This month will see a new venture for Catacoustic. After many successful collaborations with institutions around the city, Catacoustic will for the first time collaborate with another well-known music group in town. Concert:nova is an innovative chamber group specializing in the unexpected aspects of contemporary chamber music. Since the unexpected is part of Catacoustic’s mission as well, the partnership seems a natural fit. Local audiences who are up for a challenge or are looking for a new experience have found that both these groups fit the bill.
To marry the Renaissance to the modern world, a universal is required, and one has been found: the works of William Shakespeare. For 400 years Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets have inspired artists in every creative field, and composers are no exception. This concert will explore music based on the work with pieces written during Shakespeare’s lifetime, and pieces written as recently as 2004.
Shakespeare filled his plays with music and songs, some well known to the Elizabethan audience, some written by himself. The clowns sang comic songs, the mad sang perceptive nonsense, the amorous sang of love, the cynical sang satire. Today we see these songs as words on the page, but at the time these would all have been sung on stage, probably with instrumental accompaniment. The tunes were composed by Shakespeare’s own contemporaries, men like Thomas Morley, Anthony Holborne, and of course the adaptable and accomplished Anonymous. Viols and lutes were well-known to the Bard—he mentions both many times. Catacoustic performers Annalisa Pappano and David Morris on viol, and David Walker and Brian Kay on lute, will re-create not just the tunes Shakespeare would have known, but the soundscape he would have recognized.
Shakespeare doesn’t belong only to the Elizabethans, though. Each generation throughout the centuries has offered its own take on the themes and characters that populate his familiar world. Concert:nova will play some of the more contemporary expressions his work has inspired. Here’s a sample: Amy Beach, 1867-1944, was an American pianist and composer. Best remembered for her songs, she composed music for several of Shakespeare’s lyrics. Ned Rorem, born in 1923, has frequently written with Shakespeare in mind. The cello suite After Reading Shakespeare was composed in 1980. Erich Korngold is best remembered for his film scores, but before there were movies there was incidental music for plays: his Much Ado About Nothing was composed in 1919. Igor Stravinsky loved to compose for unusual combinations of instruments, and Songs from William Shakespeare, 1953, was written for mezzo-soprano, flute, clarinet, and viola. Performing for concert:nova are Ted Nelson, cello, Minyoung Baik, violin, Heidi Yenney, viola, Randy Bowman, flute, Ixi Chen, clarinet, and Avedis Manoogian, piano.
Singing with both groups will be acclaimed soprano Youngmi Kim.
There is also a third participant in this collaboration. Jennifer Joplin, a member of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, will be on hand, reading from the plays and sonnets, knitting together the two worlds separated by 400 years of changing fashions in music but united by the greatest wordsmith in history. A highlight of the program will be a condensed, one-woman version of The Tempest, as illuminated by two composers at either end of the spectrum. Robert Johnson, 1583-1634, is the only person we can say with certainty composed for the original stage productions of the plays—in other words, he was an actual collaborator with the playwright himself. And Paul Morevec, a composer working on Long Island, NY, won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his Tempest Fantasy. So we have the very first composer to set Shakespeare to music, and perhaps the most recent.
The Mercantile Library will play host to "A Common Thread." With luck, the sunlight will stream through the tall windows and the wood will glow. The playwright, the composers, the musicians, and the actor will all conspire, and here will we sit and let the sounds of music creep in our ears. And by that music let us all embrace.
Sunday, March 17, 3:00pm, and Monday, Marcy 18, 7:00pm, at the Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St. #1100 45202. $25/advance | $30/door | $10/students w ID. For tickets go to http://cncatacoustic.eventbrite.com/