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In the wake of the musical revolution around the year 1600, composers began to set religious texts using the expressive ‘avant garde’ musical language we now call Baroque. Although categorized as ‘sacred’, most pieces in this programme might never have been performed in church. Instead, they were probably intended for entertainment, or for private devotion in family homes – reflecting the way belief permeated all aspects of life in pre-enlightenment society. Using the diverse colours of counter-tenor, lute, organ, and viola da gamba, this programme presents music by Buxtehude, Schütz, Purcell, Strozzi, etc., and explores their heartfelt and passionate responses to these beautiful texts.
Described as a “rising star of the counter-tenor world”, Alex Potter is a sought-after interpreter of seventeenth and eighteenth-century music. He performs and records regularly with conductors including Philippe Herreweghe, Thomas Hengelbrock, Lars Ulrik Mortensen, Jos van Veldhoven, Peter Neumann, Paul Goodwin, and Frieder Bernius.
This concert will be preceded by a free screening of Orfeo ed Euridice at 4pm. Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice is one of music history’s most important operas. The cast is led by Bejun Mehta, Eva Liebau as Euridice and Regula Mühlemann as Amore. Director Ondej Havelka combines period details with modern psychological interpretation. The baroque specialist Václav Luks leads the Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704.
Supported by Brigit Westergaard and Norman Gladstone
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Salve Regina – Anonym, Österreich, 17. Jahrhundert
O quam tu pulchra es – Alessandro Grandi (1586-1630)
Aria di Fiorenza – Girolamo Kapsberger (c.1580-1651)
Audite me – Giovanni Felice Sances (1600-1679)
Variationen über “Herr Jesu Christ, Du höchstes Gut” – August Kühnel (1645-c. 1700)
O süsser, o freundlicher – Heinrich Schütz (1585-1670)
Excerpts from Sonata VI from L’Echo du Danube, Op. 9: Adagio, Aria, Giga – Johann Schenck (1660-1712)
An evening Hymn – Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
In medio Mars – Barbara Strozzi
Veni Sancte Spiritus – Peter Philips (1560-1628)
Toccata in G BuxWV 165 – Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707)
A hymn to God the Father – Pelham Humfrey (1647-1674)
Jubilate Domino – Dietrich Buxtehude
During the second half of the sixteenth century, the Roman Catholic Church battled to win back the lands and souls which it had lost to Protestantism. Alongside violent and coercive methods, Catholicism also employed a kind of multimedia campaign, encompassing liturgy, art, architecture and music, using beauty and splendour as a way of inspiring people back to the “true belief”. As expressed by church authorities at the time, music should be composed “in such a way that the words may be clearly understood by all, and thus the hearts of the listeners be drawn to the desire of heavenly harmonies, in the contemplation of the joys of the blessed…” Of course, sacred music was not just a tool for zealots; it also had significant prestige at princely courts around Europe, and facilitated domestic devotion and even entertainment. Because of this, despite the bitter confessional conflicts, composers and patrons from Protestant Europe were only too keen to learn and assimilate new musical styles from Italy. Heinrich Schütz went to Venice twice, on “study-leave” paid for by the Lutheran Elector of Saxony, to learn cutting-edge compositional techniques developed by the musicians of the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice.
The Counter-Reformation aims of textual clarity and emotional potency found an effective vehicle in monody. This radical new way of composing was invented in Florence in the 1580s, in an attempt to recreate the performance style of Ancient Greek drama, which led to the invention of opera around 1600. The aim of monody was to make music subservient to the text by employing speech-like rhythms and melodic shapes in the vocal part, supported by chordal accompaniment of the lute, organ or harpsichord. Girolamo Kapsberger’s “Aria di Fiorenza” is a lute arrangement of the famous closing dance chorus of La Pellegrina, one of the Florentine experiments with musical theatre. The border between sacred and secular music was vary porous during the seventeenth century. One of Kapsberger’s Roman colleagues, for example, used the aria di Fiorenza as the theme for a mass setting, and the monodic theatrical style was swiftly adapted to sacred music and mixed with polyphonic textures and dance rhythms, as seen in the works by Grandi, Strozzi and Sances on this programme. “O süßer, o freundlicher” by Schütz and “A hymn to God the Father” by Humpfrey are excellent examples of how northern-European composers took the Italian musical innovations and adapted them to their own language.
Whilst text expression was one important aesthetic, the seventeenth century also saw significant developments in instrumental style. In Renaissance counterpoint, musical lines interwove with one another and instrumental writing was almost indistinguishable from vocal. Over the course of the century, there emerged both a more clearly defined texture of melody with accompaniment, as well as a truly idiomatic style for instruments. Sonata VI for solo viola da gamba from Johann Schenck’s L’Echo du Danube and Dietrich Buxtehude’s Toccata in G for harpsichord demonstrate the level of skill attained by late-seventeenth-century instrumentalists. Not surprisingly, instrumental virtuosity found its way into sacred vocal music such as the Anonymous “Salve Regina” and Buxtehude’s “Jubilate Domino”, in which voice and gamba are profiled alone and together, as well as in tuneful imitation of one another over the continuo, but the gamba writing features leaps, arpeggios, and double-stopping, impossible for the voice to copy.
Paradoxically, much of the music presented in this concert is not “church music” but rather, in the cases of the Humphrey, Purcell, and Strozzi, probably intended for performance in private households or, as with the Buxtehude “Jubilate Domino”, probably for concert performance in the “Abendmusiken” in Lübeck. Even the two sacred instrumental variations “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut” and “Veni Sancte Spiritus” were likely not service music, but private meditations on the meaning of the choral and chant texts. Rather than writing short keyboard verses to alternate with sung chant as was the liturgical norm, Peter Philips chose to put the entire chant tune in the bass and compose music that paints the meaning of each chant verse above it. Secular performance contexts, rather than detracting sacred nature of the music, express how Christian belief permeated all aspects of people’s lives in Europe in the period. Indeed, it is these composers’ sincere and emotional responses to religious texts, speaking to us from the “foreign country” of the past, that continue to move us in the present.
Programme notes by Alex Potter
Texts and Translations
Alex Potter, counter-tenor
My mother always sang to me when I was a small child, which is why I began to sing. Her voice for me was intensely bound together with emotion, which will always remain with me. As a cathedral chorister, this emotional basis became intertwined with a fascination for text and symbolism in music, expanded upon and deepened during studies in Oxford and Basel. Remaining faithful to these origins over nearly twenty years in the profession, I continue to develop as a singer, musician and human, changed and enriched by the joy and sadness which life brings.
Nowadays you are most likely to hear me somewhere with Bach, although I also love to sing other music. When not performing, you will find me at home with my family, reading something geeky, wasting time on the internet, or cooking. Sharing and exchanging with other people, be it music, food, or conversation, is one of the great pleasures of life.
Natalie Mackie, gamba
Natalie Mackie studied cello at the Conservatoire de Musique (Québec), followed by a degree from the School of Music, University of British Columbia. While at UBC she was introduced to the viola da gamba, and following graduation, she pursued further studies at the Koninklijk Conservatorium in The Hague. Natalie has played with many ensembles in Canada and the US, including New World Consort, Les Coucous Bénévoles, Tafelmusik, Portland, and Seattle Baroque Orchestras, Les Voix Humaines, Tempo Rubato, Les Voix Baroque, Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra, Victoria Baroque, and Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra among others. Natalie is a member of Pacific Baroque Orchestra and the chamber ensemble “La Modestine”- both Vancouver-based ensembles. She has toured throughout Canada, Europe, and the US and recorded for Radio France, German Radio, BBC, CBC, and NPR, as well as the Canadian label Atma Classique. Natalie is a regular performer in the Pacific Baroque Festival, held annually in Victoria, BC, and teaches in the Baroque Orchestra Mentorship Program at the University of British Columbia.
Beiliang Zhu, gamba
Beiliang Zhu won the 1st prize and the Audience Award at the 2012 International Bach Competition in Leipzig (Violoncello/Baroque Violoncello). She was the first string player to receive this honor for performance on a baroque instrument. She completed her Master of Music from the Juilliard School in Historical Performance with Phoebe Carrai (Baroque cello) and Sarah Cunningham (Viola da Gamba), her Bachelor of Music and a Performer’s Certificate from the Eastman School of Music. Beiliang is currently pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts in Violoncello, under the guidance of Steven Doane, as well as a Master of Arts in Ethnomusicology at the Eastman School of Music.
Hailed by the New York Times as “particularly exciting”, and by the New Yorker as bringing “telling nuances”, and as being “elegant and sensual, stylishly wild”, Beiliang has given solo recitals at the Bach Festival Leipzig, Boston Early Music Festival, The Vancouver Bach Festival, the Seoul Bach Festival and the Helicon Foundation. She has also performed with internationally acclaimed artists and ensembles, such as William Christie, Masaaki Suzuki, Monica Huggett, Paul O’Dette, the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra, Juilliard Baroque, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Trinity Wall Street Orchestra. She won a section cellist position in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra while still an undergraduate and continues to hold the principal cellist position of Mercury Houston.
Christina Hutten, organ
Organist and harpsichordist Christina Hutten has presented recitals in Canada, the United States, and Europe. She performs regularly with Pacific Baroque Orchestra and has appeared as concerto soloist with the Okanagan Symphony, the Vancouver Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra, and the Arizona State University Chamber Orchestra. Christina is also an enthusiastic teacher. She coaches and coordinates the early music ensembles at the University of British Columbia and has given masterclasses and workshops at institutions including the Victoria Baroque Summer Program, Brandon University, the University of Manitoba, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada’s National Music Centre in Calgary, and the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute. Funded by a generous grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, she pursued historical keyboard studies in Europe with Francesco Cera, François Espinasse, and Bernard Winsemius. She participated in the Britten-Pears Programme, led by Andreas Scholl and Tamar Halperin, for which she was awarded the Loewen Prize. Christina obtained a master’s degree in Organ Performance from Arizona State University under the direction of Kimberly Marshall and an Advanced Certificate in Harpsichord Performance from the University of Toronto, where she studied with Charlotte Nediger. She is now a doctoral candidate in musicology at UBC.
John Lenti, lute
John Lenti, whose playing on theorbo, baroque guitar, and lutes has been described as “a joy to behold” (Seattle Times) and praised for its “nuanced beauty and character” (Gramophone), regularly deploys his “uncommonly big sound” (Third Coast Digest) to considerable acclaim as a soloist and accompanist with groups like Apollo’s Fire, Haymarket Opera Company, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Opera Omnia, Seattle Baroque, the Seattle Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Seraphic Fire, among many others.
He tours regularly with his ensembles Wayward Sisters and Ostraka, and from his base in Seattle, he appears frequently with most groups of note on the West Coast. He can be heard on a handful of recordings on various labels with several of the aforementioned groups, and on a recent release with Dominique Labelle and Musica Pacifica. John attended the North Carolina School of the Arts and Indiana University and he studied lute with Jacob Heringman and Elizabeth Kenny, and Nigel North.