Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Cincinnati Early Music Festival 2017 Wrap-up

A few thoughts at the close of Cincinnati Early Music Festival 2017.

The numbers: 24 different groups, made up of 368 musicians, entertained audiences totaling 1690 people, at 11 venues, in 8 neighborhoods around the city and northern Kentucky.

Range of music played: The oldest piece was performed by Harpers Robin, a Viking-derived Nobilis
Break it down, boys

Humilis from the 1100s (at least). The newest was some music snuck in by
Fleurs de Lys composed  in 1924. Unless you count a couple of outbursts of improvisation, which happened at Harpers Robin and again at Classical Revolution (Chris Wilke and Bill Willets). Then you get a true millennium of music, a full 1000 years.

Collegium Vocale
Most featured composer: This would have to be Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672). This greatest of the pre-Bach Germans was given an airing by the Cathedral Choir during Christ Church Evensong, by the Knox Choir, and by Collegium Vocale. The music was beautiful, a Renaissance-Baroque hybrid that conveyed both the lyrics and the emotions equally well. A favorite moment came at the Evensong when the line “He has scattered the proud” focused on the word “zerstreuet” (scattered). Thrown out asynchronously by the various voices, all those sibilances ricocheted off each other and painted a perfect sound picture of catastrophic scattering.

Jaap ter Linden
Most unexpected appearances by an instrument: This would be the cellos. They were everywhere! Colin Lambert with the Caladrian Ensemble, Jennifer Jill Araya with Fleurs de Lys, Christina Coletta with the Knox Choir, Erik Anderson with the Bach Ensemble, David Myers with Collegium Vocale, and Tom Guth with Collegium Cincinnati, who tackled Bach like a boss. Although unplanned, the cello cohort fit in well with this year’s superstar guest, the magnificent Jaap ter Linden. Along with Catacoustic Consort, he brought the house down with his effortless command of all the tricks up the cello’s sleeve, his entire Bach suite played from memory, his evident delight in playing duets with Annalisa Pappano on viola da gamba, a combo that doesn’t happen every day. Or, in the case of Cincinnati, ever. Cellos rule!

Chris Wilke & Rod Stucky

Performer with the fullest dance card: Chris Wilke, no contest. Over the course of the month, Chris partnered with violinist Jennifer Roig-Francoli, soprano Fotina Naumenko, lutenist Bill Willits, and guitarist Rod Stucky. We are glad to have him in town.

Some favorite moments:

                --The audience hanging over the balcony railings at the Cincinnati Art Museum when Schola Cincinnati wafted into that Renaissance music that the echoey Great Hall loves. Come for the art, stay for the music!

                --The energetic treatment of Passacaglia della Vita by Jackie Stevens and the Shakespeare Band, as she gaily reminded us of our approaching ends:  Bisogna morire!

                --The charming selection Mein Gläubiges Herze from Bach’s Cantata 68. It was lovely, and can I just say how good the Bach Ensemble of St. Thomas sounded this year?

                --The final piece of the final event was the eternally spectacular Pianto della Madonna by Sances, sung by Danielle Adams with Elizabeth Motter, WeiShuan Yu, and Annalisa Pappano. This is exactly the kind of music that early music lovers wish the rest of the world knew about.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Early Music Festival Week 4

The final week of the Cincinnati Early Music Festival is already upon us – February always flies by, doesn’t it? We have three events remaining, and they make for an exciting finale.

Sunday, Feb 26, 11am. Once again the Knox Choir at Knox Presbyterian in Hyde Park dips into the infinite works of Heinrich Schütz. Along with full instrumental ensemble, they will perform some of his Concertato Motets from 1648 and 1650. This performance is part of a Presbyterian church service, to which all are welcome.

Sunday, Feb 26, 7:30. Tonight is the exciting return of Vicars Choral, a vocal ensemble that has delighted audiences for the last two years with music of the Renaissance. This year represents a departure for them, in two ways. First, they are moving into the Baroque, with a concert of music by Heinrich Schütz, the great master of German music before JS Bach, music from his Musikalische Exequien from 1636. Second, the Vicars will be joining forces with Collegium Vocale. This is a new ensemble born of the CCM Early Music Lab. Students from undergraduate through the uppermost degrees are exploring the treasures of early vocal music. The combined groups should be worthy of their subject. This concert is free and in Hyde Park – don’t miss it.

Tuesday, Feb 28, 12noon. This final concert of the Festival is particularly exciting because it is, in some ways, another debut! Elizabeth Motter, well-known concert harpist, decided a few years ago to add Early Music to her skill set. She was the first ever recipient of the Catacoustic Early Music Development Grant, which kick-started her training in Baroque triple harp (which is remarkably different from the modern harp.) Since then she has performed numerous times with Catacoustic and other ensembles both in the US and abroad. She has become an invaluable addition to the local early music scene. And today is the first time she has presented her own recital. Join us at one last Music Live at Lunch at Christ Church downtown for 17th century Italian music, including soprano Danielle Adams and gambist WeiShuan Yu, and, of course, one of the only Baroque triple harp specialists in the US today, our own Elizabeth Motter.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Early Music Festival Week 3

We have five events this week, and it’s an interesting line-up

Friday Feb 17, 8:00, at St John United Church of Christ in Bellevue, KY, as part of their February music series “Music on the Avenue,” a duo of Baroque guitars. Rod Stucky, professor of guitar and lute at UC-CCM, and lutenist/guitarist/recording artist Chris Wilke will explore the music of this sometimes-overlooked instrument. Until the 18th century, the lute was considered the king of instruments, but during the final century of the Baroque era the guitar started making inroads in popularity among both performers and composers. Rod and Chris will take us on a tour of this crucial century for the guitar.  Free.

Saturday Feb 18, 10am. This morning is your chance to participate in the most elemental music of all. Come and Sing! means everyone, regardless of experience, is welcome to give early music a try. Cambridge-trained choral conductor Matthew Swanson will be ringmaster as we raise our voices in madrigals, motets, rounds, chants, and other music that our ancestors knew and loved. The atmosphere is warm and supportive, and last year’s group had a terrific time, as I can personally testify. Don’t be shy – come and have fun on a Saturday morning!  Free, of course, and in the sun-drenched chapel at Church of the Redeemer in Hyde Park.

Saturday, Feb 18, 4:00. Returning from last year, when it played to a packed house at Christ Church Cathedral downtown, Bach CantataFest is exactly what the name suggests. Five cantatas by Bach, (numbers 86, 95, 106, 131, 196, for those of you keeping score) sung by five choirs from around the city, including the Cincinnati Boychoir, the Walnut Hills High School Chamber Choir, the Edgecliff Vocal Ensemble from Xavier U, the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, and the hosting ensemble Collegium Cincinnati. If you love Bach, or if you love the high Baroque, or if you just love choral singing, you won’t want to miss this. Tickets $10.

Sunday Feb 19, 3:00. Catacoustic Consort is the Early Music Festival’s
hosting organization. Their annual concert is always a highlight of the Festival, but never more than this year. To our delight, we will be presenting the most renowned Baroque cellist in the world, Jaap ter Linden. He will perform music of Telemann, Bach, Geminiani, and others. Cancel your other plans – you may never again get a chance to hear this music played at this level. Tickets $25, $10 student.

Tuesday Feb 21, 12noon. Today’s lunchtime concert at Christ Church Cathedral downtown will feature the Cincinnati Recorder Consort. Eight musicians, most professional or semi-professional, offer up the entire recorder family, including giant bass instruments that stand on the floor and tiny sopraninos unplayable by all but the slimmest fingers. They’ll be playing music from the Renaissance (the divine William Byrd!) and the Baroque (the awesome Orlando Gibbons!).  Free.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Early Music Festival 2017 Week 2

Week 2 of the Festival is typically busy, and this year is no exception, with SIX events. Three of these are debut performances of new ensembles.

Friday, Feb 10, at 7:30 is the inaugural performance of Schola Cincinnati, a new professional vocal ensemble dedicated to music of the Renaissance. Founder Jason Harris, a Grammy winner formerly of Oberlin, is a man with a mission: to give the city an ensemble that ranks with the best-known groups in the US. His hand-picked singers will debut with music composed around the poetry of the Song of Solomon. Lassus, Palestrina, Victoria, and others all mined this most secular book of the Bible for lyrics literal and allegorical, romantic and sacred. The beautiful acoustics of St Peter in Chains downtown will add to the experience. Come help break a champagne bottle across the bow of this ambitious project. Tickets $15, $5 students.

Saturday, Feb 11, at 3:00 will see another new group to the Festival. The Caladrian Ensemble, newly formed this year, features instrumental chamber music from the late Baroque era. This concert will present Jennifer Roig-Francoli on Baroque violin, with music by Bach, Haydn, Rust, and others, at Old St. Mary’s in Over-the-Rhine. Tickets $10, $7 seniors.

Sunday, Feb 12, 2:00. The Cincinnati Art Museum in Eden Park presents an occasional concert series called MUSE in its Great Hall. Today will feature Schola Cincinnati, in an abbreviated repeat performance of their debut on Fri Feb 10.

Sunday, Feb 12, 5:00. Every month the Cincinnati Bach Ensemble prepares entire cantatas and other works by Bach, his contemporaries, and his predecessors, to be sung during Evensong. Every month! This month it’s music by Bach and Handel, and includes as soloist CSO flautist Randy Bowman. Part of an Episcopal evensong service, to which all are welcome. In Terrace Park.

Sunday, Feb 12, 8:00. It’s that time of year:  Classical Revolution!  The second Sunday of every month classical music comes where people live, at the Northside Tavern in Northside. And every February the music gets old – really old. A potpourri of ensembles and musical eras will grace the backroom stage. Past years have included hurdy-gurdy and Viking songs, Elizabethan tavern songs, lutes, flutes, and surprises galore. Come and have an ale of a good time.

Tuesday, Feb 14, 12:10. One more brand new group will debut this action-packed week. Fleurs de Lys focuses on French music as performed by strings, winds, and voice. Today’s concert will include music of Couperin, Moulinié, and others. As usual, bring your lunch or purchase one at Christ Church downtown for $5.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Early Music Festival Week 1

This year’s Early Music Festival opens Saturday, Feb 4, with two concerts on the west side of town.

At 2:00, Harper’s Robin will perform their annual concert at the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse Immaculate Conception Chapel in Delhi. If you’ve never been before, you owe it to yourself both to experience the beautiful space in this gorgeous, domed, Baroque chapel – it’s truly lovely – and to hear the music of a harp choir. The small lever harps this group plays create a different sound than their big modern concert cousins. The repertoire ranges widely through centuries and countries, yet the effect is intimate and cohesive. The audience learns not only about an unusual instrument but about what it’s capable of in the aggregate. A rare opportunity for a revealing afternoon. Free.

Cantigium's leader
At 7:30 that same evening, Cantigium returns to St. Boniface in Northside. Cantigium is a chamber choir made up of former music students from Xavier who have now been singing together purely for the love of the thing for several years. Time and the firm hand of its conductor Scot Buzza have created a purity of sound and tone unmatched in many professional organizations. The range of music they tackle goes back to the very oldest written music extant, and in an acoustical space like St. Boniface the music shimmers as it did when it was new. Insanely, this concert is free.

On Sunday, Feb 5, at 6pm, the Choral Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral downtown will feature three works by German Baroque masters. One is J S Bach, who needs no introduction.
The other is Heinrich Schütz, and you might want to take note, as Schütz will be featured in several concerts this month. Born in 1585, exactly 100 years before Bach, he is generally considered the most important German composer before Bach. He is credited with importing Italian stylistic innovations into German music, and his influence echoes as far as Brahms and Webern. If a contemplative hour of prayer seems your best recourse this evening – this performance is part of an Episcopal service, to which all are welcome – fall under the influence of these giants in their field.

Tuesday, Feb 7, is the first of a month of lunchtime early music concerts as part of Christ Church Cathedral’s Live at Lunch series. Starting at 12:10, the concerts are all free. Bring your lunch, or purchase the lunch provided for $5. This week, the Shakespeare Band, consisting of lutes, guitars, bass, and soprano, perform music of Venice, including Monteverdi and Landi.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Cincinnati Early Music Festival 2017

Let’s talk about the Cincinnati music scene for a minute. We all know it’s extraordinary. But even as
Does he look a little tired?
recently as 15 years ago it felt a little mired in the tried-and-true. And by that I mean the standard Mozart-Stravinsky spectrum that has nourished the classical music industry for a century.

A revolution has happened in our city. Cincinnati Opera and the CSO both regularly perform brand new works, hot off their composers’ hard drives, often with the composers in attendance. 20th century works have become so commonplace they aren’t even cause for comment.

And it seems everyone is stretching back in the other direction, too. Recently the May Festival Chorus calved off a chamber group for the performance of a Bach Cantata with a reduced and specialized CSO. The city’s first Baroque opera La Calisto from a couple of years ago sold out every show. The second, L’incoronazione di Poppea, is on the schedule for 2018. Audiences have made it clear that the old spectrum, covering as it did only 150 years of music, wasn’t nearly wide enough. Not when we should have 1000 years to choose from.

Our institutions have begun to explore outside the old boundaries, and they have found the smaller ensembles there waiting for them. Catacoustic Consort has been diving deep into Baroque music for 16 years. Church choirs like those at St Peter in Chains, Christ Church, and St. Thomas have begun routinely incorporating Renaissance music into their services. The CCM Early Music Lab, which allows for specializations in organ, harpsichord, viola da gamba, lute, and voice, grows every year, as the students clamor for more opportunities. Professionals have relocated to Cincinnati, realizing that at last they have a chance at a career in early music right here. When Classical Revolution puts out the call for early music, so many ensembles sign up that the music goes late into the night.

This year’s 5th anniversary Early Music Festival intends to expose the breadth and innovation of the smaller ensembles. It is packed with 18 performances by groups you have come to love, like Cantigium and Vicars Choral, and by new groups you won’t want to miss, like Schola Cincinnati and the Caladrian Ensemble. We have experienced amateurs in the Shakespeare Band and the new Fleurs de Lys, and professionals like Chris Wilke and Rod Stucky on Baroque guitars and Elizabeth Motter on Baroque harp. We’ll have children singing at the Bach CantataFest, college students with the CCM Collegium Vocale, and the extremely revered, internationally renowned Baroque cellist Jaap ter Linden with Catacoustic.

Definitely does not look tired
We even have a return to the do-it-yourself Saturday morning Come and Sing, where anyone can come and try singing madrigals, motets, and chants. It’s crazy fun.

The Cincinnati Early Music Festival begins February 4 (Harper’s Robin!). Full details of all our events can be found at

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Report from the Sixth Catacoustic Grant Winner: Shelby Mass

The 2016 winner of Catacoustic's Early Music Grant was Shelby Mass.  Shelby is currently a senior at Miami University, majoring in violin performance and Italian. Her hope is to continue on to graduate school and specialize in Baroque performance. She has attended Baroque performance workshops both in the US and in Europe. Her biggest need when she applied for the grant?  A Baroque bow!  Here is her report:

The bow is a Nardi, made of pernambuco
The Catacoustic Consort Grant program has enabled me to engage in a project that combines what I know with so much that is totally new. At the Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute [attended this summer] I was stunned by the beauty and depth of this music, and I found myself completely hooked!

My inspiration is the relationship between humans and their art. A desire to explore the effect that history, philosophy, and music have upon each other led me to seek out resources for taking my search to the next level, and I am very blessed to have been chosen for a scholarship which enabled me to purchase my first Baroque bow. This bow has enabled me to prepare for upcoming auditions to graduate historical performance and performance practice programs. Simply practicing with my Baroque bow has given me a dramatically different understanding of the repertoire which I am studying, and Baroque performance practices have become much easier for me to understand and implement.

I began my early music adventure this summer with the Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute and an undergraduate summer research project on the contrasts between Baroque and Classical compositional and performance practices, and with my new bow I am now able to engage in continued learning on this subject! I have been so very grateful and happy to be able to work with Catacoustic Consort’s support of this project, and I look forward to sharing what I have learned!

We're hoping Shelby will get a chance to perform in town during the Cincinnati Early Music Festival in February.