Monday, January 27, 2014

Cincinnati Early Music Festival Week Two

Week Two of the Cincinnati Early Music Festival kicks off with a bang. Friday Feb 7, at 7:30 pm, harpsichord superstar Jory Vinikour will be in town, hosted by Catacoustic Consort. One of the great harpsichordists of his generation, Vinikour will present a concert on the great harpsichord of Christ Church Cathedral downtown.  The repertoire will span the breadth of music written for this great instrument.  And the playing is sure to be spectacular.  Vinikour's discography is extensive, with specialties in Bach and Rameau, and it includes the soundtrack to the movie Jefferson in Paris, for which he was the harpsichordist.  We are lucky to have an artist of this rare ability in town for one night only.  For more information on Jory Vinikour, visit

And to compound the rarity, Annalisa will play her pardessus tonight as well.  You may not realize that the pardessus, the smallest member of the viola da gamba family, is also the least mastered of the family, and that we have one of the best players in the country living among us.  Don’t miss this evening’s concert.  For details, see

Friday Feb 7, 7:30pm, Christ Church Cathedral, downtown.  Tickets $25, students $10, under  12 free.

The remaining events this week should have something for everyone.  

Feb 9 the Bach Vespers will have a special evening.  The Cincinnati Bach Ensemble will welcome guest conductor Brett Scott and the Cincinnati Camerata.  Together they will perform Bach’s Cantata BWV 35, Spirit and Soul Become Confused.  Alto Sarah Jackson will sing the solo part. Two of Mozart’s Sonatas da Chiesa, K 67 and K336, will also be performed.

Sunday Feb 9, 6:00pm, St Thomas Episcopal, Terrace Park, free.

Classical Revolution’s all-Early Music evening is back!  Early Music will fill the back room of the Northside Tavern -- the program is packed with local artists and ensembles of every stripe performing a wide range of music in this informal setting.

Sunday Feb 9, 8:00pm, Northside Tavern, Northside, free.

Music Live at Lunch will have another Early Music day this week.  The Cincinnati Bach Ensemble will perform not Bach, but Monteverdi.  His madrigal suite, Lagrime d’Amante al Sepolcro dell’ Amata, or Tears of the Lover at the Tomb of his Beloved, was composed in 1608 on the occasion of the untimely death of noted singer and close friend Caterina Martinelli.

Tuesday Feb 11, 12 noon, Christ Church Cathedral downtown, free.

And if you missed Ubi Caritas’ concert at the Taft Museum last week, don’t despair!  Much of that concert will be repeated this week at Christ Church Glendale’s Music Live with Lunch.  Music of the Venetian Baroque, including Vivaldi, Bertoli, and others will be performed by winds, harpsichord, and soprano Amanda Carmen Bower.

Wednesday Feb 12, 12 noon, Christ Church Episcopal, Glendale, free.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cincinnati Early Music Festival Week One

Week One of the Cincinnati Early Music Festival has four events lined up, and it’s an interestingly diverse bunch.

Saturday Feb 1, our opening night, will present the very earliest music we’ll hear this month.  The vocal group Cantigium, under the direction of Scot Buzza, will perform early early music, some from the period when Gregorian chant was just starting to evolve into polyphony, when  Pérotin, composing for the choirs of Notre Dame de Paris in the 1100s, was stirring the musical pot pretty thoroughly.  In his piece we can hear the original chant, surrounded by parallel harmonic lines, a startling innovation for his time.  And from an anonymous scrap of music from Spain, we will hear the earliest surviving example of three-voice polyphony.

From there the program will wander freely around the Continent, sampling the music of the transitional centuries of the 12-, 13-, and 1400s.  We’ll hear music from German morality plays, songs of the Crusades, English rounds, Moorish-Andalusian influenced songs of the Virgin Mary from Galicia, Italian love epics (and, no, that song about the dying swan isn’t actually about an injured waterfowl AT ALL, but since it’s in medieval Italian it can be sung in polite company.)  The program wraps up with a set of Josquin, one of the greatest composers of the 15th century.  

The program takes place at the Bellarmine Chapel at Xavier University at 7:30, and is free to the public.  Event parking should be free and easy that night.   For a parking map of Xavier, click here:
Saturday Feb 1, 7:30pm, Bellarmine Chapel, Xavier University, free

Then we have three programs of Baroque music, also wandering freely around the Continent.  CSO bassist James Lambert, on viola da gamba, will headline a recital of music from the German Baroque.   Joining him on stage is CCM Professor of Guitar and Lute Rod Stucky and cellist Colin Lambert.  They will perform works by Telemann, Lidl, Kühnel, and Schenk.  This program is presented as part of the Music in the Chapel concert series at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Hyde Park.

Sunday Feb 2, 3:00pm, Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Hyde Park, free.

Ubi Caritas, Band of the Baroque, will play for the Taft Museum Chamber Music Series.  They will present music of Venice:  Marini, Marcello, Selma y Salaverde, Turini, Bertoli, Vivaldi, Ziani, and Castello.  Performing will be Amanda Carmen Bower, soprano, Richard Arnest, flutes and recorders, Loren Berzsenyi, oboe, Lauren Piccirillo, bassoon, Michael Unger, keyboards, and Jennifer Jill Araya, violoncello.  

Sunday Feb 2, 2:30pm, Taft Museum of Art, downtown, free


And on Tuesday February 4 the Noyse Merchants will play during Christ Church Cathedral’s Music Live at Lunch Series.  This program will consist of music of Spain from the Renaissance and Baroque eras.  Performers Tina Gutierrez, Bill Willits, and Alice Nutter will play Renaissance guitar, Baroque guitar, lute,viola da mano, viola da gamba, and vielle.  They will be joined by mezzo-soprano Melisa Bonetti.

Tuesday Feb 4, 12 noon, Christ Church Cathedral, downtown, free

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Early Music -- How did it begin?

Mankind has always made music.  Some anthropologists have even posited that the music-making came first, and the development of language followed.  We have found carved flutes buried in caves with Ice Age remains.  Imagine Og crouched by his fire, one shifting migration pattern away from starvation, and he spends his time creating a musical instrument, which will in turn become a possession so prized as to accompany him to the afterlife.  In the Bronze Age, one need look no further than the Bible to find music lyrics and descriptions of many kinds of instruments.  Think of 
David the shepherd boy, who played the harp for King Saul.
(A struggling family of subsistence animal herders, and they owned a harp?)  Egyptian paintings show strings, winds, and percussion in use together.  The Ancient Greeks had so many gods, demigods, and muses dedicated to particular types of music, one is reminded of the legion of Eskimo words for “snow”.   Make no mistake – music is what we humans do, what we have always done.  It is as natural as breathing, as necessary as sleep, taken absolutely for granted in the earliest stories we have. 

So when we talk about the music being composed in, say, AD 1000, don’t fall into the trap of believing that it must be primitive, that people so long ago didn’t understand music as well as we do today.  The human brain has always had a sophisticated, even visceral understanding of music.  The styles were different and our tastes have changed, but even then they knew exactly what they were doing.  No, the big leap forward around that time was simply the invention of a notation system.  Music was written down before—we definitely have fragments from the Greeks—but those earlier systems are a mystery to us.  We can’t read them.  David’s original tunes for all those Psalms?  We’ll never know.  There are educated guesses about some ancient music, but until a Rosetta stone for music surfaces, guesses are all they’ll ever be. 

 But somewhere around the year 1000, a monk named Guido d’Arezzo worked out a new system for conveying the complicated concepts of music on paper.  He made a picture of a sound. His system is the ancestor of the one we still use today. This is when we can begin to peer into the minds of our ancestors, and hear exactly what they were thinking.  The written history of music begins about a thousand years ago.

Who remembers this old tune?
The phrase we use today, “Early Music,” is really, therefore, a misnomer.  Music from 30,000 years ago might qualify as early, but not music as recent as 1,000 years ago.  But the millennia of lost music are just that:  lost.  “Ancient Music” is what we call it.  And although it’s not early at all in the greater scheme of human history, we use the phrase “Early Music” to describe the first music that we can read.  

In the year AD 1000, of course, it was church music that was deemed important enough to write down.  For the first time, choirs across Christendom could quickly learn Vatican-approved liturgies, responses, and credos.  But it didn’t take long for the wider possibilities to become apparent.  Preserving musical ideas in writing meant that the music could become more complicated.  Harmonies, counterpoint, independently moving parts, all became within reach.  Music composed in Italy could be taken all the way to Ireland and faithfully reproduced.  The Swedes and the Spanish could swap songs.  It was a sea change of possibilities.

And before you knew it, composers’ names began to appear on scores. Genius composers, inventing the modern musical world.  Hildegard von Bingen. Pérotin of Paris. Guillaume de Machaut.  John Dunstable.  Guillaume Dufay.  Johannes Ockeghem.  Josquin des Prez.  Guido d’Arezzo lit the fire, and these people and many more brought the fuel.

The Cincinnati Early Music Festival will begin at the beginning.  February 1, 2014, the vocal ensemble Cantigium will perform music from the 11-, 12-, 13-, and 1400s.  You will be able to hear music by many of those brilliant minds, including Machaut, Dufay, and Josquin, and music by some extraordinary voices who left behind their creations but not their names.  Although we will be joining the human musical journey in medias res, hearing the voices of these centuries tells us a lot about what came before, and helps us understand what came after.   

For a complete listing of events, go to

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Early Music -- What is it?

“Early Music” is a phrase of convenience. It covers several centuries of vastly different styles and performance techniques. 

Today we use the phrase “classical music” to mean not just the Classical composers Haydn and Mozart, but also all the Romantics from Beethoven to Brahms; the Impressionists like Debussy; the 12-tone school of Schoenberg and Webern; the 20th century giants Prokofiev and Bartok; the Minimalism of Glass and Reich; and the list goes on. The range and diversity of the last 250 years of classical music is enormous.  

The range and diversity of the previous 750 years is just as great.

About 1000 years ago the modern system of musical notation was developed. Medieval music had its own characteristics, from modal plainchant to motets to the melodies of the wandering minstrels.  As the Middle Ages slid into the Renaissance, music played a key part in this rebirth of European culture. Madrigals, polyphony, and new instruments were all evolving. Six hundred years into the journey, Baroque composers were inventing opera and oratorio, were composing for a vast spectrum of instruments, and were selling music like hotcakes to the growing class of educated amateurs. 

 The year 1760, give or take a decade, is generally where we shift out of “Early Music” and into conventional classical music. The reason for this date is largely because of the instrumentation. The recorders and lutes of the Renaissance, and the harpsichords and viols of the Baroque, by 1760 had been almost entirely replaced by the modern strings and winds we still find today in the modern symphony orchestra. The main reason it’s easier to find a concert of modern music is not that there is more, or better, of it available, but that more people play the violin, the piano, or the clarinet, than play the theorbo, the clavichord, or the crumhorn.  

Find a great theorbo player, though, and you’ll never go back.  

Sample some early music during the month of February, at the Cincinnati Early Music Festival.  For a complete listing of events, go to