Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Turn of the Year

Catacoustic’s concert on April 26 will be unlike any other.

For years audiences have asked us for a concert with more modern music. Our specialty being Baroque and Renaissance music, we have taken our time planning what such a departure might look like. The concert we have put together will satisfy those hungering for something truly different from anything they have heard before. And also those who just want to hear amazing, amazing music.

We have chosen to pair historical composers – in this case, composers from the early part of our usual range, the first century of the Renaissance – with contemporary composers, most still living. These historical composers are some who strayed far outside their appointed times, paying little heed to the expectations of their contemporaries. And these modern composers have turned to that quintessential Renaissance instrument, the viola da gamba, to express the texture-rich, rule-defying, global sound of our interconnected world.

Representing the 21st century:

  • Gavin Bryars has studied with John Cage, worked with Brian Eno, been recorded by Tom Waits, and been danced to by Merce Cunningham. His work often uses found sound and improvisation.
  • Peter Sculthorpe was from Tasmania and was part Aborigine. He had a strong interest in the cultures of Asia and the South Pacific, in particular the indigenous peoples of Australia – his compositions include a Requiem featuring didgeridoo solo.

  • Mike Edwards experimented with a variety of musical styles as a cellist, including jazz, folk, and his rock and roll years with the Electric Light Orchestra.  In the end, though, he found his true love in Baroque music and the viol, founding and performing with the Devon Baroque orchestra.

    Tan Dun
  • Tan Dun is best known in this country for his film scores for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero, but this is only a small part of his musical achievement. Others include opera, symphonic music, chamber works, Peking opera, and – his specialty – “organic” music written for paper, water, stones, and other found objects.

  • Elvis Costello is one of the most acclaimed singer-songwriters of the last forty years. He is a Grammy winner, member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and collaborator with a vast range of musicians in almost every imaginable genre:  the list might start with George Jones (country), Bill Frisell (jazz), Burt Bacharach (pop), and Paul McCartney (you know), but that would only scratch the surface. He has also composed classical opera and worked with mezzo Anne Sophie von Otter.

The unifying theme of all these composers is the wide range of their musical interests, their love of exploration, and their rejection of a single genre as being definitive to their expression.  And did I mention that they composed music for viola da gamba?

Representing the 16th century:

  •  Alexander Agricola, 1445-1506, was known for his endless variety and electrifying musical
    intensity. While Columbus was sailing for the Indies, Agricola was composing confounding music that some critics called sublime and others called crazy. His music is willful and complex, filled with puzzles and perversions of the accepted practices of his time.

  • ChristopherTye, 1505-1573, was an enthusiastic composer of consort music. He was known to experiment with eccentric meters, even going so far as using different meters for different parts simultaneously.

  • Cipriano de Rore, 1515-1565, was a composer of contradiction. His sacred music was deliberately retro, harkening back to Josquin of 50 years earlier, but his secular music was wildly forward-looking:  serious, chromatic, employing an oddly free relationship with his texts.

  • Carlo Gesualdo, 1566-1613, was one of the maddest composers of his or any time. Actual mental illness is certainly possible, and Aldous Huxley called his work the “strange products of a Counter-Reformation psychosis working upon a late medieval art form.”  But his music presages the shifting tonalities, the chromatic anti-melodies, and a technically difficult yet deeply felt expressiveness that would not re-appear until the late 19th century.

Their unifying principle? They don’t care, they just do what they want. They did their thing, and if it took 400 years for anyone else to get it, too bad.

The music is as extraordinary as its creators. Four of the greatest viol players in the United States today will gather to take it on. And just to pile it on a little higher, singing will be the great male soprano Michael Maniaci, another musical outsider who does what he does and waits for the rest of the world to catch up.

Thank you, audience, for pushing us out of our comfort zone. Join us to discover what's out here.

Sunday, April 26, 2015, 3:00pm
Church of the Redeemer, 2944 Erie Avenue, Cincinnati (Hyde Park), OH 45208
Individual tickets are $25 general, $10 student. Children 12 and under are always free. Tickets are available at the door, in advance by calling 513.772.3242, or at

Thursday, March 12, 2015

James Brown, Guest Musician for Catacoustic's March 22 Concert, a Modern-Day Renaissance Man

The following is from a telephone interview between Annalisa Pappano and James Brown, who will join Catacoustic in their concert on March 22: Great Musick's Myseries: The Exquisite Consorts. See for more information about the concert.

I played in your concert series last year in Austin, Texas for a solo pardessus program. It was exciting to meet someone else who has a concert series that is a similar model as Catacoustic - that is an early music group where you self-present and play in each concert, and you bring in guest musicians to play, as well. In fact, in our concert together, Michael Leopold (a regular with Catacoustic since we began 14 years ago) joined us! There are not many groups like this in the States. How long have you had your concert series, and what made you decide to start it?

I have been running this series for just under 14 years. The series was already connected with the church where I work, but it had been dropped. When I was hired, they asked if I wanted to pick it up again. It was quite modest, and gradually I began planning bigger concerts. The first big one we did was Emma Kirkby with Fretwork. Four years ago we decided exclusively to present early music, and the series was 2/3 presented material and 1/3 self-produced. It helped having local/regional combined with national talent. In the last board meeting, we decided to become a 100% presenting organization. Next year, we will have Tallis Scholars, Anonymous IV, & Vox Luminis. The format is changing, and it seems that this is what is best for our audience and for the series to grow.

How did you get interested in early music and playing the viol? Where did you study?

My undergraduate degree was in organ. I was always interested in early keyboard music – Couperin, Bach, etc. Through that, I was introduced to the harpsichord,which led to my first trip to the Amherst Early Music workshop. They suggested that I take one class in something I know nothing about, so I decided to take beginning viol. By the end of the first week, I was able to play and sing at the same time. I was hooked. I came home and immediately had to figure out how to get my hands on a viol. I went back to Amherst the next year with my OWN viol. Later, I gave up playing keyboard instruments to pursue the gamba. My training has been largely self-study. When I lived in NY, I took gamba lessons with Martha McGaughey. Other teachers have included Margriet Tindemans, Mary Springfels, and Catharina Meints. I continue to study with workshops, private lessons, and masterclasses.

You helped with some musical choices for our upcoming March program. While super fun to play, it is pretty challenging, technically-speaking! Is 17th-century English (the rep in this concert) a favorite of yours? What draws you to this music, and what do you find interesting about it?

I love spending my time on 17th-century music across the board, more than anything else. The fusion of Italian music with other national influences: English, French, or German speaks to me.

When I stayed with you last winter, I was so impressed by your many interests! You are an amazing cook and studied at the Art Institute in NYC. Your food was some of the best I have had, and YOU said it was simple. You were just getting ready to make a special orange liquor, and another interest you have is fixing vintage bicycles and a special type of racing. Tell more about these passions. How are your different interests related, and do they complement each other?

They do, in some ways. It would be fun to combine it all in an event – food and music! I have been talking to viol player Jay Bernfeld, who is combining food and music for concerts in France and Florida. What a rich experience we could have, if we would have food and a beverage as fellowship with live music.

I like to do many different things. Since I was a kid, I had five hobbies at once. I like the complexity of things. The complexity of making my own bitters, the complexity of 17th-century music, the complexity of my own dishes.

What would you say to someone who is interested in starting up a music series like yours or Catacoustic? Any advice? What about someone who wants to pursue an unusual passion like the viola da gamba?

I think that those passions and what you do with them generally are what you make of them. If you are going to play an instrument that is not in the mainstream, you nee to be prepared to do all that comes with that and wear different hats. You need to know the rep – solo and chamber. You need to be ready to create opportunities to play. Even the best viol players have to do other things.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Great Musick's Mysteries: The Exquisite Consorts

In a time when new worlds were being discovered, musical pioneers were also charting new territories.  Experience the adventure of music from the Age of Discovery when harmonic boundaries
were pushed and uncharted melodic lands were traversed. Your senses will be delighted by the unusual sounds and textures of 17th-century music by John Jenkins and brothers Henry and William Lawes.

Local soprano Melissa Harvey will also sing the beautiful poetry of John Milton, Robert Herrick, and Ben Jonson. Fittingly, we will also be exploring a new venue for Catacoustic, at the lovely jewel box of Trinity Episcopal in Covington.

Musicians include Annalisa Pappano (Artistic director, treble viol), James Brown (bass viol, Austin), Elizabeth Motter (Baroque triple harp,Cincinnati), David Walker (theorbo, Chicago), and Melissa Harvey (soprano, Cincinnati).

Preview a harp consort by William Lawes here.

Sunday, March 22, 2015, 3:00 pm

Trinity Episcopal Church, 326 Madison Avenue, Covington, KY 41011

Tickets: Individual tickets are $25 general, $10 student. Children 12 and under are always free. Tickets are available at the door, in advance by calling 513.772.3242, or at

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Looking Back on the Cincinnati Early Music Festival, 2015

What were the numbers?

We had eighteen unique events, at sixteen different venues. 324 performers, and 2150 audience members. This last number is 45% more than last year.

Who were the participating groups?

Cantigium. Rod and Mary Stucky. The Shakespeare Band. Catacoustic’s pre-professional mentoring program. Cincinnati Bach Ensemble. Cincinnati Camerata. Consort in the Egg. The Vicars Choral. Harpers Robin. Cantantes Camarae. Cincinnati Viol Consort. Cincinnati Recorder Consort. The Choir of Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral. Xavier University’s Edgecliff Vocal Ensemble. The CCM Opera Studio  and undergraduate series. The Knox Choir. Michael Unger’s keyboard studio. Cincinnati Chamber Opera. The Catacoustic Consort. And several ad hoc combinations that came together just for the Festival.

Who was the most ubiquitous performer of the year?

Bill Willits. He played lute, theorbo, Renaissance guitar, and modern guitar. He played with the Shakespeare Band (twice), Consort in the Egg (three times), in a Telemann flute-guitar duo, and in the pit of Poppea. 

What were some memorable moments?

  • Scott Hewitt and his contrabass recorder, an instrument that towers above its performer, that looks like a cross between a totem pole and a didgeridoo and sounds as sweet as the wind through the lava tubes of Venus.
  • The lovely performance of Hans Leo Hassler’s Verbum caro factum est by the Edgecliff Vocal Ensemble. What choral music should be about.
  • Cornamuse and hurdy-gurdy duets, or the Larry and Michael show. They’ve clearly been missing from my life too long.

  • Barbara LeMay as the villainous Polinesso in Ariodante. She sneered, she seduced, she purred, she snarled, she twirled her metaphorical black mustache in every way possible.  She was hilariously evil. More bad guys like this, please!

  • Matthew Swanson saying that when he returned to the States and could have settled anywhere, he came to Cincinnati because he knew he could make a living here as a choral conductor.  That’s the kind of city we live in!
  • "Sweep chimney sweep, from the bottom to the top. Then shall no soot fall in your porridge pot." Because that would be bad.

  • The troubadour songs performed by the Harpers Robin concert. First, all those harps playing together sounded so pretty, and then suddenly during a 13th century tune called Winder wie ist the harpists began to sing.  The hair lifted off my neck and I could smell the smoke from a distant hearth and feel the damp rising from snows long melted and hear the ghosts of the minnesingers long past.
I should've taken up viola da gamba
  • Overheard by an audience member:  “They play an instrument called Vasco da Gama.  I think that’s what they’re called.”

  • As far as early music warhorses go, you can’t get much better than Les Baricades mist√©rieuses by Couperin, and it was a pure pleasure to hear it crashing out of the William Dowd harpsichord at Christ Church Cathedral.

  • Armando Linares’ voice (of Cantantes Camarae ). It’s just so warm and pleasant.

  • The entire Catacoustic concert was a standout, and the soprano Shannon Mercer was amazing, but I think my very favorite moment of the evening was the instrumental, a little sonata for harpsichord and pardessus. It was spectacularly beautiful, and the mystery is why this isn’t a warhorse.

Is there any more early music to come?

Oh yes! The Bach Festival is already in full swing, Bach Vespers happen every month, Ubi Caritas has a concert coming up in April, Christ Church Cathedral has early music going on all the time – note especially the Charpentier cantata coming up at the end of March – and Catacoustic has two more concerts left in their season, one in March and one in April. Let’s face it:  Early Music is no longer the exotic occasional guest. It’s become a standard, year-round player in the Cincinnati arts scene. Join the Cincinnati Early Music Project Facebook page to keep informed of events as they arise.