Piffaro opens season with a world premiere, new music written for renaissance instruments

Philadelphia’s internationally renowned period instrument ensemble, Piffaro the Renaissance Band, opens its final season under the leadership of its founders, Joan Kimball and Bob Wiemken, in person October 8-10 and online October 16-26. The program features the world premiere of a major new work by composer Kile Smith in addition to the ensemble’s authoritative explorations of the music of the 15th-17th centuries. Piffaro’s virtuosic multi-instrumentalists are joined by vocal ensemble Variant 6 and Kiri Tollaksen, cornetto. Musicians, staff, and volunteer are fully vaccinated, and audience members will be asked to provide proof of vaccination. Concert and ticket information are available at www.piffaro.org or by calling 215-235-8469.

The concert program, A New Sun Rises, celebrates new suns and guiding stars with repertoire ranging from settings of the ancient hymn A solis ortus cardine (From the point of the rising sun) to Smith’s Ave Maris Stella (Hail, Star of the Sea). The concert title alludes to the momentous transition taking place within the ensemble with the retirement of Kimball and Wiemken (the “guiding stars” and 2021 recipients of Early Music America’s Lifetime Achievement Award ) and the coming leadership of artistic director designate Priscilla Herreid (the “new sun”).

The hymn to Mary, Ave Maris Stella, is thought to be from the 8th to the 10th centuries. Stella maris translates as “Star of the sea” and the term was associated with Mary as the guiding star through troubled waters – protector not only of sailors, but of anyone figuratively at sea. Smith notes that “none could have known when the project began over two years ago that its refrain would sound, poignantly, in the midst of the troubled waters of pandemic and national strife.” Artistic director Wiemken draws a parallel to the work’s astral-inspired antecedents: “Throughout recorded history the heavenly bodies were considered to determine the course of human events and chart the course for both terrestrial and seaward travelers. They did and still do serve as metaphors for everything from the emergence of new life to the release from plague, the latter quite apropos at this time.”

Piffaro’s mission includes the charge to not only bring the music of the 15th-17th centuries to life, but to connect it to the music of our day, and the ensemble has a long and fruitful relationship with Smith doing just that. The most significant prior work is Smith’s Vespers, recorded in 2008 with GRAMMY-winning chorus The Crossing. It is appropriate, then, that this new work will be performed with the vocalists of Philadelphia’s Variant 6, all of whom are members of The Crossing.

Support for these concerts is provided by The Presser Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Listen: Variant 6 performs “When David Did Mourn” by Thomas Tomkins

Listen: Piffaro performs “Steht auf, ihr lieben Kinderlein!” from Kile Smith’s Vespers


About Variant 6

Variant 6 is a virtuosic vocal sextet that explores and advances the art of chamber music in the twenty-first century. The ensemble’s work includes radically reimagining concert experiences, commissioning substantial new works, collaborating closely with other ensembles, and educating a new generation of singers. In addition to eight world-premieres this season, Variant 6 reprises Munu Munu with New Chamber Ballet, performs a new concert-length work by Wally Gunn, and releases two commercial albums.

Variant 6’s artists have performed with internationally recognized ensembles, including The Crossing, Roomful of Teeth, Bang on a Can, American Composers Orchestra, Seraphic Fire, Santa Fe Desert Chorale, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Bach Project, Tempesta di Mare, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Opera Philadelphia, and more. For more information, visit https://www.variantsix.com/

  • Jessica Beebe, soprano
  • Steven Bradshaw, tenor
  • Rebecca Myers, soprano
  • James Reese, tenor
  • Daniel Schwartz, bass
  • Elisa Sutherland, mezzo-soprano

About Kiri Tollaksen, cornetto

Kiri Tollaksen (cornetto) enjoys a varied career as a performer and teacher. Praised for her “stunning technique, and extreme musicality,” she has performed extensively throughout North America and Europe with such groups as Tenet, Piffaro, Pacific MusicWorks, Toronto Consort, Tesserae, Apollo’s Fire, Concerto Palatino, La Fenice, and is a member of the early brass ensemble Dark Horse Consort. As an educator, Kiri has been on the faculty of Indiana University (Bloomington) and has taught at Brass Antiqua, as well as the Amherst and Madison Early Music Festivals. Kiri has recorded with the Dodworth Saxhorn Band, the River Raisin Ragtime Review, La Fenice, Piffaro, Apollo’s Fire, New York Collegium and the Huelgas Ensemble. As a professional trumpet player (with degrees from Eastman, Yale and University of Michigan), Kiri freelances in Michigan and maintains a private teaching studio. She happily lives in Ann Arbor with her husband Ron and 2 cats. For upcoming concerts, please visit http://www.kiritollaksen.com/.

About Kile Smith, composer

Grammy-nominated composer Kile Smith has gained international acclaim with commissions from The Crossing, Conspirare, Piffaro, Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble, Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Chor Leoni, Helena Symphony, Choral Arts Society of Washington, Lyric Fest, Westminster Choir College, Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, the Pennsylvania and iSing Girlchoirs, Choral Arts Philadelphia, and Gaudete Brass, with major choral works heard in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Dallas, Canada, England, and New Zealand. Gramophone called Vespers “spectacular” and Audiophile Audition, “easily one of the best releases of the year of any type… a crime to pass up.” Ten CDs with his music have been released since 2018.

The Arc in the Sky with The Crossing received a 2020 Grammy nomination for Best Choral Performance, and his Canticle with Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble helped win the 2020 Best Classical Producer Grammy. The Philadelphia Orchestra featured The Bremen Town Musicians in their 2021 “Our City, Your Orchestra” chamber music series.

Kile has also been performed by the L.A. Guitar Quartet, Seraphic Fire, The 24, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Sofia Philharmonic, the Grand Rapids and Delaware symphonies, Orchestra 2001, and Network for New Music. His first opera, The Book of Job, will premiere in multiple cities in the 2022/23 season. Learn more at https://kilesmith.com


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