Thursday, March 6, 2014

Looking Back on the Cincinnati Early Music Festival, 2014

The Cincinnati Early Music Festival, 2014.  The word “doozy” comes to mind.  Also “humdinger.”  In the spirit of “Was it awesome or what?” I submit the following FAQs:

Was this the first or second early music festival?  This is the first year we were organized in advance.  In 2013 we promoted a collection of found objects.  (The fact that so many early music events were happening in the city in February 2013 was already a startling indication of how much the early music scene was taking off.)  So we’ll call this the 2nd Annual, and look fondly back on our fledgling days. 

What are the numbers?  We held seventeen events, in twelve locations around town.  Some 320 performers performed.  And over 1500 people silenced their phones and listened.  My favorite number from that list?  The 320 performers.  This includes local high school and university chorists, possibly being exposed to early music for the first time; young, wide-eyed enthusiasts just starting to think that early music may play a huge role in their future; internationally recognized professionals who have devoted their lives to the music; experienced veterans of the early music rediscovery of the 1970s.  Everyone has a part to play.  

Did I hear a viola da gamba in there somewhere?  If you had gone to every single event this month, you would have heard pardessus de viole, treble viol, tenor, six-string bass, seven-string bass, great dooble bass, and violone. And as a bonus, a viol ancestor:  vielle.  Essentially the entire viol family, all performed by local Cincinnati musicians. Think about the worlds of possibility this opens up for the Cincinnati early music community.

What about other instrument families?  We also heard lute, archlute, theorbo, and viola da mano (which I am told is a lute/guitar hybrid).  We heard quite a range of recorders, and apparently the possibility of recorders in the city was underrepresented this year.  Let’s get the recorder family up and out!  We heard at least half a dozen early keyboardists playing harpsichords and period organs.  We heard Renaissance guitar and Baroque guitar, brass and an oboe d’amore, a 200-year-old cello, and large string ensembles.  Think of the things we can do with so much talent and ability all around us!

Who were the participating ensembles and organizations?  Where do I start? The Catacoustic Consort, of course.  Ubi Caritas.  Cincinnati Bach Ensemble.  Cincinnati Camerata.  Cincinnati Chamber Opera.  Cantantes Camarae.  Cantigium.  Harmonia Sacra.  Noyse Merchants.  Consort in the Egg.  Cincinnati Viol Consort.  The Knox Choir.  CCM Early Music Lab.  Cathedral Choir of St. Peter in Chains.  Collegium Cincinnati.  Edgecliff Vocal Ensemble.  Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy Encore Choir.  Xavier University Concert Choir.  And then there are all the ad hoc groups that came together to perform one special program of music. They’re everywhere!   

What were some memorable moments? 
--The Cincinnati Bach Ensemble performed Vivaldi’s La Notte flute concerto, with Randy Bowman on flute.  It starts with a slow movement (wha…?), goes on to a later movement that has no movement but is essentially shifting chord progressions, and contains the most impossibly long trills for the soloist—I was reaching under my pew for an oxygen mask, and I was just listening!  Well done, Randy!  

--The Knox Choir from Knox Presbyterian performed Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich, by Heinrich Schütz, an electrifying piece with the voices of the choir crying out the name of Saul over and over—again, so modern-sounding, and so compelling.  I’d love to hear that one again. 

--Elizabeth Motter performing Kapsberger’s Arpeggiata on Baroque harp with Annalisa, a piece that makes everyone put down what they’re doing and attend.  

--Jory Vinikour explaining why Rameau is the most important overlooked composer of the Baroque, and then explaining it again at the keyboard.  

--Scot Buzza explaining why Galuppi is one of the most important overlooked composers of the Baroque, and then explaining it again from the podium.  

--Bill Willits, lute, and Melisa Bonetti, mezzo, performing the gorgeous Isabel by Luys de Narvaez, and Scotty McEvoy reading a translation of the lyrics.  

--Cantigium’s performance of El Grillo by Josquin.  If you think eight people can’t sound like a chorus of crickets, you clearly missed this concert.  

--The incredible Luigi Rossi piece, Un ferito cavaliero, performed by Catacoustic Consort and Meg Bragle.  The cavaliero of the title is the messenger who brings news of the death of King Gustavus Adolphus; the song is about neither of these two men, but of the remarkable queen who must make sense of it all. The singer pleaded, thundered, wept, and finally whispered—I’ve never heard anything quite like it.

--The mass choir sing of Hieronymus Praetorius’ Jubilate Deo.  I was vibrating at the end, and couldn’t tell if it was my ears ringing, or the cathedral itself.

--La Musica, personified by Alexandra Kassouf, painting tears on the faces of the whole cast of L’Orfeo, and then the cast making us believe they were real.

--The generally heedless revelry of Cantantes Camarae, pitching their way through “He That Will an Alehouse Keepe,” “Ale and Tobacco,” and “Toss the Pot.”  English pubs in the early 17th century must have been way fun.

Who is Sam Chan? He sight-read and goat-trilled his way through Classical Revolution, fooled everyone as the disguised Apollo in the opera, and led plainchant in the choral concert. Who was that masked man?  

If you were writing a Passion for all women, would you make Jesus an alto?  Heck, yes:  altos sit deepest inside the harmonies, and that’s exactly where Jesus would be.  Anna Little may be technically a mezzo, but it sounded like an alto part to me.

Will I always have to silence my phone at early music events?  Yes.

Is that it?  No more early music?  No! This is not just a foul weather pastime--these groups and others perform year round.  Catacoustic’s got an amazing concert coming up April 26.  Rumor has it that Cantigium may have a repeat of the Medieval concert in late March (yes, please.) Even Cincinnati Opera is doing a Baroque opera this summer!   Keep your eyes peeled, join Cincinnati Early Music Project group on Facebook, and keep the excitement going!

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