Friday, June 13, 2014

Catacoustic CD Available June 19

Five years ago, my dear friend Joanna Blendulf and I made a CD recording of our pardessus duo program. (The pardessus is such a rare little instrument--it was only played in France, and only during the 18th century!--that very few players perform on it today, and its charming repertoire gets much less attention than it deserves.) We worked so hard to prepare this virtuosic music. This is a program that we have invested years in and many hours of practice. We have taken our program to Portland, Eugene, San Francisco (SFEMS), Columbus, and Colombia. Sadly, the engineer lost the recording we made when his hard drive crashed, and he didn't have proper backups. You cannot imagine the feeling in the pit of our stomachs to learn this news.

Joanna and I have known each other since we were high school students and met at Interlochen Arts Camp, where we both were introduced to the viola da gamba by Mark Cudek and Ann Marie Morgan. Since then, we have been great friends, and a beautiful musical partnership has blossomed. We play fabulously together, if I may say so myself. There are a few people in this world, where – just like when you have a best friend, and conversation just comes so naturally and joyfully – we don’t even have to work to play together, but we know exactly what the other person is going to do. Joanna is one of these people. In technical, musical terms, our “ensemble” is pretty good.

After these years of licking our wounds, Joanna told me that she would be willing to record this program again. So, after a generous gift from Gregg Hill and Linda Holmberg, we decided to take the emotional plunge and make the recording once again in January of 2014. This time we had a great team: John Hadden, renowned early music engineer and producer, Fred Martens, our amazingly talented graphic designer, along with brilliant theorbo player David Walker and sparkling soprano Youngmi Kim. And, after over five years, we are actually BETTER! On June 19, our final product is due to arrive in the mail, entitled “Secret of the Muse.” The CD will be for sale at www.catacoustic.com, as well as through amazon.com and iTunes. You can be the first to own it buy purchasing it at our concerts on June 19 & 21.

What is the secret of the muse, you may ask? The secret is a dear friend.
Joanna Blendulf & Annalisa Pappano at Interlochen Arts Camp

Thursday, April 10, 2014

For Ye Violls: The Astounding Music of William Lawes



April 26 will see the third in Catacoustic’s series exploring the viol consort music of 17th century England.  We began last spring with the melancholic music of John Dowland, written during the quiet afterglow of Elizabeth’s reign.  Last fall we continued with a sampling of composers writing during the decades of the English Civil War.  Tonight we dedicate to the greatest of these wartime composers:  William Lawes (1602-1645).  

Charles I of England
Let us first consider Charles I of England.  One wonders how history might have turned out differently had Charles not, quite unexpectedly, ascended to the throne of England.  He was a terrible king, intransigent and self-righteous.  But he was also refined and educated, and he loved music.  He studied music, he employed full-time musicians and composers who travelled with him—music really mattered to this man.  How happy he might have been as a private aristocrat, ruler of only his own castle, generously patronizing his chosen artists.  Thrust instead into a job he was unsuited for, his life was filled with war, conflict, and unhappiness, and at the age of 48 he said goodbye to his two young children and was beheaded before a mob.  

 Charles I’s reign had an incalculable impact on English legal and monarchical history.  But it’s the music we’re here to talk about.  Hume, Jenkins, Simpson, and the other great composers we heard last fall all tried to keep out of the war and focus on their composing.  William Lawes, on the other hand, was right in the middle of the action.  

William Lawes
Lawes was employed by Charles and lived at court.  There he picked up on the enormous French influences felt in every corner of life.[i]  He absorbed French styles and the new Italian music just coming into circulation, married them to English conventions, and created a startling new sound.  He wrote fantasias with the melodies buried in the inner voices.  He wrote dance suites combining forms that had never been put together before.  He wrote airs that mimicked the sounds of battle, the basses laying down a pattern of cannon fire; the treble voices a swirling mass of bugles, shouts, horses, and chaos.  His counterpoint has been described as willful and angular.  His love of dissonance flew in the face of what was then considered in good taste.  He was as “out there” for his time as can be imagined—think of Elvis, combining country, gospel, and rhythm and blues, and producing something totally new.

Here’s how Laurence Dreyfus sums up this eccentric:   “To solve the puzzle of Lawes, one might focus on Lawes' influences and his social context, but they in no way account for his wayward musical personality. Attuned to his topsy-turvy world, one begins to hear in every piece an undiscovered place which hadn't been mapped before. The clarity of utterance is remarkable, for in overturning venerable rules of dissonance treatment, and deforming classical ideas found in the works of Orlando Gibbons and others, Lawes persuades you that backward is forward, that chaos is ordered, that ugly is beautiful. ” Lawes belongs among the true originals of music, with the likes of Charles Ives and Erik Satie.
Why have some composers remained well-known and widely performed, and others have slipped into obscurity?[ii]   Lawes' case is a good example of the randomness of history at work.  Lawes died fighting in the war, shot in a sortie during the siege of Chester, only 43 years old.  The king took time out from the war, his looming defeat, and the death of a close relative during the same battle, to institute special mourning for Lawes, declaring him to be the “Father of Musick.”  And then all hell broke loose.  The Stuarts lost the war, and the shocking fact of regicide created a fault line in English society that took generations to heal.  Lawes had been ground-breaking, but his death came before much seed had been sown into that ground, and it was easier for future music-lovers to go with neutral composers or favorites of the later regimes than to stick with the dead king’s favorite.  Even the great Purcell, working some 40 years after Lawes, expressed disdain for Lawes’ work, without realizing, perhaps, that Lawes’ devotion to and cultivation of counterpoint made his own harmonic profundity possible.
This gorgeous music will be performed by a large consort of internationally renowned musicians:  Joanna Blendulf (Madison, Alabama), Julie Jeffrey (San Francisco), Lynn Tetenbaum (San Francisco), Larry Lipnik (New York), Gail Ann Schroeder (Asheville, North Carolina), and Annalisa Pappano (director of Catacoustic).  

April 26, 2014 @ 7:30 pm.  Church of the Advent, Walnut Hills, 2366 Kemper Lane, Cincinnati, OH 45206. Tickets are available at catacoustic.com, at 513-772-3242, or at the door:  $25, $10 for students with ID. Children under 12 free.  


[i]  The reasons for the English Civil War were complicated and varied.  But religion played a large part.  England had been turned by force into a Protestant country over a century earlier, but its rulers had been see-sawing back and forth ever since.  The most powerful Catholic country in Europe at the time, France, wanted to see England return to the fold, and jumped in whenever it saw a chance to influence the English court.  Charles I, like all the Stuarts, was required by law to practice Anglicanism, but his true sympathies for Catholicism were barely concealed.  He married a French Catholic, filled his court with Frenchmen, and accepted as much French support as he dared when the war erupted.  When that war was lost, his family fled to France, where they lived for generations as their fortunes ebbed and flowed.  Remember “My Bonnie lies over the ocean”?  That song refers to Bonnie Prince Charlie, the last of the Stuarts to try to regain the throne for his family.  He lived over the ocean in France.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Report from 3rd Catacoustic Scholarship Winner, Michael Zaret

Many years ago (like back in the late 1970s), I was deeply involved in Early Music performance. Five students at CCM formed an ensemble, Musica Camerata. During our five years as a group we performed numerous concerts from New York to Florida, and Philadelphia west to Texas, including a stop in St. Paul to play on “Prairie Home Companion” and “Baroque and Beyond.” Unfortunately, our members eventually dispersed to various new locations around the country. That and increasing family responsibilities drew me away from Early Music performance. A couple of years ago, I heard Annalisa and Elizabeth Motter perform at a local library, and my interest was rekindled. However, my set of almost 40-year-old Baroque Moeck Rottenburgh recorders were in dire need of repair and revoicing.

Thanks to the Catacoustic Scholarship, I was awarded a grant to make them playable. So off they went to Boston and the Von Huehne Workshop, where they were revoiced and a key was added to the tenor recorder to compensate for my aging, shrinking fingers. In addition, a thumbhole ring was installed on my well-worn alto.
Fipple, with block removed
the block(curved side)- is inserted into fipple




What is revoicing, you might ask? Revoicing a recorder involves removing the block (the wooden piece that fits into the mouthpiece and shapes and steers the airstream) and ensuring that all the surfaces of the windway are clean and smooth and properly shaped to ensure the air from the windway is arriving at the edge (which sets it into vibration) correctly. The chambers at the exit end of the windway may be re-angled if necessary, and if the edge is damaged or swollen, re-cut.The end result is that revoicing makes a recorder play prettier! In the future, I hope to be able to send my Hopf Renaissance recorders in to also be repaired.
Block partially inserted into fipple
Recorder mouthpiece. Block fully inserted into fipple


I have had a busy year, playing with a variety of groups, both formal and informal. I’ve done some performing, and lots of practicing! I’ve also been practicing Baroque flute, but at this point, am not quite ready for prime time.

Again, I sincerely thank Catacoustic Consort for providing the spark to get me back into Early Music, and their generous grant to help make that happen!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Looking Back on the Cincinnati Early Music Festival, 2014



The Cincinnati Early Music Festival, 2014.  The word “doozy” comes to mind.  Also “humdinger.”  In the spirit of “Was it awesome or what?” I submit the following FAQs:

Was this the first or second early music festival?  This is the first year we were organized in advance.  In 2013 we promoted a collection of found objects.  (The fact that so many early music events were happening in the city in February 2013 was already a startling indication of how much the early music scene was taking off.)  So we’ll call this the 2nd Annual, and look fondly back on our fledgling days. 

What are the numbers?  We held seventeen events, in twelve locations around town.  Some 320 performers performed.  And over 1500 people silenced their phones and listened.  My favorite number from that list?  The 320 performers.  This includes local high school and university chorists, possibly being exposed to early music for the first time; young, wide-eyed enthusiasts just starting to think that early music may play a huge role in their future; internationally recognized professionals who have devoted their lives to the music; experienced veterans of the early music rediscovery of the 1970s.  Everyone has a part to play.  

Did I hear a viola da gamba in there somewhere?  If you had gone to every single event this month, you would have heard pardessus de viole, treble viol, tenor, six-string bass, seven-string bass, great dooble bass, and violone. And as a bonus, a viol ancestor:  vielle.  Essentially the entire viol family, all performed by local Cincinnati musicians. Think about the worlds of possibility this opens up for the Cincinnati early music community.

What about other instrument families?  We also heard lute, archlute, theorbo, and viola da mano (which I am told is a lute/guitar hybrid).  We heard quite a range of recorders, and apparently the possibility of recorders in the city was underrepresented this year.  Let’s get the recorder family up and out!  We heard at least half a dozen early keyboardists playing harpsichords and period organs.  We heard Renaissance guitar and Baroque guitar, brass and an oboe d’amore, a 200-year-old cello, and large string ensembles.  Think of the things we can do with so much talent and ability all around us!

Who were the participating ensembles and organizations?  Where do I start? The Catacoustic Consort, of course.  Ubi Caritas.  Cincinnati Bach Ensemble.  Cincinnati Camerata.  Cincinnati Chamber Opera.  Cantantes Camarae.  Cantigium.  Harmonia Sacra.  Noyse Merchants.  Consort in the Egg.  Cincinnati Viol Consort.  The Knox Choir.  CCM Early Music Lab.  Cathedral Choir of St. Peter in Chains.  Collegium Cincinnati.  Edgecliff Vocal Ensemble.  Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy Encore Choir.  Xavier University Concert Choir.  And then there are all the ad hoc groups that came together to perform one special program of music. They’re everywhere!   

What were some memorable moments? 
--The Cincinnati Bach Ensemble performed Vivaldi’s La Notte flute concerto, with Randy Bowman on flute.  It starts with a slow movement (wha…?), goes on to a later movement that has no movement but is essentially shifting chord progressions, and contains the most impossibly long trills for the soloist—I was reaching under my pew for an oxygen mask, and I was just listening!  Well done, Randy!  

--The Knox Choir from Knox Presbyterian performed Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich, by Heinrich SchΓΌtz, an electrifying piece with the voices of the choir crying out the name of Saul over and over—again, so modern-sounding, and so compelling.  I’d love to hear that one again. 

--Elizabeth Motter performing Kapsberger’s Arpeggiata on Baroque harp with Annalisa, a piece that makes everyone put down what they’re doing and attend.  

--Jory Vinikour explaining why Rameau is the most important overlooked composer of the Baroque, and then explaining it again at the keyboard.  

--Scot Buzza explaining why Galuppi is one of the most important overlooked composers of the Baroque, and then explaining it again from the podium.  

--Bill Willets, lute, and Melisa Bonetti, mezzo, performing the gorgeous Isabel by Luys de Narvaez, and Scotty McEvoy reading a translation of the lyrics.  

--Cantigium’s performance of El Grillo by Josquin.  If you think eight people can’t sound like a chorus of crickets, you clearly missed this concert.  

--The incredible Luigi Rossi piece, Un ferito cavaliero, performed by Catacoustic Consort and Meg Bragle.  The cavaliero of the title is the messenger who brings news of the death of King Gustavus Adolphus; the song is about neither of these two men, but of the remarkable queen who must make sense of it all. The singer pleaded, thundered, wept, and finally whispered—I’ve never heard anything quite like it.

--The mass choir sing of Hieronymus Praetorius’ Jubilate Deo.  I was vibrating at the end, and couldn’t tell if it was my ears ringing, or the cathedral itself.

--La Musica, personified by Alexandra Kassouf, painting tears on the faces of the whole cast of L’Orfeo, and then the cast making us believe they were real.

--The generally heedless revelry of Cantantes Camarae, pitching their way through “He That Will an Alehouse Keepe,” “Ale and Tobacco,” and “Toss the Pot.”  English pubs in the early 17th century must have been way fun.

Who is Sam Chan? He sight-read and goat-trilled his way through Classical Revolution, fooled everyone as the disguised Apollo in the opera, and led plainchant in the choral concert. Who was that masked man?  

If you were writing a Passion for all women, would you make Jesus an alto?  Heck, yes:  altos sit deepest inside the harmonies, and that’s exactly where Jesus would be.  Anna Little may be technically a mezzo, but it sounded like an alto part to me.

Will I always have to silence my phone at early music events?  Yes.

Is that it?  No more early music?  No! This is not just a foul weather pastime--these groups and others perform year round.  Catacoustic’s got an amazing concert coming up April 26.  Rumor has it that Cantigium may have a repeat of the Medieval concert in late March (yes, please.) Even Cincinnati Opera is doing a Baroque opera this summer!   Keep your eyes peeled, join Cincinnati Early Music Project group on Facebook, and keep the excitement going!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

La Serenissima: Sacred Music of the Venetian Settecento



The Cincinnati Early Music Festival has featured concerts of music by composers you may not have known. Our final event will introduce you to several more.  This concert, at Saint Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Anderson Township (proud home of one of the finest organs in the city, prominently featured in the concert, http://www.sainttimothys.com/st-timothys-organ/ ) will see the North American premiere of seven long-forgotten works by Venetian composers of the 18th century.  Cincinnati conductor and musicologist Scot Buzza has recently transcribed these lost choral works from manuscripts found in archives in Paris, Dresden, Munich, and Venice. 

Included in the program are works by Antonio Caldara (1670-1736), including a sepolcro, a subgenre of oratorio that was performed exclusively in the Hapsburg Court once a year, on Good Friday. Fewer than fifty were written, and this work was performed only once. Caldara used the orchestra to create a level of drama extraordinary for a sacred work.  Antonio Lotti’s (1667-1740) music was ahead of its time as well:  his use of dissonance in the vocal parts of his Credo was startling to the ears of his contemporaries, but spectacular to modern ears.  Ferdinando Bertoni composed his Vespers Psalm: Nisi Dominus in 1765. This charming work for choir and orchestra shows an unusual mixture of Baroque counterpoint and classical gestures, combined with bravura vocal writing. In the original score appear the names of the two sopranos for whom it was intended: Laura Risegari and Theresia Almerigo, both of whom achieved international fame during their lifetimes, despite the fact that neither ever stepped beyond the walls of the Ospedale dei Mendicanti, where they lived and performed.

The centerpiece of the concert will be Galuppi’s extraordinary Passion for Good Friday.  This piece was composed some time before 1750, also for the women of the Ospedale dei Mendicanti.  It was written for four-part women’s chorus and continuo, with all solo parts sung by women, including Jesus and Pontius Pilate--a radical departure from church music of the time. Another Galuppi piece, Vespers Psalm: In convertendo Dominus, written in 1771, is at times light-hearted, at times fiery, and always full of the charm for which Galuppi was famous. 

Baldassare Galuppi is still largely unknown in this country, but during his lifetime, 1706-1785, he was immensely famous, working not only in Venice but also Vienna, London, and St. Petersburg.  He composed an enormous body of music, religious and secular, vocal and instrumental, and he is considered to be the father of comic opera. He was beloved by his acquaintances and fought over by his employers.  But his job description required a constant supply of new music, so each work, as complex and acclaimed as it may have been, was quickly superseded by the next piece, and was filed away and forgotten.  Much of Galuppi’s oeuvre has been relegated to dusty monastic archives, where it has been awaiting rediscovery for almost 230 years.    

In addition to hearing music no one has heard for centuries, you will also hear the stories that come with them. Stories of Masses sung 300 years ago in a Latin cleverly manipulated to be completely comprehensible to the Italian congregants. Of following the trail of Napoleon’s armies 200 years ago when they commandeered manuscripts from Venetian libraries and took them back, sight unseen, to France. Of last summer, when boxes full of brittle, yellowing pages were thumped down on long wooden tables with the cheerful warning, “We close for lunch at 2!”  Of the excitement of holding faded, scribbled scores in the composer’s own handwriting that no one had ever copied out before.  

On March 2, the closing day of the Festival, Buzza will conduct a full Baroque orchestra and two choirs in a concert of music that tells all these stories and more.  All of this music will be a North American premiere, and some of it has never been played or heard anywhere in the world in 250 years.  Be among the first people in a dozen generations to hear this luscious music. Be a part of the discovery.  

Sunday, March 2, 3:00, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, Anderson Township
8101 Beechmont Avenue 45255