Monday, November 8, 2010

Monteverdi Vespers at CCM

Last weekend, The Cincinnati Conservatory of Music performed Claudio Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610, under the direction of Dr. Earl Rivers. I was pleased that Dr. Rivers asked me to participate in this performance. He has conducted this work at CCM - usually about every five years, and he feels that this is a masterpiece in choral and solo vocal literature and needs to be performed. It is a huge task for a vocal program that is so steeped in the romantic opera tradition. But, things are changing at CCM. I am convinced that it is one of the finest schools in the country for vocalists. They continue to send out the best singers into the field of opera, and it is not so well known that they are sending out singers who also sing early music: Youngmi Kim, Michael Maniaci, David Daniels, Mischa Bouvier, and many more! Their vocal teachers are sensitive to the fact that their students will need to do a be strong in a variety of styles in the professional musical world. Mary Henderson-Stucky, the head of the vocal department, performs early music as a normal part of her repertoire. Robin Guarino, the CCM opera director, would like to offer one Baroque opera each year. It was no surprise that the soloists excelled in the Vespers. It was easy to see some careers in the making.
Dr. Rivers was very interested in absorbing more historically informed style into this performance. He asked Catacoustic regular Michael Leopold to play theorbo, me to play lirone, Vivian Montgomery on harpsichord and organ, Rod Stucky for archlute, and Micah Fusselman for gamba. Elizabeth Motter had her first Vespers experience on harp. Kiri Tollaksen and Shawn Spencer played cornetto.
Dr. Rivers was quite interested to participate in discussions with the continuo players about chord choices and stylistic decisions. Topics such as cadencing on major as a norm, soft resolutions/cadences, and instruments playing rhetorically (imitating singers) - to the extent of it being helpful for us to have text in our parts were exciting to him. I was thrilled to have such an excellent conductor be so open!
The orchestra improved in the intense week of rehearsals, although this style is very difficult for instrumentalists to grasp in only a week or two. I would have loved to have been able to begin work with them several months in advance. Ideas like playing words and imitating singers are foreign ones and can take a while to absorb. Often, "modern" musicians play this music with everything detached, thinking that more space in between notes makes it sound more Baroque. I find that this style of playing makes it rather static. The idea is to play with direction, with articulation determined by the text. The CCM instrumentalists (students and faculty) are becoming more interested in Baroque music at CCM and hope that there are opportunities to work with them in the future!
It was such a pleasure to bring this piece to Cincinnati and collaborate with CCM. The audience was thrilled, and gave an enthusiastic standing ovation. This only bodes well for more early music in Cincinnati!
For more reading on the CCM Vespers performance, see:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Recorder Workshop with Anne Timberlake

Catacoustic hosted Anne Timberlake in a workshop for local recorder enthusiasts last night. Seven people participated, in addition to my bass viol student Alice Nutter, who played bass lines.
Several months ago I asked people what they wanted out of a workshop. I have offered recorder workshops in the past to mixed reviews, so it was important to make sure that the participants get something out of such an event. The response was that it would be good to learn about ornamentation - especially with regard to slow movements of sonatas. Another suggestion was ensemble skills. There are numerous recorder players in the area. You would be surprised to know that there are several local groups that meet to play consorts on a regular basis. I want to create a real community through early music in Cincinnati, which will in turn fulfill part of the mission of Catacoustic.
So, it was perfect when I contacted Anne (currently in Richmond, Virginia) and found out that that very day she was planning a trip back to visit her family in Indiana. She stopped by Cincinnati on her way.
The workshop was excellent. She communicated about ornamentation that made it seem quite accessible. She thought a lot about this topic to prepare for the workshop and had a step-by-step process for everyone to follow. She asked people to prepare a slow movement of a Handel sonata with and without ornaments. Things she talked about:

1) Why does one ornament?
2) When to ornament and when to leave the music alone
3) Types of ornaments - vibrato, mordents, trills, turns, fast scalar passages, rhythmic alteration, short versus long (articulation as ornament), etc.
4) Stylistic appropriateness and grasping the composer's intentions
5) Understanding the bass and rudimentary theory - looking at the bass line for dissonance, parallel octaves and fifths
6) Call and response with ornaments: she would play an ornament and ask everyone to play what she had just done.

Anne played several versions of recordings of this movement and asked people why they liked or didn't like them. She also demonstrated some tasteful and not-so-tasteful ornamentation examples.
Following the ornamentation session, everyone played consorts. Anne got people to talk about musical ideas - that before one plays a piece, you should figure out what the composer is trying to COMMUNICATE. Is the piece a battle or warlike piece? About sighing, about love, etc. After that she talked about having similar ideas of articulation and gestures based on what the piece is trying to communicate. She also got most everyone to take a turn leading the group with cues.
It was a great way to spend an evening, and everyone learned something, which I hope they will take back to their own personal musical lives.