Sunday, February 7, 2016

Catacoustic presents the Baroque violin

Vielle, 1475

Like most instruments, the violin is a product of evolution. Someone in central Asia started making music by pulling a bow across a string, and the idea spread across the continent, morphing as it went: Two strings. Three strings. Four. Held on the lap. Between the knees. On the shoulder. The variations on the bowed instrument in Asia are legion. 

First painting of a violin, 1530
It made the jump into Europe through the Byzantine Empire, and by the 13th century troubadours were playing the vielle, also called the Renaissance fiddle. The architecture of the instrument continued to change, and by 1530 an instrument appeared in a painting that was recognizably a violin. The Amati family had set up shop by 1550, the Guarneris were in business by 1626, and family Stradivarius moved in around 1644. The violin had arrived.

The oldest extant violin,
an Amati built in 1559
Those early violins, Baroque violins, were notably different from the violins we know today. The shape and size were slightly different, and they were strung with gut strings, not metal. The bow was also shorter. What performers and audiences were looking for was a little different from what we look for in a violin today. In the 17th century, music was intended to emulate human speech patterns, with short phrases, lots of articulation, strong and weak notes. Music was often experienced in small rooms, with the audience sitting only a few feet from the performer, so volume wasn’t an issue. 

By the time Vivaldi took a job at a Venetian orphanage in 1703, the girls were being taught violin to give them a skill for use in celebrating Mass. Vivaldi was among the first to compose for orchestras of violins playing in harmony with one another. 

Paganini's Strad
By the end of Vivaldi’s century, though, the nature of performances and performers had changed. Now the violin especially was seen as an imitation of the human voice when singing, with longer connected phrases, and more emphasis on consistent tone. The bow became longer to accomplish this. Metal strings were employed for their loud, ringing tones to fill the large new concert halls. 

Think of it this way: If you want to hear Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, a Baroque violin won’t be up to the job. And if you want to hear a Bach Violin Partita, a modern violin simply isn’t the right choice either.

Catacoustic is thrilled to bring to town a violinist who knows the difference. Krista Bennion Feeney, from New York City, has had a stellar career on modern violin as concertmaster of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and a long catalog of recordings. Among her lengthy list of collaborators are Louis Langrée, Jaime Laredo, and Paul McCartney. She also founded the Serenade Orchestra and Quartet, which is dedicated solely to music of the High Baroque. She plays a violin built in 1770. 

We’ve had few opportunities to hear this instrument, this uniquely Baroque instrument, and the music written for it, here in Cincinnati. Don’t miss this chance to hear Biber, Leclair, and, yes, Bach, played the way they were meant to be played.

Sunday February 14, 2016
Church of the Advent (Walnut Hills)
 2366 Kemper Ln.
 Cincinnati, OH 45206
 Tickets $25, students $10 (buy tickets here)

Early Music Festival Week 2

This weekend is the midpoint of the month, and we have five terrific events to commemorate it.

Feb 12 & 13, 7:30pm, Cincinnati Chamber Opera is stepping up as usual with a very exciting performance. Giovanni Battista Pergolesi was considered by his 18th-century contemporaries to be THE genius of Italian opera. He died at age 26, and the works he left us with suggest that he might have been one of the giants in a century of giants if he had lived to fulfill his potential. CCO will perform two of his best-known works, one sacred and one secular. La Serva Padrona was composed in 1733, and is a comic short opera about scheming servants and clueless masters, a set-up we never get tired of. And Stabat Mater was composed as he was dying of tuberculosis in 1736, an achingly beautiful duet for soprano and alto based on a poem that was already 500 years old when Pergolesi gave it one of its most famous settings. Terrace Park, tickets $25.

Saturday Feb 13, 10am. Come and try something new! Come and sing! Madrigals, rounds, motets – back in the 16th century it was less about sitting quietly in the audience and listening, and more about everyone singing along. All levels of experience welcome. Music will be provided, but bring your iPad or other device if you’ve got one, and the infinite world of the Internet will be open to us. I dare you to think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning than singing in harmony with your neighbors! Hyde Park, free.

Also Saturday Feb 13, 4:00pm, a lute recital. Around 1670, a music teacher wrote these lines: "The Lute is without contradiction the king of instruments. It maketh alone a consort of music, it speaks without any origin and out of dead and dumb things it draws a soul that seems reasonable by the several thoughts and expression that the skilful master makes of his lute upon all kinds of matters and subjects. It is a faithful & commodious companion that watcheth amidst
darkness, and when the whole nature is in silence it banisheth from it horror and unquietness by pleasing sounds." One hundred years later the lute was falling out of fashion, its centuries-old reign brought down by the new-fangled pianos and orchestras. Lutenist Christopher Wilke specializes in the very late repertoire of lute music, the 18th century and the barest of squeaks into the 19th. He will play music of Bach, and of Durant, one of the last to compose for lute. He will also play music from the 20th-century revival of this glorious instrument. Over-the-Rhine, free.

Sunday Feb 14, 3pm. Catacoustic Consort, sponsoring organization of the Early Music Festival, presents a very special afternoon of music. Krista Bennion Feeney is one of the most honored Baroque violinists working today. If you think you know what Bach violin works sound like, wait till you hear one on a violin Bach would have been familiar with! She’ll also play music by Leclair and Biber, accompanied by harpsichord and viola da gamba. Another special feature of this concert: a gorgeous viola da gamba solo by Leclair. This is a concert you will be talking about after it’s over. East Walnut Hills, tickets $25.

Sunday Feb 14, 5pm. The Cincinnati Bach Ensemble will actually be taking on the divine Thomas Tallis this month, with a performance of his Lamentations of Jeremiah, as well as other Renaissance music for Lent, all embedded within an Episcopal Evensong service. All are welcome. Terrace Park, free.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Early Music Festival Superbowl Sunday

Sunday Feb 7, also known as Superbowl Sunday. An important national holiday for some, something to do in the evening for others, and completely unremarkable for still others. Whichever category you fall into, we have a young ton of early music happening that day, and all before kick-off! So get out early in the day for some live music!

At 10:45am Knox Presbyterian’s special music service begins. The famed choir joins forces with an instrumental ensemble to perform music by Heinrich Schütz, one of the greatest German composers of the 17th century. The music will be embedded in the traditional 11:00 worship service, and all are welcome. Hyde Park, free.

At 3:00 Great Music in a Great Space, the presenting series at St. Peter in Chains, brings The Rose Ensemble to town. Based in Minnesota, this vocal ensemble tours widely to high praise. Their program Il Poverello: Exploring the Life and Deeds of St. Francis of Assisi features centuries of hymns, dances, and motets, as well as early Italian-language spiritual songs and light-hearted readings written about and by Francis himself. Downtown, tickets $40.

At 4:00, something a little different. Chris Albanese, a CCM student working toward his Doctor of Musical Arts, will present his choral conducting recital of music written in the New World in the 17th century. Yes, there were Spanish composers working in the colonies as far back as the Baroque era, and one of the most renowned was Juan Gutierrez de Padilla in Mexico. A Mass for two choirs and several other works are on the bill. Walnut Hills, free.

At 6:00, one last opportunity for music and prayer, for whichever one you feel most in need of. Christ Church Cathedral’s Evensong service will feature music by two English Renaissance composers, Byrd and Tomkins, and by Bach. All are welcome at this Episcopal worship service. Downtown, free.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Early Music Festival Week 1

We begin this year’s Festival on Tuesday Feb 2 at noon, when Christ Church Cathedral’s Music Live at Lunch series hosts the Shakespeare Band. Soprano Jackie Stevens joins Tina Gutierrez and Bill Willits on lutes and early guitars with music from the Renaissance. Free, but lunch is available for $5 if you’re hungry! Downtown.

The very next day, Wednesday Feb 3, noon, another lunchtime music series, this one at Christ Church Glendale, hosts another Renaissance-era ensemble. Consort in the Egg is oriented toward the great variety of wind instruments that flourished during the 15th and 16th centuries, but you never know for sure what you’ll get! Glendale, free.

Saturday Feb 6 has two events. First up at 2:00 is Harpers’ Robin. This band of harps performed a lovely concert last year of troubadour and folk songs from northern Europe, and this year they are back for more. The chapel on the campus of Mount St. Joseph is absolutely beautiful, filled with light on even the snowiest day. The instruments, music, and setting combine memorably. Worth a drive! Delhi, free.

At 4:00 on the 6th is a new event organized by the Collegium Cincinnati. They have invited four different choirs (Cincinnati Boychoir, Xavier University Concert Choir, Christ Church Cathedral Choir, and the Collegium) to perform four Bach cantatas. A feast for JSB lovers! Downtown, tickets $15.