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“As artists, we endlessly replay our utopias, with Babel as a backdrop. The territory to explore is infinite: cultures and memories whose lines we like to shift so that they finally converge. We also make a migration and the mixing of cultures our territory.” -Kiya Tabassian
For this programme Ensemble Constantinople invite Canadian treasure, soprano Suzie LeBlanc, to revisit and explore new avenues and Italian composers often unknown to the general public, yet among the finest in the second half of the 16th and early 17th century: Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (1580-1651), Marco Uccellini (1603-1680).
Supported by Birgit Westergaard and Norman Gladstone
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Il ballo delle ingrate (Excerpt) – Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Si dolce è il tormento – Claudio Monteverdi
Bergamasca – Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (c. 1580-1651)/
Marco Uccellini (c. 1603-1680)
Sinfonia – Salomone Rossi (c. 1570-1630)
L’Eraclito amoroso – Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677)
Capona / Ciaconna – Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger /
Andrea Falconieri (c. 1585-1656)
Sentirete una canzonetta – Tarquinio Merula (1595-1665)
Toccata Arpeggiata – Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger
Hor ch’è tempo di dormire – Tarquinio Merula
Kapsberger – Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger
Amarilli deh ! vieni – Stefano Landi (1587-1639)
Colasione – Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger
A che più l’arco tendere – Stefano Landi
Passacaglia – Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger
Amor dormiglione – Barbara Strozzi
“For the flames of lovers, I know that all the oceans are not enough.”
Sebastiano Baldini, Cantate Sino Alla Morte de Barbara Strozzi
A thousand and one questions affect our relationship to the world. Excessive consumerism, spiritual unrest, clinging to identity, diminishing exchanges, emergence of new divisions, blurring of borders… In this apparent disorder, can the origins of an other era be unvailed?
As musician-inventors and musician-travellers, we endlessly replay our utopias, with Babel as a backdrop. The territory to explore is infinite: cultures and memories whose lines we like to shift so that they finally converge. We also make migration and the mixing of cultures our territory. Perhaps it is our early exile that led us to return to the source, to follow the traces of our predecessors, to tirelessly search for creative allies. This awareness of belonging to several space-times is as basic to us as respiration, as inspiration.
Kiya Tabassian, artistic director
VENICE: WHERE EAST MEETS WEST
For several centuries, and despite numerous armed conflicts, Venice maintained strong diplomatic and commercial ties with the Ottoman Empire, and particularly with its capital, Constantinople (now known as Istanbul). Bearing witness to this are the paintings by many great artists, from Carpaccio to the 18th-century vedutisti, that show people in turbans and oriental clothes strolling through the public spaces of La Serenissima. Mutual rivalry and fascination continually wove links between the disparate civilizations of Venice and Constantinople.
Moreover, 17th-century Venice was the most musically vital city in Italy. This vitality was expressed mainly in an unprecedented boom in opera – the world’s first public theaters exclusively for opera opened here – but also in the development of autonomous and virtuosic instrumental music. These two trends were key elements of the new Baroque esthetic. It is not surprising, then, that Claudio Monteverdi came to La Serenissima; he was hired in 1612 as maestro di cappella of Saint Mark’s basilica. He, and his work, came to exercise considerable influence. Using the new style of accompanied monody supported by basso continuo with unrivalled suppleness and fidelity, setting Italian texts to music in dramatic forms such as the opera and light forms such as the canzonetta, he succeeded in his lifelong quest: to find ways to express human emotions.
His worthy heir, trained by the Venetian opera master Francesco Cavalli, was Barbara Strozzi. She was the daughter, natural or adopted, of the poet Giulio Strozzi. Her father provided her with an excellent education, and numerous wealthy patrons encouraged her both as a singer and as a composer. Her work ranges from polyphonic madrigals to duets and cantatas for solo voice in which aria and recitative are clearly distinguished. The Roman Stefano Landi worked for a while in Padua, and for the rest of his life remained under the influence of the Venetian school. He mostly pursued his career in the Eternal City, working for the Borghese and Barberini families. Most of his music was vocal, both sacred and secular, and of high quality. Tarquinio Merula, born in the Duchy of Parma, occupied posts as maestro di cappella in Cremona, Bergamo, and Venice, and spent time in Warsaw, but the plasticity and variety of his compositional style clearly identify him as belonging to the Venetian school.
For melody instruments, and particularly the violin, the ideal was to preserve the specific character of the instrument while, at the same time, sounding as much as possible like the human voice. At the beginning of the 17th century, music was being written for these instruments in such creative profusion that the terms sonata, canzona, sinfonia, and toccata had not yet acquired their current precise meanings and often became interchangeable. Salomone Rossi, a Jewish violinist and composer, worked in Mantua where he enjoyed the esteem of his patron, the Duke of Gonzaga. Rossi wrote in all the genres of his day, and though his vocal music remained essentially polyphonic, he innovated in developing the basics of the trio sonata and a new, expressive style of writing for the violin.
Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger was born in La Serenissima – his father was a German military official – and became one of the greatest lutenists of his time. He published his first book of pieces in Venice before moving to Rome, where he acquired a reputation as a virtuoso on the bass lutes – the various forms of lute, such as the archlute, theorbo, and chitarrone, with added long bass strings. These low-register strings are not strung over the fingerboard, and thus not used to sound various pitches by pressing down on them with the fingers of the left hand. Rather, when plucked, they vibrate at full length.
Many instrumental pieces of the time, and especially dances such as chaconnes, passacaglias, and bergamasks, used melodies or bass lines with a standardized and recurring chord progression over which composers spun figures and variations of their own invention. Initially, in fact, these figures were mainly improvised, as in today’s jazz; and so, today, performers can combine tunes by different composers into a single piece, mixing, as here, Kapsberger with Andrea Falconieri and with Marco Uccellini.
It was at this time that coffee, which some travelers had already tasted in Cairo, Mecca, or Constantinople, came to Europe. The new beverage quickly became hugely popular, and the coffee trade began to acquire commercial importance. For quite some time, it was the fashion among the new European coffee fanciers to dress like Turks so as to further enhance the exotic pleasure of their favorite brew! The first coffee houses, like those common throughout the Near East and decorated in Turkish style, opened in Venice. They soon spread, to London, Paris, and Vienna, bringing to Europe a new, thoroughly modern, kind of sociability.
The several modes of cultural exchange that brought Ottomans and Europeans closer together did not include music; whether in its notation, modes, vocal technique, or poetic form, the East-West dichotomy was clear. Nonetheless, some characteristic intervals and vocal ornaments, as well as the military rhythms of the Janissaries and various percussion instruments, made their way into Western compositions. These components gave more or less exotic flavors to the numberless Turqueries performed on European stages for more than a century, from the Bourgeois gentilhomme of Molière and Lully to The Abduction from the Seraglio of Mozart.
It is also likely that, like coffee fanciers in their elegant Turkish garb, musicians of the day could not resist the temptation to include elements from the Near East to give original colors and flavors to their playing, or even to play with colleagues from the eastern Mediterranean… The addition of percussion, and of Persian plucked-string instruments, as well as the possibility of playing semi-improvised instrumental preludes and ritornellos, is very much in keeping with the great freedom musicians enjoy in realizing a basso continuo accompaniment. And Venetian music from the early Baroque admirably suits the musicians of the ensemble Constantinople.
© François Filiatrault, Montréal, 2017
Translated by Sean McCutcheon
Texts and Translations
Constantinople is a musical ensemble that chose the journey—geographical certainly, but also historical, cultural and inner—as its cornerstone. It draws inspiration from all sources and aims for distant horizons. Inspired by the ancient city illuminating the East and West, Constantinople was founded in 1998 in Montreal by its artistic director, Kiya Tabassian.
Since its founding, the ensemble promotes the creation of new works incorporating musical elements of diverse musical traditions around the world, drawing from medieval manuscripts to a contemporary aesthetic, passing by Mediterranean Europe to Eastern traditions and New World Baroque. Underpinned by a spirit of research and creation, Constantinople has joined forces with leading international artists such as singers Marco Beasley, Françoise Atlan, Savina Yannatou and Suzie Le Blanc; the Mandinka griot Ablaye Cissoko; the Greek ensemble En Chordais, the Belgian duo Belem and the American group The Klezmatics; sarangi virtuoso Dhruba Ghosh, Syrian clarinettist and composer Kinan Azmeh, and Iranian kamancheh master Kayhan Kalhor.
Regularly invited to perform in international festivals and prestigious concert halls, such as the Salle Pleyel in Paris, the Berliner Philharmonie, the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco, the Rencontres musicales de Conques in France, the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, the Cervantino Festival in Mexico, the Festival de Carthage in Tunisia, the Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens and the BOZAR in Brussels, Constantinople is acclaimed by the public, music professionals and critics alike. The ensemble has 19 albums to its credit on labels Analekta, Atma, World Village, Buda Musique, MaCase, Glossa, and Dreyer Gaido. Over the past fifteen years, Constantinople has created nearly 50 works and travelled to more than 240 cities in 54 countries.
Suzie LeBlanc, soprano
Suzie LeBlanc’s extensive international performing career includes recitals and performances with orchestras, opera companies, and early, traditional, and new music ensembles. She also received great acclaim as the protagonist in Rodrique Jean’s 2008 film Lost Song at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Ms. LeBlanc began her career as a performer of early repertoire and lived in Europe between 1987 and 1999 where she performed with leading ensembles in main stages and festivals
She returned to Canada in the year 2000 and recorded Mozart songs with Yannick Nézet-Seguin, as well as early works by Messiaen and Acadian songs for the ATMA label. In 2011, she commissioned Canadian compositions set to the poetry of Pulitzer-Prize recipient Elizabeth Bishop for the album “I am in need of music” which won an ECMA for Best Classical Recording.
Inspired by the migrations of her Acadian ancestors, she co-created mouvance, a multimedia performance with composer Jerôme Blais which sets the words of 13 contemporary Acadian poets to Blais’s original music.
An enthusiastic educator, Suzie LeBlanc was an early vocal music coach and Artistic Director of Cappella Antica at McGill University from 2017 to 2020. She is now the Artistic and Executive Director of Early Music Vancouver.