Wednesday, October 28, 2015

About those venues…

St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Terrace Park

We receive many comments about the various venues that Catacoustic performs in for our concert series. Our annual Cincinnati Early Music Festival introduces even more spaces for musical performances. Many people comment that they like discovering new spaces and enjoy seeing the interesting architectural features – beautiful woodwork, stained glass windows – and exploring new corners of our city’s neighborhoods. What goes into a decision for a venue choice for Catacoustic season concerts, you may wonder?

Well, for early music, the acoustics are as important as the instruments themselves. The design of Baroque instruments means that the acoustics are an active collaborator in performance and are key for a successful concert. This is what leads us into churches, since their architects often had the same considerations in mind when designing those spaces. The acoustical properties of many churches, as well as seating size, are appropriate for the music we share.

Sometimes we hear from people who are uncomfortable attending concerts in churches, as they feel out of place in a sacred space that is outside their own beliefs. We understand this concern, and we continue to explore secular spaces for our events.

Occasionally, collaborations will drive the venue choice, as with our performance of Shakespeare-inspired music with concert:nova at the Mercantile Library, or the Cincinnati Opera collaborative Monteverdi concerts at 1st Presbyterian and our subsequent performances of La Calisto at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

Ambience is another factor. Our candlelight concerts at beautiful St. Thomas Church in Terrace Park have created wonderful multisensory experiences. We are certain that Old St. Mary’s Church will create a similar feel for our April concert of music for early trombones (sackbuts) and viols.

Old St. Mary's Church in Over-the-Rhine

One comment we have heard recently is that many of our audience members like to attend a concert that is near restaurants or bars for pre and post-concert meals and drinks, so all of our venues this year are within walking distance (or an easy drive) to such places.

Another important factor in our decision of venue is the relationship with the venue’s administrator or music director. A vision of collaboration from the venue’s viewpoint is paramount. I am grateful to the churches we work with who see it as their mission to open their doors to the community for events other than their own. We feel a special affinity for churches who believe that making their spaces available to the public for cultural events is an extension of their own ministry.

One comment since the beginning of our concert days here in Cincinnati is the discomfort of some church pews. (Perhaps churches want to keep their parishioners awake and alert!) We finally have addressed this issue by ordering Catacoustic seat cushions that are now available for purchase at our concerts.

I am quite excited about our venues this year. We performed for the second time at Trinity Episcopal in Covington, and the venue has a lovely acoustic and is a visual treat with glorious Tiffany stained glass windows. It is also a pleasure to bring our music to Covington. The gracious music director, John Deaver, teaches at CCM and is committed to having more music in his community.

Our second concert for this 15th season is at a new venue for us, St. Rose Church, in East End (Columbia Tusculum). The music director is Trevor Kroeger, who is working to make his church a musical destination. The space is beautiful!

St.Rose Church

Our upcoming lecture (“The Perilous Allures of Convent Singing”) as well as our third season concert featuring Baroque violin will be held at a favorite venue of mine, Church of the Advent in Walnut Hills. I am partial to this church, as it is in my neighborhood, and the church and community of Walnut Hills are extremely welcoming and supportive. The glorious woodwork and stained glass (more Tiffany windows!) are an added bonus.

Our fourth concert of the season is at another new venue for us: Old St. Mary’s in Over-the-Rhine. Old St. Mary’s was the triumphant venue last February for a Renaissance Mass, performed during the Early Music Festival. Music is an integral part of this church’s mission, and their music director is as eager to have us, as audiences are eager to discover all the hidden corners of Over-the-Rhine. The sanctuary is stunning, and it will transport us back in time for the other-worldly “Voice of God and Man.”

Finally, our Baroque opera will be held at First Unitarian Church in Avondale. You may know this spot as a regular venue for the Linton Chamber Music Series. The sanctuary platform (stage) is a flexible space, and the shape can change according to our needs. It boasts excellent parking and accessibility, and it is a beautiful space. There is sufficient room for the instruments as well as the singers, and the semi-staged choreography should work perfectly.

There you have it! Reasons why we choose the spaces we choose. We always appreciate hearing your feedback on our venues.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Conversation with Craig Monson

On November 11, Catacoustic will host Craig Monson, whose specialty is the history of women in 17th-century Italy, specifically those who were placed by their families in convents for political reasons related to the family dynasties, or because of a lack of an appropriate dowry. Without a religious vocation, these women often seized the chance the convents offered for education and artistic expression, becoming composers, poets, or performers. But some of them just got into trouble. Dr. Monson’s talk will pull back the curtain and give us a peek into the lives of some feisty, determined women who made the most of their lives, despite the restrictions imposed on them.

Then on November 13, Catacoustic will perform a concert featuring the music of these women, most of it composed either by them or especially for them.

We had a chance to talk to Dr. Monson in advance of his visit to Cincinnati.

What is your larger field of study?

Growing up I always thought I’d end up as an anthropologist; then, as a freshman in college, I became more interested in music history instead. Ever since I was in high school, my particular musical interest has always been Renaissance and Baroque music. (In 1960 I owned what I think was probably the only harpsichord north of the Bay Area in California.) In the 1970s and early ‘80s I concentrated on English music from the reign of Elizabeth I, particularly William Byrd, and edited four volumes of his collected works. But in the mid-1980s I shifted to Italy.

What got you interested in this specific topic, women immured without religious vocation?

While on vacation in Florence in 1986 I stumbled upon an unknown keyboard manuscript in an off-the-beaten-track museum and decided to write a learned article on it. On the basis of the binding decoration, a coat-of-arms on the cover, and an inscription on the back, I traced it to a convent in Bologna. In addition to keyboard arrangements of dozens of motets—that made sense—it also contained madrigals and French chansons—that didn’t make sense—including one with a substitute text that would translate something like, “You who have that little thing that delights and pleases so much, ah! Run your hand under my cassock and your cloak!” This did not quite jive with my impressions of 16th-century convent musicians (about which I knew nothing). I decided that music and female monasticism sounded like a very interesting topic. So I switched fields. (I had tenure by then, so I figured I could do whatever I pleased.) Since then, convent music has become something of a cottage industry in musicology.

Do you have a favorite characters from among your subjects?

Cristina Cavazza would be pleased that the convent
she used to sneak out of to see the opera has been
turned into a performance space.

I’ll just mention a couple of favorites who turn up in my book from 2010, Nuns Behaving Badly: Tales of Music, Magic, Art, and Arson in the Convents of Italy: a group of aristocratic, young nun musicians at the Bolognese convent of San Lorenzo in the 1580s, who ran afoul of the Inquisition for conjuring up the devil to help them find a lost viol. Or there’s Cristina Cavazza, a virtuoso singer at the convent of Santa Cristina della Fondazza in Bologna, who in 1708 sneaked out of the convent several times during carnival, dressed as an abbot, to attend the opera. Only after her fourth night at the opera did she finally get caught.

I understand you have some funny stories about your journeys through the archives of Italy. Can you share one with us?

Well, one thing I should point out is that the Vatican Secret Archive is nothing like Dan Brown’s description of it in Angels and Demons (and nothing like the set in the movie—which reminded me more, in fact, of the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale). One of my favorite archive stories involves a former grad student of mine, who was working day after day in the Vatican Secret Archive decades ago and turning up precious little. Then one morning the name of one of the best known Renaissance composers popped out at her from the page and she exclaimed “Holy Sh*t!” . . . loudly. I waited for the pope’s photograph to come crashing down off the wall.

Dr. Monson’s talk is free and open to the public, with Q&A and reception to follow. It takes place November 11, 2015, at 7:30pm. 
Church of the Advent
2366 Kemper Ln
Cincinnati, OH (Walnut Hills) 45206

Catacoustic’s concert, performing the music of this unusual time, will be November 13, 7:30pm.
St. Rose Church
2501 Riverside Drive
Cincinnati OH (East End) 45202
Tickets to the concert can be purchased here: