Saturday, February 22, 2014

La Serenissima: Sacred Music of the Venetian Settecento

The Cincinnati Early Music Festival has featured concerts of music by composers you may not have known. Our final event will introduce you to several more.  This concert, at Saint Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Anderson Township (proud home of one of the finest organs in the city, prominently featured in the concert, ) will see the North American premiere of seven long-forgotten works by Venetian composers of the 18th century.  Cincinnati conductor and musicologist Scot Buzza has recently transcribed these lost choral works from manuscripts found in archives in Paris, Dresden, Munich, and Venice. 

Included in the program are works by Antonio Caldara (1670-1736), including a sepolcro, a subgenre of oratorio that was performed exclusively in the Hapsburg Court once a year, on Good Friday. Fewer than fifty were written, and this work was performed only once. Caldara used the orchestra to create a level of drama extraordinary for a sacred work.  Antonio Lotti’s (1667-1740) music was ahead of its time as well:  his use of dissonance in the vocal parts of his Credo was startling to the ears of his contemporaries, but spectacular to modern ears.  Ferdinando Bertoni composed his Vespers Psalm: Nisi Dominus in 1765. This charming work for choir and orchestra shows an unusual mixture of Baroque counterpoint and classical gestures, combined with bravura vocal writing. In the original score appear the names of the two sopranos for whom it was intended: Laura Risegari and Theresia Almerigo, both of whom achieved international fame during their lifetimes, despite the fact that neither ever stepped beyond the walls of the Ospedale dei Mendicanti, where they lived and performed.

The centerpiece of the concert will be Galuppi’s extraordinary Passion for Good Friday.  This piece was composed some time before 1750, also for the women of the Ospedale dei Mendicanti.  It was written for four-part women’s chorus and continuo, with all solo parts sung by women, including Jesus and Pontius Pilate--a radical departure from church music of the time. Another Galuppi piece, Vespers Psalm: In convertendo Dominus, written in 1771, is at times light-hearted, at times fiery, and always full of the charm for which Galuppi was famous. 

Baldassare Galuppi is still largely unknown in this country, but during his lifetime, 1706-1785, he was immensely famous, working not only in Venice but also Vienna, London, and St. Petersburg.  He composed an enormous body of music, religious and secular, vocal and instrumental, and he is considered to be the father of comic opera. He was beloved by his acquaintances and fought over by his employers.  But his job description required a constant supply of new music, so each work, as complex and acclaimed as it may have been, was quickly superseded by the next piece, and was filed away and forgotten.  Much of Galuppi’s oeuvre has been relegated to dusty monastic archives, where it has been awaiting rediscovery for almost 230 years.    

In addition to hearing music no one has heard for centuries, you will also hear the stories that come with them. Stories of Masses sung 300 years ago in a Latin cleverly manipulated to be completely comprehensible to the Italian congregants. Of following the trail of Napoleon’s armies 200 years ago when they commandeered manuscripts from Venetian libraries and took them back, sight unseen, to France. Of last summer, when boxes full of brittle, yellowing pages were thumped down on long wooden tables with the cheerful warning, “We close for lunch at 2!”  Of the excitement of holding faded, scribbled scores in the composer’s own handwriting that no one had ever copied out before.  

On March 2, the closing day of the Festival, Buzza will conduct a full Baroque orchestra and two choirs in a concert of music that tells all these stories and more.  All of this music will be a North American premiere, and some of it has never been played or heard anywhere in the world in 250 years.  Be among the first people in a dozen generations to hear this luscious music. Be a part of the discovery.  

Sunday, March 2, 3:00, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, Anderson Township
8101 Beechmont Avenue 45255

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Concatenation of Choirs

Music was invented for choirs.  When the first glimmerings of the modern musical staff were being codified by Guido d’Arezzo sometime around the year 1000, it was choral music he was trying to preserve.  And in the following centuries, it was choral music that fascinated the most important composers.  From the unison of plainchant, to the chords of organum, to the increasingly sophisticated polyphony of motets and madrigals, choral music was the undisputed glory of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  It didn’t stop there, of course.  Even as the importance of instrumental music was on the rise, late Baroque composers like Bach and Handel still used the choir to express some of their most exquisite ideas.  Hallelujah!
On Feb 23, choirs from around the city will come together and explore the riches of early choral music.  We will hear music from many countries and across the centuries, spanning over 400 years of changing styles.  The concert will take place in St Peter in Chains Cathedral, a great stone vault that will allow the music to sound as it did when it was new.

Participating in the concert are the following choirs:  The Cathedral Choir of St Peter in Chains.  The Edgecliff Vocal Ensemble and Concert Choir, the two lead choirs from Xavier University.  Collegium Cincinnati, a professional choir led by Christopher Eanes.  And Encore, the auditioned upper choir of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy.  

The oldest piece on the program is “Gaudete,” an anonymous song published in Piae Cantiones, a Swedish collection of medieval music.  Another early piece is “Ave Maria – Virgo Serena” by Josquin des Prez, one of the most famous pieces written in the 1400s.

the Orpheus Britannicus
One hundred years later, Palestrina arose as the great Italian composer of his time, and we will hear from him as well.  Fifty years after that, Hans Leo Hassler left his native Germany to study in Italy, and his melding of German and Italian sensibilities bridged the transition from Renaissance to Baroque music in Germany.  And at the end of the 17th century, Henry Purcell became the greatest English composer for many generations.  He composed his Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary in 1695.  And so we come to Bach.  His cantata 196, “Der Herr denket an uns" was composed around 1708, and is rarely heard today.  

Thomas Tallis
In addition to all this amazing music by the individual choirs, they will all join forces in two great works that are rarely performed, as they require great numbers of singers.  Michael Praetorius composed his “Jubilate Deo” for six parts in three choirs in the first years of the 17th century.  And in a class by itself is “Spem in Alium”, or “Hope in No Other.”  The story goes that a travelling Italian composer at Elizabeth I’s court led a performance of his piece for 30 voices, and the Duke of Norfolk wondered if an English composer could do better.  Up stepped the great Thomas Tallis, who composed his own work for 40 voices.  That’s 40 interweaving lines of polyphony, the principal voice moving around within the group, combinations emerging and then disappearing, the fullness of the music waxing and waning. It is an extraordinary work from the 1570s, and most people will never hear it performed live.  Of course in Cincinnati we’re not most people.    

Sunday, Feb 23, 3:00pm.  St Peter in Chains Cathedral, 325 West 8th Street.  Free to the public, but a freewill offering will be accepted.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Cincinnati Early Music Festival Week Four

This final week of the Cincinnati Early Music Festival is truly an embarrassment of riches.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to suggest that you attend them all.

William Byrd
Cantantes Camarae is a chamber choir devoted mostly, though not exclusively, to early music.  They will be performing in Pleasant Ridge, in a program of John Bennet, John Blow, Henry Purcell, Thomas Ravenscroft, William Byrd, and Johann Hermann Schein —so, lots of English music, with a little German thrown in.  This will be an intimate event in a lovely venue.

Friday, Feb 21, 7:00pm, All Saints Episcopal, Pleasant Ridge, free will offering accepted.

Thomas Tallis
For a bigger choral experience, Sunday afternoon is not to be missed.  A gathering of choirs from all walks—Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, the Concert Choir and Edgecliff Ensemble from Xavier University, the Cathedral Choir of Saint Peter in Chains, and Collegium Cincinnati—will lift up their voices together.  Each group has chosen from the vast repertoire of 750 years of early music, so the music will range from the anonymity of the Middle Ages to JS Bach.  And it gets even better when they sing together, two works rarely performed because they call for so many independent parts.  Michael Pretorius’ Jubilate Deo was written for three choirs.  And Thomas Tallis’ Spem in Alium was written for 40 parts.  As you can imagine, these are not things you can hear performed live every day.

Sunday Feb 23, 3:00pm, Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral, downtown, freewill offering accepted.

Then the Festival’s hosts, the Catacoustic Consort, will perform at last.  Catacoustic presented the wonderful Jory Vinikour concert earlier in the month, and we did get to hear Annalisa play, but this is a proper Catacoustic concert:  candlelight, lusciously Baroque music, a large consort including voice and a 14-string lirone.  Only one place you can get all that, my friends.

Saturday, March 1, 7:30pm, St. Thomas Episcopal, Terrace Park, tickets $25, $10 for students with ID. Children under 12 free.

And that brings us to the end.  The final concert of this year’s Festival.  

Imagine you live in, say, Vienna.  You attend a concert with full Baroque orchestra, an exquisite organ, two choirs.  You hear music of Venice which has just been re-discovered in forgotten archives and locked libraries, and which is being performed for the first time in 300 years.  The music is extraordinary—Passion plays written for all-women’s choirs, Masses experimental in both their composition and their expression of the liturgy, a piece composed to be performed only on one specific day in 1717.  A nationally-known expert will present the background stories to go along with the music.  Even in Vienna, this kind of thing doesn’t come along every day. 

 But wait!  You don’t live in Vienna!  Lucky you.  Because the concert I just described isn’t taking place there.  It’s taking place in Cincinnati.  The music that hasn’t been performed in 300 years?  It’s we who will be the first to hear it.  Not the Viennese.  Not New Yorkers.  Not Parisians.  You and I.  Other differences between the Austrian pretender and the real concert?  In Vienna you can probably get away with wearing real furs.  In Cincinnati, maybe not.  In Vienna you might arrive at the venue by streetcar.  In Cincinnati . . .  there’s ample parking.  In Vienna such a concert will cost at least 50.  In Cincinnati it is free and open to the public.  In Vienna there is Sachertorte.  

But forget Vienna!  Perhaps in your fantasy you live in Milan, or St. Petersburg, or Tokyo.  But if your fantasy is to attend possibly the most interesting early music concert happening anywhere in the world on this day, maybe you better thank your lucky stars you live in Cincinnati.

Sunday, March 2, 3:00pm, St Timothy’s Episcopal, Anderson Township, free.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

My Journey with the Lirone

I commissioned my first lirone in 1997, well before YouTube videos of lirone players or a lirone community on Facebook. I was an undergraduate at the Early Music Institute at Indiana University’s School of Music when I researched the viola da gamba in the Mantuan court of Isabella d’Este, one of the leading women of the Italian Renaissance in politics, fashion, and the arts, who has been credited with commissioning the first lirone from Atalante Migliorotti in 1505.

I was a student of the viola da gamba at the time, but when I first heard the recordings of Erin Headley, who single-handedly brought about today’s rebirth of the lirone, I was transfixed. I particularly fell in love with the CD by the ensemble Circa 1500, Renaissance Music: from the Courts of Mantua and Ferrara, which features Headley on lirone. Completely smitten, I ordered a lirone from the North Carolina-based viol maker John Pringle.

When my 12-string lirone arrived, I had absolutely no idea what to do with it! It is not an instrument on which one can just take lessons at the local community music school – or even at a music conservatory anywhere in the US – even today!

So, I wrote a letter to Erin Headley in London seeking guidance. She generously replied with a lirone “starter kit,” which included some information on her recommended tuning system (there are numerous ways to tune a lirone) and a song by Giulio Caccini for my first piece. I practiced away in Indiana alone, with little contact and no encouragement. Little did I know that the lirone was an ensemble instrument that was used to accompany singers, and no solo repertoire exists.

My first breakthrough came when I travelled to a workshop where Erin Headley was teaching at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, MA, where she gave me some insight into the instrument and its music.
I learned that the secret to the lirone is not solely about the physical and technical aspects of playing the instrument, but about having an understanding of the music it is meant to accompany, heightening the text, and being a support for the singer. The lirone is basically a special effects instrument, adding texture and color, which is a complement to the sung text. To be effective, one needs to have a deeper appreciation of the music, as derived from text. This is very different than playing bass viol, which is as much about the physicality of mastering the instrument and its technique as it is about playing rhetorically and musically.

I have come to realize the potential of the lirone and its music with my ensemble, The Catacoustic Consort. I founded Catacoustic in 2001 to bring early music to Cincinnati, where I had recently moved. I wanted my playing experiences to be learning experiences, where the audience could hear music of the Renaissance and Baroque (especially 17th-century Italian music with the lirone) for the first time.

I scheduled my first lirone program in Catacoustic’s second season with a concert of Italian laments. A recording of that performance won a national competition, which resulted in the Naxos label releasing our CD.

Playing the lirone is about having the right continuo team who understands the direction and intention of the music. I have been lucky with Catacoustic Consort to have great musical partners over the years. Michael Leopold, who studied theorbo in Milan, will be joining us for the March 1st Candlelight Concert. I have learned an immense amount about 17th-century Italian music from him, and we have performed together often, exploring this exquisite music.

My new lirone(photo at top of blog of posting), the one you will hear in Catacoustic’s March 1 concert, is by Henner Harders, a German luthier. I commissioned this instrument at the urging of my now mentor, Erin Headley. It has a beautiful, sensitive sound and continues to improve with time. This particular lirone has fourteen strings, two more than my first lirone and is modeled after an instrument by Antonius Brensius from 1592. It is fretted and bowed underhand. The bridge is very flat, so I can play chords on three or four strings at a time when I accompany other musicians. The sound is ethereal – rather high in pitch and almost sounds like the right hand of an organ or a consort of viols. I love the experience of playing the lirone with its heavenly sound, but I love even more to be a partner with the singer and continuo team to make the music more effective and communicate in a more heightened manner the beautiful, passionate music of the Italian Baroque period.

As we continue in Catacoustic’s 13th season, it continues to be a powerful, moving experience to play this music and to delve into its poetic text. There is something about this music and the textures that creates a special and magical aura during the rehearsal periods and concerts. The musicians have made lasting, deep friendships, and the audience is also moved.

My first lirone by John Pringle (in photo above) is now owned by Anne Duranceau in Vancouver, who fell in love with the instrument upon first hearing it. She is chugging away at it, just like I did, and there are plenty of singers and continuo players who are eager to work with her! My new instrument and I are making friends, and I look forward to performing for you on March 1st at St. Thomas Episcopal Church.

--- Annalisa Pappano

Monday, February 10, 2014

Cincinnati Early Music Festival Week Three

Four more lovely events this week in Early Music.  

The French did Baroque in their own way, very codified, carefully ornamented, très élégant.  And François Couperin was one of the greatest, most élégant of them all.  His Tenebrae Lessons are an example of a uniquely French treatment of the Holy Week devotions.  Poetry from the Book of Lamentations describing the destruction of Jerusalem becomes a metaphor for the Passion of Christ.  The entire work becomes a meditation on public mourning, of a grieving community confronting the consequences of sin.  Harpsichordist Ted Gibboney, gambist Cole Guillien, soprano Audrey Luna, and countertenor William Sauerland present this rarely performed masterpiece from the court of Versailles.

Sunday Feb 16, 3:00pm, Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Hyde Park, free.

Annalisa says, "Hold it higher, Claudia, I can't see it!"
Jim, none of us minds the wigs, but is that lipstick?
For an intimate concert in an unusual venue, check out the Cincinnati Viol Consort’s performance this week at the Monastery, a former church converted to recording studio.  The program is an eclectic mix of favorites for four-part consort, played on treble, tenor, bass, and the “great dooble bass,” the grumpy grandpa of the viol family.  They will be joined by soprano Amanda Heisler for a set of songs by William Byrd.  This event is to raise funds for the Catacoustic Early Music Scholarship, awarded annually to a local early musician. The Cincinnati Viol Consort is Annalisa Pappano, Jim Lambert, Alice Nutter, and Cole Guillien.

Monday Feb 17, 7:30pm, the Monastery, East Walnut Hills, suggested donation $10.  
Oh, sorry, I've been too busy blogging to practice.
Cole Guillien, Renaissance man

For Valentine’s Day, a love story.  L’Orfeo, the first opera, by Claudio Monteverdi, tells the story of a man who gives up everything to save his love.  Cincinnati Chamber Opera will mount a partially staged version of this masterwork on two nights, at Christ Church Cathedral.

Friday Feb 14 and Saturday Feb 15, 7:00 pm, Christ Church Cathedral, downtown, $17 adults, $15 students and seniors.

And finally, the Knox Choir of Knox Presbyterian under the direction of Dr. Earl Rivers will perform selections from Symphoniae Sacrae III (1650) by Heinrich Schutz as a Prelude to and within the Traditional Worship Service.  Schutz was one of the most important German composers of the 17th century, and he studied with Giovanni Gabrieli and likely with Monteverdi. The Symphoniae display his unique synthesis of German and Italian styles.

Sunday Feb 16, 11:00am, Knox Presbyterian, Hyde Park.