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Burning River Baroque

Date & Time: Saturday September 14, 7:30  p.m.
Venue: Incarnation Episcopal Church, 1750 29th Avenue, San Francisco
Tickets: $20 General, $15 Seniors/Students

Eventbrite Tickets: Click here

A Mad, Burning Desire

Join us for engaging music and dialogue about the ways mental illness was portrayed in early modern England and to think about the ways we can address the mental health crisis in contemporary society. The first English actresses to legally take the stage capitalized on early modern society’s fascination with mental illness and catapulted themselves to fame by portraying characters who descended violently into lovesick madness on the Restoration stage. Women were legally permitted to take the public stage in England in 1662, but this gigantic advancement for women’s rights was fraught with immense political and sexual tension. From those who decried the immorality of women performing in public to those who fetishized, courted, and even raped them, nearly everyone had an opinion about the women who were putting themselves on stage. Concurrently, English philosophers and medical experts alike began to think of psychological maladies as medical conditions requiring treatment by doctors rather than as spiritual deficiencies to be handled by religious authorities. At the visual epicenter of London’s cultural fascination with madness was Bethlehem Royal Hospital (Bedlam), which was transformed from a dilapidated hospital into a sprawling mental institution with space for over 200 patients in 1676. The tradition of wealthy individuals paying to observe Bedlam’s residents began in 1610, and by the end of the century, visitors regularly came to Bedlam to be entertained by those society deemed insane. This cultural phenomenon of making a spectacle of the mentally ill converged with spectacular mad scenes that were brought to life by the first English actresses in the Restoration theater.

“A Mad, Burning Desire” features mad songs by Henry Purcell, John Eccles, Godfrey Finger and John Blow that captivated London’s theatre-going audiences in the 1690s.


Praised by the Boston Musical Intelligencer as a group that “left an indelible imprint on my psyche,” Cleveland-based Burning River Baroque is an innovative artist-run ensemble focused on presenting cutting-edge programs about issues at the forefront of contemporary thought. Inspired by the environmental reform that occurred after the Cuyahoga River burned, they throw open the doors of the concert hall to all by performing in diverse venues and offering most concerts for free. From rural churches and libraries to urban warehouses and everywhere in between, they make regular appearances across Ohio and bring the drama, passion, and vitality of baroque music to life for diverse audiences. Each year they further fuse together the past and present by commissioning a new composition to create programming that is fresh and relevant to contemporary audiences. With each new season they further their intention of presenting programs that use classical music to reframe and engage with current reality, rather than using it as a privileged escape from current events.

Core members are Malina Rauschenfels, a Juilliard-educated multi-instrumentalist and composer, and Dr. Paula Maust, a CIM and Peabody-trained harpsichordist, organist, and scholar. Since its formation in 2012, Burning River Baroque has put on an average of 15-20 concerts each season. Last season’s concerts, “Destructive Desires” and “The Other Side of the Story,” addressed issues raised by the #MeToo Movement. The 2019-2020 season focuses on unconventional 17th-century women and includes “A Mad, Burning Desire” and “Witches: Revered and Reviled.” Each year they form partnerships with local organizations whose missions align with their concert programming. This year’s collaborations will include Bard High School Early College, songwriting workshops at the Renee Jones Empowerment Center, and a concert at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick.


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