Thursday, May 14, 2015

Looking Back on Season 14

Catacoustic’s Season 14 just wrapped up. Here’s a look back:

We actually never got a break between Season 13 and Season 14, because last summer was as busy as the rest of the year. Our collaboration with Cincinnati Opera is now the stuff of legend:  Their first ever Baroque Opera, La Calisto, set all kinds of attendance records and created a buzz that went all the way to a review in Opera News. The singers brought the house down (including local countertenor and frequent Catacoustic guest Michael Maniaci) but the pit orchestra, with its core of Catacoustic performers, received an unusual amount of attention: it was “a constant source of delight,” according to Opera News.

The other half of that collaboration was a concert, part of the Cincinnati Remembers WWI series. Poetry from the Great War, performed by members of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, was interspersed with music from the Baroque period on themes of war and loss. Catacoustic’s instrumentalists and the Opera’s singers performed exquisitely, and there was more than one tear-stained face by the end.

No sooner had all that wrapped up than we were off to the annual Conclave of the Viola da Gamba Society of America. Catacoustic was a featured performer on their concert night, presenting the Italian music that is one of their specialties. Annalisa played her lirone – always an event – and another local singer, Melissa Harvey, stopped hearts with some laments that never seemed to go on long enough.

The summer also saw the release of our newest CD. Secret of the Muse is a collection of music written for pardessus, the viol-violin hybrid wildly popular in pre-Revolutionary France. Most of this music had never been recorded before. To purchase a copy, click here:

And one last thing from our crazy summer of 2014: We awarded our fourth annual Early Music Scholarship to not one but to two young viol players. The awards helped them purchase their own instruments, setting them on the path to a career in early music.

Lutenist Dan Swenberg and baritone Aaron Cain at CCM

In September, Season 14 officially opened with a masterwork by Dieterich Buxtehude, Membra Jesu Nostri. This oratorio is very rarely performed, and requires 12 musicians. Some of those musicians lectured and held lessons and workshops for local students at UC-CCM, while they were in town. We held the concert on a sunny Sunday afternoon, in a building known for its Tiffany stained glass windows, so it was truly a multi-sensory experience. Mary Ellyn Hutton included it on her list of the best concerts of 2014.

In November we had tenor Sumner Thompson sing – to the accompaniment of the rarely heard lirone and Baroque harp – spectacular 16th century Italian songs almost certainly never performed in Cincinnati before. Thompson has an extraordinary voice that straddles the tenor and baritone ranges, and he was returning to town after singing in Carmen during the summer. 

January and February found us playing at four branches of the Public Library, for a series called
Music of the Renaissance. Well over 100 people came to what proved to be lively informal concerts with lots of questions and story-telling. These were also a performance opportunity for our scholarship winners, as part of our pre-professional mentoring program.

At the end of February, after an extremely successful month of Early Music Festival, we had another singer, soprano Shannon Mercer. This repertoire was French, 18th century sacred music for voice and pardessus. Shannon Mercer could make a stone weep, her voice is so beautiful. 

In March we had a concert of English music, from their complicated, contrarian Baroque period. Local soprano, Melissa Harvey, sang with us again, and we were in a beautiful new venue in Covington with more astonishing stained glass windows. We had trouble resuming after the intermission, because everyone was so busy enjoying the building.

In April we planned a very special departure. People have often asked us to play more modern music – an odd request of a Baroque ensemble!  But we figured out how to manage it. Annalisa assembled four of the best viol players in the United States to tackle contemporary music that ranged from all over the globe, with music based on Australian Aboriginal chant, that channeled the folk music of Britain, and that set to music Medieval Chinese poetry. Mixed in were Renaissance pieces that stood apart from their time, written by cantankerous free-thinkers of the past. The amazing Michael Maniaci sang – even in Chinese! – the musicians spoke about this deeply unusual music, there was an encore that made the people sitting around me sigh with delight. It was an afternoon that won’t soon be forgotten.

And while those extraordinary musicians were in town, Catacoustic hosted a workshop for local singers and viol players, giving about 10 local people the chance to study with master teachers from around the country.

After all this, we’re taking time this summer to get stuff done! We start right away with this year's yard sale to raise funds for next year's scholarship. It's May 23 -- details at We have some beautiful things to sell this year, so tell all your friends and come out to support early music in Cincinnati!

And stay tuned:  planning for Season 15 is well under way, and we plan to make it very special.

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