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: