 has declared him “the Indiana Jones of Early Music.” What’s that mean? Pacific Northwest music fans are about to find out.

Portland Baroque Orchestra’s next program is Handel’s Messiah, with the choir Cappella Romana, in three performances Dec. 9-11 at downtown Portland’s First Baptist Church.

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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