Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I recently returned from a wonderful trip in London, where I played a concert, made a CD, and participated in a video recording. This was all organized by Erin Headley, an American who has been living in England for the past twenty or so years. Erin is solely responsible for the rediscovery of the lirone, which I play (for information on the lirone, see www.catacoustic.com and click on the link “about the instruments”). Erin received a fellowship to research, publish, and record a program of dramatic Roman Catholic laments from the Vatican library. She chose an exquisite program of powerful music that touched musicians and audience alike very deeply.
The musicians involved in this project were a truly international group. There were four lirone players: Erin, Paulina van Laarhoven (from the Netherlands), Nora Roll (Sweden), and myself. We primarily played viola da gamba and improvised accompaniment to recitative. This proved to be a tricky matter. We were all accustomed to playing continuo on lirone, but playing continuo on viol with other viol players was a true challenge. Not only did we need to decide what notes to play, but we had to be extremely sensitive to what gestures we would make with the bow with each other and with the singers. Siobhan Armstrong (Ireland) played double harp. Liz Kenny (London) played theorbo in the concert and recording, as well as Paula Chateuneuf (who played in the concert only). Kris Bezuidenhout (originally from South Africa, currently in London) joined us in the concert and recording. The two excellent singers were Theodora Baka (from Greece) and Nadine Balbesi (an American-Jordanian currently living in Germany).
Erin named the group Atalante, after Atalante Migliorotti, the inventor of the lirone. Our concert was at the Southbank Centre in the downtown area. Erin brought a director (Eric Fraad from eXIreland) to dramatically stage the soulful laments, and the singers were amazing actresses! There were ornate props, including a jeweled crucifix, a huge golden mirror, a skull to represent vanitas (the fragility of life), and a large urn. We also had the most beautiful costumes! A costume designer from Italy created costumes for the singers (the characters were Artemisia, Mary Magdalene, and the aged Helen of Troy). They also created costumes for the instrumentalists, although we only wore these dresses for the movie – not the concert. We had dresses that were made of the finest silks with colors that were matched to our skin tones. We were made to look like allegorical goddess-like figures out of 17th-century paintings of the likes of Poussin or Raphael. The CD was made in a church in Cambridge with the talented music producer John Hadden, and the video portion was made in London at an incredible gothic church that alone created atmosphere for the movie. I anticipated playing behind a music stand with the other instrumentalists, while the singers were the main focus for this activity. However, this was not the case. The instrumentalists were asked to ACT!!! We did a few shots with us playing (no music stands!!), and the remainder of the time was spent with our participating as supporting actors to the singers. Erin hopes that having the CD with the video component (music published in editions, as well) will help Atalante receive concert tours throughout the world. I am extremely impressed with this project, and it makes me realize that I must acknowledge that audiences of the future need a visual, dramatic component to our music. This was a wonderful way to get energy and inspiration for the ninth season of Catacoustic concerts here in Cincinnati.