Jeffrey Grossman and his group make high-energy at home with chamber music.
Jeffrey Grossman’s musical journey has allowed for him to experience instrumental time travel — and he is loving every direction it’s taken him.
Eighteen years have gone by since Grossman lived in Michigan and began pursuing his passion for piano and percussions. Private lessons enhanced his skills enough to perform with the Detroit Symphony Civic Orchestra, Metropolitan Youth Symphony and the Michigan Youth Symphony Orchestra.
Time away from his home state was devoted to expanding keyboard and conducting prowess through studies at Harvard, Carnegie Mellon University and the Julliard School, and he moved on to notable professional concerts as a soloist and as a continuing member of chamber group the Sebastians.
While moving forward in his profession, Grossman found a way of going back to instrumental and melodic styles of the past. As he performed with his quartet, audiences listened to a unique approach to the harpsichord featuring baroque music (written before 1750).
“I always liked listening to jazz, but I never studied it,” says Grossman, 35, who will appear Feb. 23 in Bloomfield Hills and Feb. 24 in Ann Arbor for his Michigan professional debut. “Playing baroque music with a really good ensemble was the closest I came to jazz. I could make things up because the harpsichord supports the other instruments.
“If there’s a fun thing happening on the violin, I can play something fun, too. If the instruments are very quiet, I can play almost nothing at all and come in with a big flourish when things get totally different in a totally different approach to chamber music.
“In ensemble music, the harpsichord is improvising along with the cello or the bass. In baroque, the harpsichord sort of serves as the conductor tying all the parts together. “
In the two local performances, the theme, “Les Nations,” relates baroque music to what is currently a worldwide issue. Through the compositions, the instrumentalists will explore the idea of nationalism.
The title of the program comes from a project of sonatas and suites by Francois Couperin, who will be represented by “L’imperiale” and “L’espagnole.” Also played — with Daniel Lee and Nicholas DiEugenio on violins and Ezra Seltzer on cello — will be works by Handel, Royer, Telemann, Mossi, Corelli and Vivaldi.
“We will be playing music from a bunch of different countries, including Germany, Italy and France,” Grossman explains. “The music will have the national styles of those different countries in baroque times.”
Grossman’s interest in baroque came through graduate conducting studies at Carnegie Mellon.
“I was conducting all sorts of things — operas by Rossini, musicals by Marvin Hamlisch — and found I was missing an intimacy that comes with chamber music,” he recalls. “Specifically, I found myself being drawn to the baroque rhetoric with instruments speaking to each other in a very lyrical way.
“I took some harpsichord lessons and found something intoxicating about the way the instrument itself spoke. It has an immediacy when it’s played well that gives it a lightness and flavor so that I couldn’t get enough of it.
“Before 1800, there was no such thing as a conductor. All music was led by either the harpsichordist, first violinist or the whole group together as a unit. I realized there was all this music that doesn’t need one person [methodically] waving his arms. I felt I had a good background with keyboard instruments to make that my life.”
“I took some harpsichord lessons and found something intoxicating about the way the instrument itself spoke. It has an immediacy when it’s played well that gives it a lightness and flavor so that I couldn’t get enough of it.”
— Jeffrey Grossman
Living in New York — and while experimenting with an upright piano, small organ and two harpsichords in his home — Grossman serves as artistic director of the Sebastians, an affiliation established while at Juilliard, and schedules independent engagements, recently with operatic soprano Joyce DiDonato at Carnegie Hall, Chamber Music Northwest and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Grossman, who graduated from Harrison High School in Farmington Hills and attended Temple Shir Shalom, is the son of Detroiters Beth and Jeff Davidson, and Joel and Debbie Grossman.
“It’s very hard to find Jewish baroque music,” says Grossman, who sometimes plays at synagogue concerts.
“I’ve personally performed Jewish piano music. I’ve gone on a lot of outreach concerts at schools, hospitals and nursing homes in various parts of the country and included a lot of music by the late Jewish American composer Arnold Rosner.”
Grossman has been able to mix some technology with his musical interest to develop a sideline — engraving musical scores.
“Composers write music in longhand or at the computer,” says Grossman, whose partner is composer Karl Hinze. “I take the music and make it look nice by inputting it into the computer so that it’s easier for performers to read. There’s a lot of back and forth with the composer so I can clarify what is meant. It’s like editing, making it clean and crisp.
“In high school, I thought putting music into the computer was cool. You could listen to it and see how it looks. As I got older, people asked me if I wanted the sort of work that was part of engraving, and I started reading manuals and learning software.”
With a focus on time travel, two of Grossman’s recordings, “There and Back” and “Reunion,” feature music that mixes centuries and countries. He has found that people drawn to early music also are drawn to very modern music.
“I think it’s because both kinds of music are sort of weird,” Grossman laughs. “I feel lucky to immerse myself in music so much of the time.”
The Sebastians will perform two concerts as part of the season of the Academy of Early Music. The group will appear at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, at the Congregational Church of Birmingham in Bloomfield Hills, and 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor. $10-$35. Pre-concert lectures start at 7:15 p.m. (734) 228-4338; academyofearlymusic.org.