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The Seven Last Words of Christ for String Quartet, Op. 51 by Joseph Haydn

Franz Joseph Haydn’s masterpiece The Seven Last Words of Christ expresses the immense sorrow of Christ’s suffering in an Introduction, seven slow movements, and a depiction of the earthquake. Haydn wrote, “each movement is expressed by purely instrumental music in such a way that even the most uninitiated listener will be moved to the very depths of his soul.” This work was originally commissioned in 1783 for the Good Friday services at the Cathedral in Cádiz, Spain, providing a sonic backdrop for meditation on each of the seven last utterances of Christ. This musical treasure has endured the test of time, remaining in the performance repertory for more than 200 years

Haymarket String Quartet
Rachel Barton Pine, violin
Jeri-Lou Zike, violin
Dave Moss, viola
Craig Trompeter, cello

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Jory Vinikour: Multi-Tasking Musician On The Go

Harpsichordist Jory Vinikour takes a bow after a recital at the Valletta International Baroque Festival in Malta.

Harpsichordist Jory Vinikour takes a bow after a recital at the Valletta International Baroque Festival in Malta.

 

By Kyle MacMillan

Jory Vinikour is the Renaissance man of Baroque music. While some harpsichordists focus on solo careers and others make their marks performing with orchestras and opera companies, the Chicago-based dynamo does all that and more. Indeed, it is safe to say that very few, if any other, of today’s top harpsichordists can match the whirlwind, all-encompassing nature of his career, which includes performances on nearly 50 audio recordings and DVDs. “I don’t wish to be immodest,” he said, “but I really do believe that is the case.”

Jory Vinikour (Photo by Herrman Rosso)

Jory Vinikour (Photo by Herrman Rosso)

Vinikour appears in recitals across Europe and North America and regularly records solo albums, such as his latest release, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partitas, BWV 825-830, on the Solo Luminus label. In addition to accompanying noted singers and instrumentalists like countertenor David Daniels and lutenist Jakob Lindberg, he has performed with orchestras ranging from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra to Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, in some cases conducting from the keyboard. He serves as regular harpsichordist for the Haymarket Opera Company in Chicago and has taken part in more than 45 opera productions worldwide, sometimes doubling as head vocal coach and assistant conductor. In between, he manages to squeeze in time to serve as artistic director of the Chicago Bach Ensemble and Great Lakes Baroque, an early-music series in a suburb of Milwaukee.

As if all that weren’t enough, Vinikour has begun conducting opera. He made his debut last August leading a production of Handel’s Agrippina staged by the Berkeley, CA-based West Edge Opera and followed that in November with the Chicago Opera Theater’s production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen. “What authenticity there is in this updating comes from the stylish sounds Jory Vinikour elicits from the 17 period instrument players of Chicago’s Haymarket Opera Orchestra,” wrote Chicago Tribune music critic John von Rhein about the latter. “Conducting from the harpsichord, he sharpens rhythms deftly, supports vocal lines securely and refines textures sensitively. He has a considerable amount to do and does it all expertly.”

Perhaps because of the sheer breadth of his activities or because his professional life was centered in Europe until 2013, Vinikour’s name might not be that familiar — at least not yet — to audiences in the United States. But he is certainly well known and respected within the field. For example, Canadian conductor and Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin has worked with the harpsichordist on two opera recordings, including a 2016 release of The Marriage of Figaro for Deutsche Grammophon. “He is so creative on the keyboard, it is incredible,” said Nézet-Séguin, who will become music director of the Metropolitan Opera in 2020-21. “Everybody around him gets inspired by his imagination, by his thorough knowledge of the styles and by his musical freedom.”

Vinikour has received his share of honors, including two Grammy Award nominations. The first came in 2012 for his recording of the complete harpsichord works of Rameau. “I don’t think I slept for three days,” Vinikour said. “I couldn’t believe it.” The second came two years later, when he went in a very different direction, releasing an album titled Toccatas: Modern American Music for Harpsichord. It features works by Henry Cowell, Patricia Morehead, Ned Rorem, and Mel Powell, and shows that Vinikour is equally at home in contemporary repertoire.

Vinikour with countertenor David Daniels and friend.

Vinikour with countertenor David Daniels and bewigged friend.

The 53-year-old harpsichordist grew up in Mount Prospect, IL, a northwestern suburb of Chicago, and his family enrolled him in piano when he was 5 or 6. He quickly showed aptitude for the instrument, and by the time he was in high school, he was studying with Emilio V. del Rosario Jr., a respected teacher for more than 40 years at the Music Institute of Chicago.

Although he was fascinated with the harpsichord and Baroque music from his earliest days, Vinikour did not have an opportunity to really pursue those interests until he began piano studies in 1981 at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory, where he minored in harpsichord performance. “I went through the whole piano repertoire, but I always felt a real draw to this earlier period — Bach and before as opposed to Bach and after,” he said.

After two years, he switched to the Mannes College of Music (now Mannes School of Music) in New York, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1986 in piano performance and master’s degree in harpsichord in 1988. Following two years of post-graduate studies at Rutgers University with Charlotte Mattax, he won a Fulbright Scholarship for further exploration of the harpsichord abroad. He chose Paris, where he had been a 1987 prize winner at the Paris International Harpsichord Competition and met Huguette Dreyfus, a legendary French harpsichordist, who died in May 2016. When his scholarship ended, Vinikour decided to remain in France.

Ask him what appeals to him about the harpsichord, and he has a quick one-word reply: everything. Pushed for specifics, Vinikour points to the “purity” of the instrument’s plucked-string sound and the musical traditions associated with it. “I have very, very limited patience or admiration for even the greatest of pianists playing Bach,” he said. “I never thought that was the ideal instrument to communicate that polyphonic repertoire.”

Vinikour preparing for a recital at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall.

Vinikour rehearsing at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall.

Vinikour is also drawn to the diversity of sounds that can be produced by harpsichords, depending on their makers or national schools. He points out that an 18th-century German harpsichord by Johann Adolph Hass in the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments conjures a “very different sonic universe” than a French instrument on which one might perform the music of Rameau or François Couperin. He owns several harpsichords, the finest being a modern copy by Tony Chinnery of a 1769 French harpsichord in the Raymond Russell Collection of Early Keyboard Instruments at the University of Edinburgh. Others include an Italian-style instrument and a 1940s one made by the famed French company Pleyel.

But along with the joys of playing harpsichord come challenges. One is the limited volume the instrument produces (a reason it was eventually superseded by the piano). Performers either have to stick to smaller, more intimate venues, a limitation that can eliminate them from consideration for some concert series, or contend with the inevitable compromises that come with amplification. At the same time, the traditional repertoire for harpsichord tends to be far less familiar than the Beethoven sonatas or Chopin mazurkas for piano. And when harpsichordists do play familiar repertoire, such as works by Bach, many listeners are more used to hearing it on piano. So, Vinikour said, “every audience member who says, ‘Oh, my goodness, I just couldn’t imagine it could be this rich’ or that it’s not mechanical, that it’s not tinny — this feels like a victory to any harpsichordist, of course.”

In 2013, Vinikour moved back to his native Chicago, and he since has made that city his base of operations. “It felt like time to do something different,” he said. “My partner felt that with the Grammy nomination I had received that maybe it was time to try to develop something in the United States.” But he is no way giving up on France. He retains dual citizenship and returns to the country often. The two have kept a pied à terre in Chalon-sur-Saône, a town in the Burgundy region where Vinikour taught for six years at a national music school.

Vinikour with violinist Rachel Barton Pine.

Vinikour with violinist Rachel Barton Pine.

His return has been a boon for Chicago’s Baroque scene, according to Craig Trompeter, a viola da gamba player and the founder of Haymarket, which is devoted to 17th- and 18th-century opera with period music and staging. “We’re so lucky to have him,” he said. “He sets the bar very high and all of us have to rise to meet him there, if we can.”

As soon as Haymarket has its new season schedule nailed down, the first person who gets a call is Vinikour, who serves as its harpsichordist whenever time permits. In January, he traveled with the company to the Valletta International Baroque Festival in Malta to present San Giovanni Battista, an oratorio by Alessandro Stradella. And he will be in the orchestra pit in the fall when the company stages its biggest production to date, Marin Marais’ Ariane et Bachus, a full-scale French opera complete with dancers. “He’s a dream to play with,” Trompeter said. “He’s not punching the time clock. He’s very invested in everything he does. I can’t say enough good things.”

On top of his performing, Vinikour also composes the embellishments several singers, including such heavy-hitters as Vivica Genaux, Rolando Villazón, and Anne Sofie von Otter, use when performing Baroque music. “I think we all profit greatly from Jory’s fun, exciting, spot-on variations, which seem to just flow out of him,” mezzo-soprano von Otter said via e-mail.

At the request of conductor Marc Minkowski, Vinikour first created such embellishments for a 1997 recording of Handel’s Ariodante featuring Les Musiciens du Louvre with von Otter and other major soloists, such as tenor Richard Croft. “I immediately took to Jory, who has a quick mind, a naughty sense of humor and is so musical,” said von Otter, who has gone on to record and perform with him in other contexts. For that opera and all the requests he has received since, Vinikour tries to create what he described as “stylistic, idiomatic and idiosyncratic” ornaments. “I’m thinking about what the singer I’m working with is capable of accomplishing, but I’m also trying to remain within the language of the composer,” he said.

Mezzo-soprano Genaux met Vinikour in 2008 during a presentation of Handel’s oratorio Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno at the Teatro Real in Madrid, where she said the two quickly “hit it off.” He helped her with ornaments for that piece and has continued with many projects since, including the four Baroque arias Genaux performed Feb. 9-11 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and violinist-conductor Fabio Biondi. “He’s phenomenal,” Genaux said of Vinikour. “You can always count on him for his knowledge.”

Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux on Vinikour: "He's phenomenal." (Photo by Christian Steiner)

Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux on Vinikour: “He’s phenomenal.” (Photo by Christian Steiner)

Vinikour will be as busy as ever in 2017 with his usual broad range of activities. In the second half of the year, he is set to record Bach’s six Sonatas for Violin and Obbligato Harpsichord, BWV 1014-1019, with Rachel Barton Pine on the Cedille label. “I absolutely love his Bach playing,” Pine said, “and I’m very close to that repertoire, and I always thought if I were to record it with anybody, Jory is the person I’d want to record it with.”

Other projects include a recording of contemporary harpsichord concertos with the Chicago Philharmonic, set for release in 2018 — what he called a “kind of a dream project” — and an album of duetti da camera by Agostino Steffani, an Italian Baroque composer Vinikour believes should be better known. The latter will be recorded in mid-February in Sono Luminus’ Boyce, VA, studio. In addition to serving as harpsichordist, he is overseeing the choice of repertoire and his instrumental partners and soloists, which will include soprano Andréanne Brisson Paquin and countertenor José Lemos.

But much of his time in the near future will go toward his new emphasis on opera conducting. Because of his extensive experience in the field, Vinikour is convinced he is ready for this challenge. “There’s a moment where I thought, ‘Shouldn’t I just be doing it?’” he said. Like William Christie and other harpsichordist-conductors, Vinikour leads from the keyboard, which he says allows for natural communication with the singers and a chamber-music-like connection with the orchestra that makes him less a maestro and more a “first among equals.”

He is set to lead Capitol Opera Richmond’s production of Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne this month and next. And in January 2018 at the Florentine Opera in Milwaukee, Vinikour will conduct a double bill of John Blow’s Venus and Adonis and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. “I do want to do more of it,” he said of opera conducting, “and I feel absolutely at home in it.”

Kyle MacMillan served as music critic for the Denver Post from 2000 through 2011. He currently freelances in Chicago, writing for Chamber Music and Listen magazines and such other publications and websites as the Chicago Sun-Times and Classical Voice North America.

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Haymarket Opera Finds A Niche In Chicago

Haymarket Opera Company opened its 2016-17 season with a production of Haydn's "L’isola disabitata." (Photos courtesy of Haymarket Opera)

Haymarket Opera Company opened its 2016-17 season with a production of Haydn’s “L’isola disabitata.” (Photos courtesy of Haymarket Opera)

 

By Kyle MacMillan

CHICAGO — In a city that already boasts Lyric Opera of Chicago, one of the country’s top three companies, and the smaller, offbeat Chicago Opera Theater, it might seem folly to contemplate starting yet another such organization.

But Craig Trompeter was unfazed. Around 2006, the viola da gamba player and opera devotee conceived the idea of starting something completely different — a Chicago company devoted to presenting 17th- and 18th-century operas with period music and staging. Or put another way, he wanted to present works as closely as possible to the way audiences would have experienced them at the time of their creation.

Haymarket artistic and music director Craig Trompeter.

Haymarket artistic and music director Craig Trompeter.

The resulting Haymarket Opera Company recently launched its sixth season with a captivating production of Haydn’s virtually unknown 1779 opera, L’isola disabitata (The Deserted Island) — its first presentation of a Classical-era work. The four-character story, which centers on a woman stranded on an island with her younger sister, manages to weave farcical humor with genuinely affecting moments. Perhaps most impressive were the audience’s obvious enthusiasm and the artistic integrity and intelligence that pervaded every facet of the offering.

“What’s really amazing about them,” said soprano Kimberly McCord, who sang the role of Costanza, “is that even though they are a small company, they have such a commitment to doing full-on, authentic period productions. They’re not cutting any corners. That’s just their philosophy, so you know working with them that we’re going all in.”

While many companies use period-instrument ensembles for their productions of early operas, virtually all of them adhere to a more modern, naturalistic theatrical style, sometimes even imposing contemporary settings onto the works. Not only is Haymarket the only company in Chicago devoted to a total period style, it is also among just a handful of such producers anywhere. “The fact that its (approach) has caught on and taken the shape of a company dedicated to that in Chicago I see as a very positive step,” said conductor Stephen Stubbs, co-artistic director of the Boston Early Music Festival.

Peter van de Graaf sang the title role in the 2015 Haymarket production of Telemann's "Don Quichotte auf der Hochzeit des Comacho."

Peter van de Graaf sang the title role in the 2015 Haymarket production of Telemann’s “Don Quichotte auf der Hochzeit des Comacho.”

According to Stubbs, the 36-year-old Boston festival, which has been at the forefront of the field, and Opera Atelier in Toronto, Ontario, are the only such companies in North America, aside from Haymarket. In Europe, most period stagings of opera take place at festivals like the one held each summer at Sweden’s Drottningholm Palace Theatre, an 18th-century venue that still has its original stage machinery. But even in such settings, Stubbs said, modern productions tend to be mixed in. “There’s a very widespread anti-Baroque staging feeling in the mainstream opera world,” he said, “and so any company that takes it on is working against that stream. There are a lot of politics against it.”

When Trompeter contemplated founding a specialty opera company of this kind, he worried that the idea might seem “farfetched,” so he shared it quietly with a few friends, who were immediately enthusiastic. More than 100 people attended the fundraising party he hosted in early 2011. “It was really exciting,” said Trompeter, the organization’s artistic and music director. “It was something that wasn’t going to happen for another eight months, and people were already giving us money.”

Helping to stoke anticipation were memories of Chicago Opera Theater’s well-received presentations of Baroque operas led by the renowned conductor Jane Glover, including all three works in the genre by Claudio Monteverdi — Orfeo (2000), L’incoronazione di Poppea (2004) and Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (2007). These period-instrument productions gave audiences a taste of what might be possible.

Jeri-Lou Zike, Haymarket's concertmaster and orchestra manager.

Jeri-Lou Zike, Haymarket’s concertmaster and orchestra manager.

Haymarket — a name derived from Chicago’s 1886 Haymarket riot and London’s Haymarket, the street where Handel premiered more than 25 of his operas at the King’s Theatre — launched operations in 2011 with Handel’s Acis, Galatea e Polifemo, a 1708 dramatic cantata whose plot is almost identical to that of his opera of a decade later, Acis and Galatea.

Since then, the company has produced two operas per season, ranging from staples like Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas to the first fully staged professional production of Alessandro Scarlatti’s 1679 Gli equivoci nel sembiante (Equivocal Appearances) in the United States. Trompeter is always on the hunt for forgotten treasures, but he adheres to certain parameters. “We can’t just do any opera that I read about,” he said. “We have to look at things practically. Is it a good piece, number 1? And is it something we can manage physically? If it has 30 characters, we can’t do it.”

Beginning with its fifth-anniversary season in 2015-16, Haymarket added two components to its annual offerings — a March oratorio and a summer course in Baroque opera for young vocal artists. The first edition of the latter program took place June 5-11 at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts and included noted countertenor and stage director Drew Minter among the faculty.

Haymarket started with an annual budget of $20,000 and now functions on a much larger but still-modest budget of $220,000, with just one full-time and two part-time employees. The company’s two performances in September of L’isola disabitata drew 750 people — not a huge crowd by Lyric Opera standards, but a sizable jump from the numbers Haymarket drew in Mayne Stage, its first, 180-seat home. In May, it switched venues to the 950-seat Athenaeum Theatre, a 1911 facility that offers many other advantages, including dressing rooms and backstage space.

Haymarket Opera presented Francesco Cavalli’s "La Calisto" in May 2016.

Haymarket Opera presented Francesco Cavalli’s “La Calisto” in May 2016.

At the heart of the company are internationally recognized keyboardist Jory Vinikour and a fine pit orchestra comprising Chicago-area musicians and nomadic period-instrument specialists. From the start, said Jeri-Lou Zike, the company’s concertmaster and orchestra manager, it was important that the ensemble abide by union rules and pay scales. Too often, she said, period-instrument musicians are paid less than their counterparts in modern orchestras. “We wanted to right the wrongs,” Zike said.

Haymarket used only six musicians in the pit for last May’s production of Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto, but the ensemble averages eight or nine players. For the recent Haydn opera, the company assembled its largest orchestra to date — 20 musicians. Following performance practices of the Classical era, string players used what Trompeter called “transitional bows,” which have a bit more weight and slightly different shape than Baroque bows. Vinikour performed on a fortepiano, and the wind players used instruments authentic to that period. In addition, the orchestra was tuned to A=430, versus the usual 415 for Baroque orchestras or 440 for modern orchestras. The result was a rich, burnished sound that especially suited some of Haydn’s darker writing evoking the sea storm and Costanza’s hopelessness.

Balancing its historical attitude to music-making is the company’s period staging, with opulent costumes and sets with an appealingly two-dimensional, low-tech look. Trompeter believes this approach removes unnecessary interpretative overlays, restores the innate, expressive power of these works, and, perhaps counter-intuitively, makes them more accessible to the public.

Sarah Edgar, who worked in Europe before moving to Chicago in 2012, has served as stage director for six of the company’s productions, including L’isola disabitata. She is a Baroque-dance specialist who said the training is important because so much of the acting in the 17th- and 18th-century centuries employs prescribed body movements and gestures that emphasize certain words and musical phrases. She studies treatises on dance and acting from the period and looks at historic paintings to see how bodies were positioned. “When you do the period staging,” Edgar said, “it highlights the text and the libretto in a non-ironic way. It also works closely with the music, with the affect in the music, because the staging conventions of the period were very sensitive to the structure of the Baroque opera.”

Angela Young Smucker as the Sorceress in Haymarket's 2013 production of Purcell's' "Dido and Aeneas."

Angela Young Smucker as the Sorceress in Haymarket’s 2013 production of Purcell’s’ “Dido and Aeneas.”

The company draws on a pool of regular performers, but Trompeter also makes a point of adding new voices to each production for the sake of variety. He looks for singers who can handle the exacting vocal demands of the repertoire and are open to the company’s period staging. “They have to be people willing to take chances,” he said. So far, Haymarket has had little trouble finding them. “They often come to us, actually. We have a really good reputation now, and I get a lot of inquiries.”

One of those regulars is McCord, a Chicago singer who studied in London with soprano Emma Kirkby, the noted early-music specialist, on a Fulbright scholarship. McCord has appeared in three Haymarket productions and has nothing but praise for the company. She said that “we have a good time, there’s some flexibility there, you’re trying things out and seeing what works. I never feel like we’re putting on a museum piece. Even though from a distance it might look like that, it’s a very living, collaborative environment.”

As the company looks to the future, Trompeter anticipates the same gradual growth it has enjoyed so far, allowing Haymarket to take carefully calculated risks without sacrificing artistic quality or financial stability. He hopes to add a third opera to the company’s line-up starting with the 10th-anniversary season in 2021-22 — a big commitment because of the considerable research and preparation its mostly obscure selections require.

The Haymarket Orchestra on the set of "L’isola disabitata."

The Haymarket Orchestra and Trompeter, center, on the set of “L’isola disabitata.”

In January, the company will travel to the Valletta International Baroque Festival in Malta to present San Giovanni Battista, an oratorio by Alessandro Stradella, which it first presented in March in Chicago. And in the fall of 2017, Haymarket is staging its biggest production to date, a full-scale French opera complete with dancers — Marin Marais’ Ariane et Bacchus.

On a less ambitious scale, Haymarket’s orchestra will be in the pit for Chicago Opera Theater’s November production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, the kind of collaboration Trompeter hopes to repeat. In addition, he plans to schedule a concert performance or two each season for the orchestra as way to help fill the void left by the dissolution earlier this year of the Baroque Band, the Chicago-based period-instrument chamber orchestra.

While Haymarket is never likely to challenge Lyric Opera or Chicago Opera Theater, it has a developed a successful niche by making the old new and appealing to both opera devotees and newcomers. “I know a fair number of people who’ve never been to an opera,” Trompeter said, “and they’ve come to us, and they’ve gotten hooked on what we do.”

Kyle MacMillan served as music critic for the Denver Post from 2000 through 2011. He currently freelances in Chicago, writing for Chamber Music and Listen magazines and such other publications and websites as the Chicago Sun-Times and Classical Voice North America.

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