Austin Baroque Orchestra & Chorus musically recounts the deadly 1755 Lisbon Earthquake

The Austin Baroque Orchestra & Chorus will present “Terremoto!,” a concert of music from 18h-century Portugal, at Redeemer Presbyterian Church (2111 Alexander Ave., Austin, TX, 78722) on Saturday, February 17, 2024 at 7:30pm and at St. John’s Lutheran Church (502 E. Nueva St., San Antonio, TX, 78205). Tickets are available at the door or online, and an informal pre-concert talk will begin 30 minutes before the program. “Pay as you are able” tickets will also be available at the door the day of the concert. The program is sponsored by the Honorary Consulate of Portugal in Houston, the Conselho da Diáspora Portuguesa, the Luso-American Development Foundation, and the ArteInstitute.

ABO was founded in 2011 and presents music from before 1800 using period-appropriate performance practices, replicas of early instruments, and historical pronunciations. The ensemble has taken on as its focus the music of Spain, Portugal, and their American colonies, performing a number of modern world premieres of works from Iberia and Latin America and bringing to life music from these cultures whose presence is so strongly felt in Texas.

“This concert centers around what is considered Europe’s first international news event,” said Billy Traylor, the group’s artistic director, a musicologist specializing in Iberian and Latin American music. “On the morning of November 1, 1755, a massive earthquake struck off the coast of Portugal, affecting cities in Iberia and Morocco,” he explains. “Because so many in Lisbon were attending All Saints’ Mass, thousands died when churches collapsed around them, and thousands more perished in the resulting fires and tsunami,” said Traylor. “News of the disaster spread quickly across Europe, and many began to question the goodness of a God who was seen as having allowed the deaths of so many while in the act of worship.” The quake inspired countless sermons in both Protestant and Catholic Europe and led directly to works of art such as Voltaire’s satirical novella Candide and Georg Philipp Telemann’s Donner-Ode (“Thunder-Ode”).

This concert will give listeners a taste of the Portuguese capital’s rich musical life in the years surrounding the disaster. Much of what was composed and performed at the Lisbon court before 1755 was destroyed, but some music miraculously survived. The program will feature some of these survivors, including works from the Patriarchal Chapel, the Royal Opera, and the city’s other major churches and palaces. Among these will be motets by Giovanni Giorgi and António Leal Moreira dedicated to Portugal’s two patron saints, St. Vincent of Zaragoza and St. Anthony of Padua; excerpts from the Portuguese-texted puppet operas As variedades de Proteo (The Metamorphoses of Proteus) and Guerras do alecrim e manjerona (Wars of Rosemary and Marjoram) by António Teixeira; serenata excerpts by Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, operatic excerpts by director of the Royal Opera Davide Perez, and orchestral works by Francisco António Almeida and Antonio Seixas. Many of these pieces have never been performed in the United States, and several of the works on the program have not been performed since the eighteenth century.

ABO seeks to entertain and engage their audiences by presenting high-caliber performances of both well- and lesser-known works from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Their concerts, using period instruments and informed by the latest research in performance practice, include works by renowned masters as well as pieces by less familiar composers. Each performance is preceded by an informative and informal discussion of the music and composers, led by the artistic director.

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