The Newberry Consort at BEMF

[two players of large wind instruments]]
Illustration of Cantiga 11 from the Cantigas de Santa Maria by Alphonsus X.

Rosa das Rosas: Cantigas de Santa Maria

The Newberry Consort

Jordan Hall

Thursday, June 13, 5 PM


This was billed as a multi-media event, which is a really good idea
for this music, because there are lots of people who have studied the
original 13th century manuscript in literature class or art class or
music class without any information about the rest of it.

There was a screen behind the performers which had a picture from the
manuscript, and translations of what the singers were singing. This
is really nicer for both audience and performers than everyone
squinting into their program books.

Many of the pictures have people playing instruments, and it was a
little jarring when the instrumentation chosen by the performers was
completely different from that in the pictures. I was particularly
struck during Cantiga 300, where the picture showed two
very conical bore wind instruments (not in enough detail to tell
whether they had a brass mouthpiece, a reed, or a fipple) and Tom
Zajac was playing a cylindrical bore traverse flute.


The music of the Cantigas is vocal, but to listen to an hour and
fifteen minutes without intermission, it was really nice that there
was a variety of instruments. There was vielle, rebec, lute, harp,
citole, hammered dulcimer, flute, recorder, bagpipe, and percussion.
(Played by 5 different people.)

Variety was also provided by supplementing the two singers (Ellen
Hargis and Matthew Dean) from the Newberry Consort with 5 singers from
the Boston area _a capella_ group Exultemus. So while Ellen Hargis
did the vast majority of the solo singing, dialogs could happen with
another singer, and some of the more general emotions could be
expressed with a choral sound. The final piece, Cantiga 10: Rosa das
Rosas, used this sound particularly well.

The recorder was actually on only one piece, but it was one of the
more striking uses of instrumental accompaniment. Cantiga 103 tells
the story of a monk who asks the Virgin to show him what the bliss of
heaven is like, and he starts listening to a bird sing, and the next
thing he knows it’s 300 years later and he no longer knows anyone in
the monastery. A highly improvised recorder solo (by Tom Zajac) was
the depiction of the bird song.

The other instrumentation I found most memorable was the quite simple
castanet beat (also played by Tom Zajac) with the Cantiga 425, about
the joy the disciples felt at the Resurection.

13th or 21st CENTURY?

The medieval notation used in the Cantigas is quite good at telling us
what notes comprise the tune, but experts differ by quite a bit about
the rhythms, and there aren’t harmonies or instrumentations notated
at all. So one is tempted to conclude that the good performers of
this music are actually quite good composers, and the music they’re
playing is twenty first century music, based on some material from the
thirteenth century.

This concert, partly because of the immersion in the pictures and the
ease of following the words, and also because of the relatively
“straight” interpretations, without a lot of composed harmony and
counterpoint, seemed more like a real experience from the 13th century
than other medieval concerts I have heard.

[Newberry Consort]
The Newberry Consort. (Left to Right): David Douglas, Ellen Hargis, Tom Zajac, Mark Rimple, Shira Kammen

The New York Continuo Collective

Continuing to bring you my reporting from the 2013 Boston Early Music Festival. The
American Recorder editor cut this one
even worse than most of what I sent her, because it wasn’t really
a recorder concert at all.

The New York Continuo Collective

L’amour et La Folie

Love and Madness in the Air de Cour

Thursday, June 13, 2013, Noon

Gordon Chapel, Old South Church

645 Boylston ST., Boston

The New York Continuo Collective is mostly a bunch of plucked string
players accompanying singers. There’s one bass viol (Virginia
Kaycoff), and they get instrumental solos (aside from lutes playing the
tunes) by having a couple of people play recorders (Grant Herreid and Paul

Every “semester” they study a different repertory of 17th century
song, and this Spring it was the French Air de Cour. The program was
based around a collection of songs with lute tablature published in
1614 by Gabriel Bataille, which seem to be from a ballet depicting a
quarrel between Amour and La Folie.

The program was semi-staged and variously costumed — some characters
only wearing a hat to indicate their character, but Venus (Kirsten
Kane) wearing a golden gown that was definitely not street wear. La
Folie (Brittany Fowler) wore street wear, but mixed patterns and
stripes in a charmingly disturbing way.

The plot involved Amour attempting to prove that he enhances human
happiness, in the face of La Folie’s claim that love only leads to
misery. So there are lots of songs sung by characters labeled
“quarreling lovers”, “rude lover”, or “angry lover”. So with the
dance interludes and the various moods of the lovers, it was a very
diverse program. The ornamentation, both improvised and written out
by the director (Grant Herried) also added variety.

One of the problems of running an early music group in contemporary
American musical culture is that the guitar and lute players often
become very skilled on their instruments without getting the ensemble
experience that wind and bowed string instrument players have
routinely. The Continuo Collective is a brilliant response to this
problem, while also producing a very enjoyable show.

Monday at BEMF 2013

I promised you some of what I should have been blogging at the
The Boston Early Music Festival.
The easy way to do this is to give you what I actually wrote not
too long afterwards, but didn’t blog because I was writing it for
a magazine (the
magazine of The American Recorder Society
). Now that the magazine has come out, and a large part
of what I wrote has been edited out for length, I don’t see
anything wrong with giving it to you.

The first article was about two fringe concerts on Monday, June

Ensemble 1729

Ensemble 1729: Il Proteo o siĆ  il Mondo al Rovascio

Italian and German Chamber Concertos

10 June, 2013 at 16:00

First Lutheran Church

299 Berkeley St., Boston

Because I live in the Boston area, the editor of this magazine often
asks me to review several concerts early in the Boston Early Music
Festival, because a lot of her out-of-town reviewers haven’t arrived
yet. At the last festival, I saw two local groups at the top of their
game on Monday afternoon.

This year, I got a crash course in the perils of rolling into town on
Sunday and playing a concert on Monday afternoon, even for superb
musicians with decades of experience playing concerts.

Ensemble 1729 is a group of young musicians who met while studying at
McGill University in Montreal. Their publicity emphasizes their
“stylish wit, sensitivity, and quicksilver changes of mood and
color”. Their program started with the Vivaldi concerto which gave
the concert its name. The whole group, consisting of two
harpsichords, recorder (Vincent Lauzer), traverso and string quartet,
was playing. Vivaldi displays the mutability of Proteus by shifting
the tune between all voices, and the different textures certainly made
for an interesting set of sounds.

The middle of the concert was taken up with two pieces (Pasquini
Sonata #10 in c minor for two bassi continue, and Bach Concerto in C
major for two harpsichords) for two harpsichords. This was
problematic for this reviewer, seated at about the middle of the hall,
because the similar sounding harpsichords were nested at center stage, and there was no
way I could tell which harpsichord was playing which notes. People
closer to the front, or even off to one side, had less of a problem
with this, but for me, the dueling improvisations of the Pasquini were
completely lost.

The First Lutheran Church is beloved of _a capella_ vocal groups
because the high, vaulted ceiling takes the sound and bounces it
around until it sounds blended even if the voices are not in fact as
even as one might wish. Unfortunately, this isn’t really what you
want for chamber music.

The concert concluded with the Telemann Concerto in e minor for
recorder and flute. This wasn’t as problematic as the two
harpsichords, because the flute and the recorder do have different
timbres, and you could see which was playing in solo passages. But
other times I’ve seen this concerto performed, but soloists were at
oppposite side of the stage, where here the two wind players stood
next to each other, giving no stereo separation between the sounds.

I was relieved, however, that where most of the concert seemed to have
been aiming for “stylish and elegant”, the final presto of the
Telemann was performed as though the people dancing it might have had
boots on.

Der Getreue Music-Meister

Masters of German baroque music

Performed by the Early Music faculty of the University of North Texas

Monday, June 10, 2013, 6:30 pm

Church of the Covenant

67 Newbury St., Boston

The University of North Texas faculty weren’t making any rookie
mistakes about placement of the performers. And Paul Leenhouts’
recorder playing took aggressive advantage of the recorder’s wider
range of articulations than the oboe (played by Kathryn Montoya) in
the Telemann Concerto in G major (TWV 43-G6). So I was surprised when
Paul made the announcement that Petra Somlai wasn’t going to play her
planned Haydn Sonata, because the harpsichord was missing keys on both
the top and the bottom. It was also small for the large church it was
playing in. As a continuo instrument, it was fine when it was being
supported by the cello (Allen Whear), but seemed more like background
music when it was playing solo, obviously with the cello sonata
(Telemann Sonata in D major, TWV41:D6), but also in a violin sonata
(Bach, BWV 1017, played by Cynthia Roberts).

The rest of the concert (a solo oboe Sonata by Kirnbirger and a Trio
sonata for recorder and violin by Telemann) was admirable baroque
chamber music, with continuo driving the rhythm while the soloists
produce beautiful lines.

Early Music America reviews Boston Early Music Festival

I promised you more about BEMF, and some of what I want to
say will take place over several posts. But I got the Fall Early
Music America, and thought I’d comment on their reviews.

The fringe concerts are numerous, diverse, and crammed into a
small number of time slots when there aren’t official events, so
it isn’t that surprising that the EMA reviewers didn’t review any
of the ones I went to. But they at least mentioned all of the
“main stage” events.

I like the idea of 11 PM concerts, but in practice,
unless they’re very lively indeed, I often find myself falling
asleep, especially later in the week, which is strenuous for me.
So although I expected them to be good concerts, I didn’t go to
the Wednesday night lute concert (EMA: soothed an audience
of insomniacs
) or the Thursday night
Atalanta concert. I did as usual enjoy the Saturday
night Tragicommedia concert of German drinking
songs. But I would have been just as well off skipping the gaelic
song and harp music concert on Friday.

I agree that the Newberry Consort multimedia presentation of
the Cantigas de Santa Maria was one of the
highlights of the festival, and I’ll probably give you some more
about that later.

EMA calls Emma Kirkby’s Dowland performance “transcendant”, and
I agree with that. I was worried about going to a concert of lute
songs in a space as big as Jordan Hall, but it wasn’t a problem at
all, even though my friends and I decided to stay in the nosebleed
seats where my lingering cough wouldn’t disturb as many people.
(There’s also more leg room there — I don’t know why those seats
aren’t sold to the long-legged at a premium.)

EMA says “The Hilliard Ensemble brought an
admirable transparency and lucidity to a remarkably diverse
repertoire.” I liked the lucidity, but I would have prefered a
real program to the “greatest hits” approach they took. I liked
all the sixteenth century music better than
all the other stuff, so I’d rather they’d just played

The Royal Wind Music concert did, as EMA reports,
blow the audience away, but I share the reservations of David
Schulenberg in the Boston Musical Intelligencer
that they made
a verbatim copy of what was on their CD in a repertoire that was
intended to be improvised.

New York Times writes about Mozart’s instruments

In this article, the New York Times provides more information about the heavily advertised appearance of Mozart’s violin and viola at the 2013 Boston Early Music Festival. There will be a concert on both the violin and viola (joined by fortepiano and clarinet), and the instruments will be on view at the exhibition on Wednesday morning.

Apparently Mozart never performed publicly on the violin, and this instrument was left behind in Salzburg when he moved to Vienna. He did like playing viola, and this instrument was owned by his widow after his death.

Serpents at BEMF 13

Pierre Ribo, from Brussels, Belgium, will be bringing 4 serpents to the Boston Early Music Festival in June, 2013.
Pierre Ribo, from Brussels, Belgium, will be bringing 4 serpents to the Boston Early Music Festival in June, 2013.

I got an email this morning from Pierre Ribo:

Let me introduce myself. My name is Pierre Ribo and I am a serpent
maker in Brussels, Belgium.

I will be present at the Boston Early Music Festival from June 12th
until the 15th to present four of my serpents (with four keys and 6
holes church serpent).

My purpose is to propose my instruments in the USA and also to meet
musicians, since their reactions are very important to me.

I would be pleased to meet you during my stay in Boston, if possible
for you.

In case you would know other musicians interested in the serpent, may
I ask you to forward this mail or spread the word around you?

The official concert schedule is as much of an early brass wasteland
as ever, but it looks like there will at least be a few serpents at
the exhibition.