Director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble feels lucky in spite of the pandemic

But Amanda Balestrieri is eager to be “in the music” again

By Peter Alexander July 20 at 1:15 p.m.

“My main interest is to be in the music,” Amanda Balestrieri says.

Seicento in happier days when they could congregate and perform. Amanda Balestrieri (in blue) and associate conductor Gerald W. Holbrook

The director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble misses her colleagues, and the Seicento choir, and the other musicians that she worked with before the pandemic hit. “For me that’s the hardest thing, not working with other musicians,” she says. “I think this is very hard, because I have been re-examining how I want to do music. How do you practice your art?

“We’re all trying to reconfigure and problem solve, but we don’t really know what the parameters are going to be. Do you carry on, and how much of a mission do you have to teach, or perform in smaller venues?”

Those of course are the more abstract, broader questions that all musicians are facing in the time of COVID-19. Balestrieri tends to be philosophical about the big issues, partly because she has faced difficulties before. “I’ve been through some trials in my life; this is not the first,” she says. And the advice that she offers from her life experiences?

“When you know you’re in for a long haul, with challenges, you have to decide if you’re going to turn off and stop, or if you’re going to get up the next day and see what happens. It makes time slow down because there’s a lot things we can’t fix. I’m a fixer, so I’m frustrated right now. But it’s a good lesson to learn to back off  and let things get there.”

Balestrieri, Zooming in from her kitchen

She remains optimistic for the long term. “Most of the musicians that I know, and all of the audience members, will not let live performance not come back,” she says. “The subtlety of the musical conversation in person, even with a large group—it’s going to come back.”

In the meantime, there are the nitty gritty details of taking care of Seicento—working with the board and coming up with plans B, C and D for the future in the face of all the uncertainty. “They’re keeping me on as artistic director for a reduced fee” Balestrieri says. 

“We’re in the process of brainstorming about how we can accomplish keeping the choir cohesive. There’s a lot of things that we’re thinking through. Now it’s a question of figuring out how we can pull people in, use the technology that we have in the works. We know that we can’t have an online rehearsal where everybody can hear everybody, because we don’t have those programs.”

Educational programming that Balestrieri could offer to the singers, small group performances, Zoom meetings with rotating groups from the choir are all being considered. “Our mission is to promote the understanding and practice of the Baroque performance practice,” Balestrieri says. “I’m thinking of doing that with the choir.”

Like most of us, Balestrieri has activities for her free time as well. “I have relatives in England, and it seems to me that everybody’s gardening their heads off,” she says. “I’ve been gardening my head off! I’m on the warpath against the weeds that grow into my air-conditioning units.

“I have made a rockscape, so I have been moving flagstones from the patio, buying pea gravel—with my mask on!—and going back for another bag, since I never quite have enough. And then I’ve had all of these other things; right after the (March) concert got canceled, my fridge died. So after a $400 replacement, now my dishwasher has died and my jacuzzi has started to leak. I fixed that myself, so actually I’m like Rosie the riveter! I’ve been doing things like that.”

Every interview with people isolated during the pandemic eventually gets around to books, which are a source of both entertainment and solace. As it turns out, Balestrieri didn’t go into the period of isolation with a reading list in mind. “We’ve been raiding the local little free libraries, so it’s kind of random what we get,” she says. 

“I started reading this very odd book of short stories about Lord Peter Wimsey by Dorothy Sayers. I haven’t read any of this kind of stuff for eons. Charley [Samson, classical music host and producer at Colorado Public Radio] read it and he said, you know, these are really fun, but they’re kind of gruesome.

“I have to agree, they’re kind of gruesome. It’s like some guy copper plates his beautiful wife! So I told him I don’t want to read anything quite that grizzly.”

Balestrieri wants you to know that she has much to be grateful for. “I don’t mind being home. I need alone time. I love doing practical stuff, like rockscapes and baking, making bread and pizza. I’m a good cook so I enjoy that.

“I’m really lucky because I’m safe, I have a place to live, I have food, I have projects, I have a brain, as far as I know I’m not sick. I’m like everybody else trying to work out where everything comes down, and at the same time being extremely patient.”

The patience comes in part from having a goal to work for: getting back to live performances. “The first day that you’re able to either go and attend a concert like that, or be in it,” she says, “the joy of that will be very intense!”