Sunday, June 28, 2015

betwixt & between

So the Thirdfloorian Delegation was supposed to be at Old Songs this weekend, taking in all that trad stuff in the cold and the wet (Oh the dreadful wind and rain indeed...). But the flu had other plans, so instead I've been minding the Old Songs Twitter feed from the Old Songs Twitter Feed Subterranean Command Center deep inside a heap of blankets and cats. While I do that and think up more things to say about BEMF, here's what some Boston Early people have been getting up to in their off hours. Props to soprano Catherine Webster for knowing how to sing these things.

Friday, June 26, 2015

BEMF Friday, bit the second

A Boston vignette: Meeting up with the Music Librarian after Buxtehude, and hanging out in the sanctuary of Emmanuel for a bit because she's a Music Librarian on a Mission and has a Mozart score she's supposed to be handing off to a Fortepianist in Need on our way to have lunch at another Thai place with Librarian's SO the Bass Trombonist. Delivery of score made on sidewalk, followed by all too brief discussion of what it's like living with five period keyboard instruments in your apartment plus cats. There's a lot of music in this town.

Lounging & Talking About Music, ep 2: Also talking about cats. And social media's effect on arts presenting. And cats. And the absurdity of the Boston Olympics bid. And music.

Then to First Church, admittedly late for Seattle Historical Arts for Kids' production (slightly adapted) of Alcina, which I knew about not from the BEMF Fringe program but from Twitter (cf reference above to social media convo), where this happened

and then this happened

When I sit down next to the Envoy in the back row, she hands me a note that says Amanda Forsythe is sitting with her kids in the front row. No pressure!

It doesn't seem to faze them. I've come in at Questo il cielo. There's a bunch of extra characters, of whom we've already mentioned Bradamante's lady knight sidekick. Lady Forsizia is particularly eye-catching as she's in full bloom a couple of months out of season. Handel and Ariosto seem engaged in a somewhat Straussian power struggle between opera stage adaptation and source material -- swords are drawn, but we know from the last BEMF (the Almira festival) that Handel had special body armor made from opera scores, so Ariosto's scrappy Italian Renaissance street-fighting ninja skills notwithstanding, I think this eventually ends in a draw.

Working with an orchestra of two violins, cello, theorbo, and harpsichord, the cast gets to sing in both English and Italian, and the English translations actually work well with the music -- "She's a liar, / she'll make you a plant!" sings Oronte. Straightforward but snappy.

This being a production having at its center various manifestations of Girl Power -- Bradamante is also designated as a Lady Knight in the program book, and Oronte, in this version, keeps his disparaging remarks specific to Alcina, thus failing to cast aspersions on all women -- the venue has a certain resonance as well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

BEMF Friday, bit the first

Lindsey Chapel, Emmanuel Church
So you're meeting friends for lunch, but it's early yet and you've got time to kill, so you wander over to Emmanuel Church (home of Emmanuel Music) to catch a bit of Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri, a piece you don't know at all, done by some people from the real upstate New York (like out beyond Syracuse, even) the existence of which you were previously mostly unaware (the ensemble, that is, not the land beyond Syracuse), but hey, it's free. It's the combined forces of Pegasus, from Rochester, and the generically but effectively named NYS Baroque, from Ithaca. (And yes, Ulisse, but no, not that one.) And reading the program notes you realize you know most of these people, and this all looks very promising. Anyway you figure you'll hang at the back and listen for twenty minutes before sneaking out again to check text messages and echo-locate your buddies. You even take the time to plan a Least Disruptive Exit Strategy with an ultra-helpful usher.


So you sit in the last row of chairs in the Lindsey Chapel, at the end nearest the convenient side door. And promptly get trapped by a big surge of people, and the extra rows of chairs to accommodate them, and then the big klaatsch of standees behind them. No way out. You are getting an hour of Buxtehude, whether you want it or not. Life is hard. I could try to describe it but this is why youtube exists:

It might be worth noting that the CT here, José Lemos, was (I believe) one of only two CTs of the week who got Dr T's Stamp of Approval* (as Nutrice in Poppea).


*And the other was Reginald Mobley, who had subbed the night before at Vespers, and was at this concert hanging at the back with the standees, because one of the great things about this festival is all the musos who go to each others' gigs.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Wayback Machine: The Chronicles of BEMF

Tome of BEMF 
"Tempus fugit", which, translated from Virgil's Latin, means "It's already the end of June and we're about to be inundated with trad stuff." So having won a few minutes away from other responsibilities, I'm taking a leaf from the Tha Dieu Blogging Playbook and writing my BEMF chronicles by daily thumbnail. Here goes, in haste...

Thursday, June 11


okay it wasn't really called that...

The plus side of not showing up to BEMF until Thursday is your cats don't starve. The minus side is you've missed a ton of cool stuff already. So the first event I made was Three, Four & Twenty Lutes at NEC's Jordan Hall.* This was a re-creation of a concert** that festival co-director Paul O'Dette had put together for BEMF back in 1989 with fellow-lutenist Pat O'Brien, longtime mainstay of the American early music scene who passed away last year. So this concert was by way of a memorial as well, and a fine tribute to a teacher who had taught everybody on that stage at one time or another. And since that everybody included a core four of O'Dette, Grant Herreid, Charles Weaver, and other festival co-director Steven Stubbs, even somebody unschooled as I am in the history of modern lute pedagogy could see this was a major occasion.

Repertoire for the concert was all from the 16th-17th century hot zone, including but not limited to Gabrieli, Vallet (Suite for Four Lutes, which we totally heart), Robert Johnson (not the crossroads guy but the other one), and Praetorius (Terpsichore in an arrangement by O'Brien and Herreid). And the ensemble consisted of pretty much every lute iteration imaginable, from treble to bass, plus five theorbos and the odd baroque guitar, cittern, mandora and bandora. It may have been a memorial, but it sure looked like a party.

Along with instrumentals of varying degrees of (high) complexity, the program also included vocal works for 1 to 9 voices, including small choral works by Hubert Waelrant and Orlando di Lasso, with choir duties ably filled by the BEMF Young Artists Training Program. The program closed with music from another party, the wedding of Ferdinand de' Medici (1589): The first was an aria by Antonio Archilei, Dalle più alte sfere, sung (beautifully) by Ellen Hargis. Then Hargis was joined by fellow soprano Nell Snaidas and mezzo Danielle Reutter-Harrah, each with baroque guitar in hand, and the six Young Artists for Emilio de'Cavalieri's O che nuovo miracolo. Which is pretty much the phrase you could use to describe this many lutenists all together arrayed on one stage, here in the 21st century.

For the encore -- of course there was one, after an enthusiastic ovation -- somebody punched another button in the Wayback Machine and they stepped out into Henry Lodge's 1911 ragtime finger-popper Red Pepper. In true Gilded Age mandolin orchestra fashion, all the theorbos stood on cue. And in true opera internet fashion, operablogger Dr T has operatweeter @sasherka's 20 seconds of video.

*Dr T and the Special Envoy were both there as well, in different parts of Jordan.
**the original concert itself presumably stemming from this recording.

Then we repaired to Dr T's favorite Thai place, for the first episode of Lounging and Chatting About Music.

Bicause folklore!

BEMF Tome with Parthenon for scale
The next round for me and the Envoy was Norbert Rodenkirchen's late-night exploration of a popular fairy tale, Hamelin Anno 1284: On the Trail of the Pied Piper. Rodenkirchen plays mostly transverse flutes (and occasionally harp/lyre) with Benjamin Bagby's early medieval project Sequentia. Tracing the history/folklore through written texts -- read aloud in translation by fellow Sequentia member Wolodymir Smishkevich -- and tunes both traditional/anonymous and attributed (Wizlaw III von Rügen, Walther von der Vogelweide), we follow the mysterious piper from the sketchiest early accounts of children gone missing en masse from Hamelin, through various stages of folk-processing into the story's 16th century manifestation as the tale The Rat Catcher of Korneuburg, and into textual solidification as the Grimm Brothers' The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

If you had your act together enough to read the notes in the festival tome, you'd have been able to make more than I did of the musical side of things (I didn't snag a tome until the following day). So to me they were a bunch of really nice solo flute tunes interspersed by some really interesting readings (and very atmospheric in Jordan Hall in the hour before midnight). I thought at the time it needed a bit more something (exposition, perhaps?) and I'm not sure I think differently now I understand the context better, but it was still pretty great and I hope I get the chance to catch it again somewhere. Here's the opening piece, Wizlaw III von Rügen's De voghelin untphat des lechten meyien scin

Okay, that wasn't all that hasty. More anon.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

L'incoronazione di Dubsmash

This bit probably also not by Monteverdi (via tenor Zachary Wilder)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Nineteen Seconds of the Boston Early Music Festival Bowl-backed Ukulele Orchestra, courtesy of @sasherka

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Ronnie Gilbert 1926 - 2015

We're turning dishearteningly into an obituary blog this month.

Obituary in the NYT here -- and showed up much faster than is often the case, interestingly enough.

I never met Ronnie, but we had a mutual friend, and I remember Jackie handing me a tape one day. "Ronnie sent this to me," she said. "It really sums it up." That was this:

Ronnie's life and career speak for themselves, but the song Bernice Johnson Reagon sang at Jackie's memorial service will serve here, too, I think

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Margaret Juntwait 1957 - 2015

News posted yesterday that Margaret Juntwait, the voice of the Met broadcasts for the last 10 years, has died of complications from ovarian cancer. She was 58 years old.

The opera grapevine extends far, but often not so far as this blog. But in our age, at once media-saturated and cancer-saturated, there's a cancer-shaped lacuna that begins to form when a media personality (I hate to use that term for her, but there it is for lack of a better) abruptly disappears, and for an extended period. It's the foremost of likely causes, and, as Mary Jo Heath's casual addition "filling in for Margaret Juntwait" began to harden into a constant refrain, it also, in time, acquired an air of tribute, and of soldiering on. Which I suppose is the long-winded way of saying we are not altogether surprised, but we are no less saddened by the loss.

From the perspective of an audience member, I think it's safe to say that Margaret Juntwait got handed a job of work in 2004. First, she had to fill the microphone presence of Peter Allen, who had been the unmistakable voice of the Met broadcasts for almost 30 years. His style was hieratic, some might say mannered, but it had a stylistic retro cool that was performative in and of itself. He could speak words, in that Voice of his, and you would find yourself taking the plot of La Gioconda seriously. It was like his X-Men superpower.

And by 2004, it was what we had been used to for a long time. Then he retired, and Juntwait's task was to step in and alter our expectations, not only of the type of voice behind the mic, but of the type of things that voice would say. If you listen back, you can hear the cautious beginning, the Classical Radio voice, carefully on script, carefully modulated, no digressions. It was all very accomplished, professional, proper at the beginning. Smooth. A little slick, maybe. Not Peter Allen's theatricality, but, you thought, they could have done worse. And you figured she'd grow into it if she stuck around.

She did stick around, and she did grow into it. And there was another aspect to Juntwait's tenure which was unprecedented: we only ever heard Peter Allen on Saturdays from December to May. But Margaret Juntwait ushered in the Sirius broadcasts, which run the whole season from late September, and which, in the beginning, ran four live performances a week. That ended up being a whole lot of mic time.

The Met has gradually scaled back its live Sirius presence, but that robust start gave them a lot of time to experiment, invent a groove, and settle into it. They moved to two commentators (William Berger during the week, Ira Siff on Saturdays), interviews were introduced, things got (mostly) way more relaxed and conversational. Margaret Juntwait, the voice of Met Opera broadcasts, developed along with the audience she shepherded, through performance after performance, from a radio booth often directly connected to that audience through email or social media. Connected, not abstractly, as in the days of old, but in realtime, in a very real way.

So you could say she was a pioneer at a fascinating period in the history of opera. You could say that, when opera entered the 21st century, she was there at the head of the vanguard. No one else will occupy the airspace she did, at that first moment that brought the Met stage and the Met audience closer than it had ever been before. That moment has already gone.