Spring Concert: The French (Italian) Connection

  • Tucson, AZ: February 11 @ 3PM – St Philips in the Hills Episcopal Church
  • Philadelphia: March 15 @ 7:30PM – Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral
  • Chestnut Hill, PA: March 16 @ 7:30PM – Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill
  • Wilmington, DE: March 17 @ 3PM – Christ Church Christiana Hundred
  • Streaming online: March 29–April 11

It is a common misconception that kingdoms in the early modern period were islands unto themselves. Pilgrims, musicians, merchants and soldiers carried culture, goods, and war to all corners of Europe. King Charles VIII of France and the lords of the great Italian city-states vied like quarrelsome siblings for military and cultural dominance at the turn of the 16th c. Music and ideas flowed across borders, and the Venetian printer Ottaviano Petrucci captured it all on paper, beginning with the groundbreaking “Gutenberg Bible of music,” Harmonice Musices Odhecaton. Piffaro, the Renaissance Band and GRAMMY award-winning tenor James Reese bring the sounds of the battlefield, the court, and the church to life in its March program, The French (Italian) Connection.

The career of masterful composer and singer Alexander Agricola illustrates the competition between great powers. A highly desired prize, he was a favorite at Charles’ court until he left for Italy – without permission. The king wrote a letter to Piero de Medici demanding his return, but Agricola instead traveled on to Naples. King Ferrante gave him up at Charles’ continued demand, although he tried to lure the composer back with a generous salary. Cultural competition escalated to war when Charles marched on Naples to assert his claim to the throne, and the offer was withdrawn.

Agricola was not the only accomplished composer at Charles’ court, of course. Loyset Compère traveled with French forces to Italy, where he experienced the excitement of the High Renaissance. The long-lived Johannes Ockeghem spent most of his career at the French court; his death ignited a period of mass mourning and inspired one of the most beautiful and important musical elegies ever written, Josquin des Prez’s “Nymphes des bois”.

The works of these great French masters were captured by the Venetian printer, Ottaviano Petrucci. His groundbreaking musical collection, Harmonice Musices Odhecaton, was the first book of polyphonic music produced using Johannes Gutenberg’s new movable type technology. Suddenly, music was widely accessible to anyone who could read it. The music in Odhecaton is complex, intricate, difficult, and, as Piffaro’s musicians will demonstrate, very well suited for wind band.

Listen: Adieu mes amours, Josquin des Prez

About James Reese, tenor

James Reese’s singing has been praised for its “intensity and sensitivity…spirituality and eloquence.” He collaborates often with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the American Bach Soloists, the Washington Bach Consort, TENET Vocal Artists, Bourbon Baroque Orchestra, Lyric Fest, and the Gamut Bach Ensemble. In the 2022-23 season, James made his debut with the Boston Early Music Festival in two chamber operas of Lully and Charpentier. He also appears as Mercuré in their production of Henry Desmarest’s Circé, which the Festival recorded for release on the CPO / Chandos label.

James is a noted interpreter of baroque music, giving performances both “splendid” (San Francisco Chronicle) and “captivating” (Broad Street Review). Following his Carnegie Hall solo debut in Bach’s B Minor Mass with the New York Choral Society, the New York Classical Review noted “the high, easy tenor of James Reese…floated beautifully on its own over the long, gentle lines of the Benedictus.”

James has recorded on the ECM, Harmonia mundi, Innova, and Albany labels; He appears as a soloist on several discs released on the Hyperion Label, including singing the Evangelist in Heinrich Schütz’s Christmas Oratorio on Historia der Geburt Christi ‘The Christmas story’, SWV435, released in 2019.

James is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music. He holds a masters degree from Yale University’s School of Music, where he studied with James Taylor at the Institute of Sacred Music. James is the 2018 winner of the Margot Fassler Award for the Performance of Music at Yale. He is also a winner of the Career Advancement Award – which recognizes ‘especially promising young artists’ – from the Musical Fund Society. In 2023, he won a GRAMMY award as a soloist singing the music of Edie Hill on the record Born, released by The Crossing. He lives in Philadelphia.

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