Monday, February 29, 2016

Cincinnati Early Music Festival 2016 Wrap-up

What were the numbers?  

 Twenty-one events at 14 venues.  445 performers. Audience numbers: 2272.

Renaissance hair band?
 Who were the participating groups? 

 Bach Ensemble of St. Thomas. Suzanne Bona and Richard Goering duo. Cantantes Camarae. Cantigium. Catacoustic Consort. Cathedral Choir of St. Peter in Chains. Christ Church Cathedral Choir. Cincinnati Boychoir. Cincinnati Camerata. Cincinnati Chamber Opera. Cincinnati Recorder Consort. Chris Wilke. Collegium Cincinnati. Consort in the Egg. Edgecliff Vocal Ensemble. Harpers Robin. Knox Choir. James Meade. Miami Valley Recorder Consort. Rose Ensemble. Shakespeare Band. Vicars Choral. Walnut Hills Chamber Choir. Xavier University Concert Choir.

Jackie Stevens
This year’s most visible performer?

Soprano Jackie Stevens, hands down. She sang Dowland with the Shakespeare Band, Schütz with the Knox Choir, Padilla for the Albanese DMA lecture/recital, Pergolesi with Cincinnati Chamber Opera, Campion et al with Cantantes Camarae, and once more at Classical Revolution. All of these were beautiful, the Pergolesi most of all. English, German, Spanish, Italian . . . what, Jackie, no French? Slacker!

What were some memorable moments?

Harpers Robin played the gorgeous Por que Llorax Blanca Niña. We definitely need more Sephardic music in the Festival, and frankly in our everyday lives.

Pre-concert phone check
The Knox Choir sang a quite lovely setting of the Lord's Prayer by Schütz, with modulating harmonies, an ensemble that slowly expanded as the piece went on, and the repeated insertion of "Father" over and over within the prayer, creating a plaintive, pleading tone, right up to the end:  "Father! Amen"

The Rose Ensemble. Wow. Medieval harmonies, a rebec solo, the endless echoing of the vault of St Peter in Chains -- just, wow. And afterward, a hurdy-gurdy demonstration. A terrific event. I would love to have them back in town again.

Ring master Matthew Swanson
The early music sing-along takes the medal for most fun, in my book. We sang rounds, chants (we learned to read shaped notes for this!), madrigals, motets, and generally had a whale of a time. An informal poll showed that everyone there wanted to do it again, several times a year.

Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater was staged as refugee parable, and it was very moving. Lauren McAllister and Jackie Stevens sang beautifully, and there was hardly a dry eye in the house.

Krista Feeney and Catacoustic
Catacoustic Consort’s guest, violinist Krista Bennion Feeney. Another Wow. Twice during this Festival did an audience forget themselves and applaud when they weren’t “supposed” to, and once was during Krista’s Bach E Major Partita. Listeners were so thrilled they applauded between movements, for the love of God. The end was a textbook demonstration of a leaping ovation. Baroque violin. Is. The. Best.

Vikings Einar and Magnus
Classical Revolution. So many great moments, including Suzanne Bona, James Meade, the debut of our city’s first natural horn thanks to Nelson Velez, Viking music for pillaging thanks to Larry and Michael, and the psychodelic theorbos of Chris and Bill at midnight. A bodacious time was had by all.

Cincinnati Recorder Consort. We have watched this group ramp up for a couple of years now, and on Feb 23 it felt like they broke through. Renaissance (loved The Leaves Be Green) and Baroque (the Fasch made me hold on to my hat!) Recorder consort and mixed (they’ve got viols and harpsichordists lurking in there?) I think we need to keep our eyes on this group.

The CCM Early Music Lab Sampler/Organ Restoration Fundraiser at Prince of Peace Lutheran. The lute and harpsichord students got some serious accompanying and continuo-playing practice – important skills they rarely get to try. And the two viol performance cognate students, Stephen Goist and Wei-Shuan Yu, got to strut their stuff. For the Lab the collaborative event was a success on many levels, and the teachers are already talking about trying this more often. For the larger community it was at least 6 points on the Richter scale. The church was packed with former parishioners celebrating the building’s past and arts people curious about its future. Worship services have already resumed there as I write this, and bookings for future musical events are already getting penciled into the calendar. It was a re-birth, and thrilling to witness.

Cantigium. This year’s concert, which ended the Festival, was a terrifically good one. They were in great voice, in a perfect space (St. Boniface’s in Northside), and they had a delightful repertoire. In addition to the three centuries of Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music they lovingly brought to life, they ended with three pieces of 20th-century music.
           Three times during this Festival we heard music that was not early: during Chris Wilke’s lute recital, at Classical Revolution (thanks again to Chris and his partner in crime Bill Willits,) and in the Cantiguim concert. In all cases it was 20th-century music that blended so nicely with its ancestors, never the standard Mozart-Mahler range of conventional classical music. I find the rapport between the very old and the very new interesting. Any explanations suggest themselves?

Does Early Music have a future in Cincinnati?

In 2017 the Festival will turn five years old. So far we have distinguished ourselves from the famous festivals
This visually impaired singer was
 reading music with her fingers!
in other cities, which bring in professional groups, and focused on local musicians. This strategy has created space for some remarkable groups to appear, unfold, and begin to come into their own. It has also provided the professionals among us with audiences who have come to appreciate music that was unfamiliar to them just a few years ago. Our numbers have grown every single year so far. I think the future sounds pretty bright.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Early Music Festival Week 4

The final week of the Early Music Festival has three events, all extremely different.

Tuesday Feb 23, noon, Christ Church’s Music Live at Lunch will host one more concert of early music as they welcome the Cincinnati Recorder Consort. This group is made up of amateur musicians who have been playing together for years, and they have more than just recorders in the mix! Downtown, free.

Friday Feb 26, 7:30, is a brand new event. For a fuller description, see here For now, suffice it to say that students from one of the top music schools in the United States – UC-CCM – will come together to play lutes, harpsichord, organ, viola da gamba, and sing. The Early Music Lab rarely, if ever, presents a united performance of students from all the disciplines. Plus, you can be among the first to enjoy the new space in Prince of Peace’s restored sanctuary. AND you can contribute to the revival of their important and locally built organ. There is literally no downside to this event. Over-the-Rhine, free but donations to the organ fund strongly encouraged!

Sunday Feb 28, 7:30, the Festival will close with one of our most popular groups. Cantigium has made a name for themselves over the past couple of years by going back further than anyone else, back to the earliest examples of written music we have. Their spot-on harmonies and fearless grappling with medieval languages have taken audiences to other places entirely. This year they will stretch their range even further, by mixing in modern music written in homage to the ancient. They will also take us to a new venue for the Festival, St. Boniface in Northside, free.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

CCM Early Music Lab Sampler Concert

UC-CCM is one of the top music schools in the country. Although it does not yet have a full-blown early music program, the students are expressing increasingly urgent interest in the centuries before Mozart, and
that’s where the Early Music Lab comes in. A student who is majoring in conducting, or French Horn, or musicology, can study lute with Rod Stucky, harpsichord and organ with Michael Unger, and viola da gamba with Annalisa Pappano. And the numbers of students who are taking advantage of this opportunity are swelling. It’s extremely rare that this loose affiliation comes together, but on Feb 26 they will do just that, in service to a cause.

Prince of Peace Lutheran is one of the oldest churches in town, completed in 1871. Its story reflects the story of Cincinnati’s urban core: a once thriving church saw its congregation shrink as people moved to the suburbs, and the money to maintain a huge aging building became scarce. Rather than folding, as many a church was forced to, the people of this parish turned their energies toward the work they could do. They moved all their activities to street level (the second-story sanctuary was condemned in the 1980s) and met the needs of the neighborhood with a full range of services for the urban poor. Now, in the 2010s, the neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine is changing again, there is a streetcar stop right outside the door, and forgotten spaces are being reclaimed. The basement and undercroft were first to be rehabbed, so the neighborhood mission can continue and improve. The sanctuary is being revived even as I write this, with a finishing date of early February. And that will take them to the organ, a historically significant example of American organ-building, constructed right here in Cincinnati by Koehnken & Grimm. Bloody but unbowed, this amazing instrument can be restored with your help.

We’re calling it the CCM Early Music Lab Sampler Concert. Students from all the studios, and singers too, will come together in Prince of Peace and show what they can do. This event will be a fundraiser to help in the restoration of the sanctuary and the organ. Please come out for this: support the students, support the church’s mission, support the architecture or the organ, or just rubberneck at a space no one has seen in 30 years. But come out to Way-Over-the Rhine and see what’s going on there.  

Friday, Feb 26, 7:30pm
1528 Race St. (Race and Liberty) 45201

Monday, February 15, 2016

Early Music Festival Week 3

Tuesday Feb 16, noon.  Christ Church’s Music Live at Lunch series continues with a recital by the students in Michael Unger’s harpsichord and organ studio at CCM. Some very gifted keyboardists will tackle a wide range of music from the 17th and 18th centuries. Downtown, free.

Wednesday Feb 17, 7:30. Vicars Choral arrived last year with a spectacular event: an entire Mass by Morales, sung a cappella, in Old St. Mary’s in Over-the-Rhine. This year they are returning with an expanded ensemble (including women!) to sing music from the Marian traditions from all over Europe. From Dufay in the 15th century to Hassler in the 17th, from Victoria in Spain to Tallis in England, and everywhere in between -- this will be tour through both time and space! Word is the most perfect acoustical experience will be about a third of the way back. Did you know that Old St Mary’s was built by its parishioners who made the bricks by hand and baked them in their own ovens? Hearing this music in this space is more than worth the trip downtown. Over-the-Rhine, free.

Saturday Feb 20, 4:00. Cantantes Camarae is a perennial favorite for this Festival. A small vocal ensemble, they specialize in popular music of the Renaissance, with a fondness for tavern songs, love songs, and scandalous tales. This year expect English song, with lute accompaniment. Pleasant Ridge, free.

Sunday Feb 21, 3:00. If you haven’t made it to the Great Choir Concerts in past years, you owe it to yourself to get there this year. The acoustics in St Peter in Chains are perfect for the soaring open harmonies so beloved in the Renaissance. Choirs of all ages from around the city bring their best to music from several centuries. Downtown, free.

Sunday Feb 21, 8:00. It’s Classical Revolution time! We don’t just bring classical music to the people, we bring early music to the people! Expect all manner of bands, with lutes and crumhorns, hurdy-gurdies and recorders, singers and players alike. Good company, good drinks, and good music – what better way to prepare yourself for another week? Northside, free.