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First Friday Concert: Ronn McFarlane, Lutenist

“Some of the most ravishing lute playing to be heard anywhere.” – The Washington Times

St. David’s is pleased to present world-renowned lutenist Ronn McFarlane at the March First Friday concert. A Grammy-nominated composer and performer, Ronn has released over three dozen recordings and performed across the globe, helping to establish the lute and its repertoire as a living, breathing, and musically exciting force.

You can hear Ronn’s first-rate artistry at St. David’s on March 2 at 7:30 pm. The event is free and open to the public; a suggested donation of $15 ($10 students/retirees) benefits the musicians and the music series.

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2017 Summer Workshop Scholarship Reflection: Joseph Harris

Joe Harris TBSI TheorboSummer Workshop Scholarship Reflection
Lute and Theorbo player, Joseph Harris
Tafelmusik Summer Baroque Institute 2017

I did not know what to expect when I boarded the plane in my hometown of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and headed to Toronto Canada to attend Tafelmusik Summer Baroque Institute (TBSI).  Although I had attended the Lute Society Festival in 2016, which generally focused on the lute family of instruments, I had a feeling that this would be a much different experience because at TSBI the lutes were in a minority compared to the number of singers, wind, keyboard, and string players attending.

Frankly, TBSI blew my mind.  I have never had an opportunity to hear baroque music played on period instruments at such extraordinarily high levels compared to what I experienced in Toronto.  The Tafelmusik Ensemble gave several concerts which were totally amazing.  The participants, who came from almost all parts of the globe, were outstanding musicians as well.  In addition, the logistics and organization of the institute were executed very well by a team of dedicated personnel handling all the functions necessary to coordinate such a large-scale event.  Indeed, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be in another situation where there are 16 harpsichords in one building!

Reading Continuo on St. John's PassionAt TBSI, the schedule of lectures and classes were very intense, with something important happening nearly every hour of each work day.  I attended lectures covering historical performance practice, tuning and temperament, baroque acting techniques (which is totally relevant to musicians), continuo accompaniment on recitatives, ground bass improvisation, continuo on the lute and theorbo, music research methods and much more.  The schedule was packed full of valuable classes to attend, and evening performances to enjoy.

The ensemble playing was one of the best parts of my experience for those two weeks.  TBSI has multiple ensembles which range in size from solo song accompaniment on the lute, to the grand finale concert which is comprised of every participant at TBSI.  I played the music of Telemann, Johann Christoph Bach, Monteverdi, Barbara Strozzi, Purcell, Rameau and much more.  In addition, we read through the entire JS. Bach St. John’s Passion, which was awe inspiring. In each of our ensembles we were assigned a faculty coach who guided us in our interpretation which was very helpful. I learned so much not only from the coaches, but also my fellow participants, as well who were all amazing and brought much to the table.

The highlight of the two-week experience for me personally was being able to study with the Tafelmusik lutenist and theorbist, Lucas Harris.  I learned so much from him in the daily masterclasses both on the baroque lute and the theorbo.  Continuo on the theorbo is a challenge, and Lucas worked with the class to guide us in the complicated decisions we must make in order to be an effective continuo accompanists. There was a lot of information to digest in only two weeks, but Lucas presented the concepts in an easy-to-understand way which I found to be very effective. Studying with one of the most experienced continuo players active today was exceedingly helpful to me, and I am a much better theorbo player today because of it. In addition, I received helpful coaching with my solo German baroque lute repertoire in private lessons which was fantastic.

Continuo section rehearsalOverall, attending TBSI was life changing for me.  My experience at TBSI gave me insight as to just how totally fun ensemble playing can be when you are working with musicians who share your passion and love for the music. I came away from the institute feeling inspired and encouraged to move forward with my efforts to continue my education and training in early music. I am humbly grateful to Early Music America for generously awarding me the Summer Workshop Scholarship, which in part made my trip to TSBI possible. I had an unforgettable time, and I can totally recommend that any musicians wanting valuable training, inspiration, and an overall fun experience, to give the Tafelmusik Summer Baroque Institute your consideration.

Joseph Harris is a baroque lute specialist currently studying at Oklahoma City University under lutenist and professor Kyle Patterson. Joseph’s primary area of study is 18th century German solo and chamber music written for the 11 and 13 course baroque lutes. Joseph also plays continuo on theorbo and regularly appears as an accompanist in university recitals and performances. In 2016, Joseph was awarded the Lute Society of America Student Scholarship to attend the Cleveland summer Lute Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the Early Music America Summer Workshop Scholarship to attend the Tafelmusik Summer Baroque Institute, in Toronto, Ontario. Joseph has played in masterclasses given by Hopkinson Smith, Lucas Harris, Robert Barto, Nigel North and Paul O’dette. Joseph is driven by his unrivaled passion for baroque music and especially the music of the 18th century lute.  His long-term vision includes bringing the rare music of the lute to new audiences worldwide and preserving the lute and its’ music for future generations. Joseph plays on 13 course lutes made by Chadwick Neal, of Columbus Ohio, and Travis Carey, of Vancouver, BC, and a 14 course theorbo by Mel Wong of San Francisco, CA.

Joseph is a 2017 EMA Summer Workshop Scholarship recipient. Early Music America offers scholarships annually to students at all levels of experience to support attendance at early music workshops in the United States and Canada. EMA scholarships and grants are funded through membership dues and the support of generous donors.

​Learn more on our Summer Workshop Scholarship page.

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Ayreheart Savors Folk And Art Music

Ayreheart members Brian Kay (vocals and lute), Mattias Rucht (percussion), Will Morris (colascione), and Ronn McFarlane (lute).

Ayreheart members Brian Kay (vocals and komuz), Mattias Rucht (percussion), Willard Morris (colascione), and Ronn McFarlane (lute).

Barley Moon
Sono Luminus DSL-92203

By Karen Cook

CD REVIEW — Ayreheart, the musical offspring of lutenist Ronn McFarlane (Baltimore Consort, etc.), was founded to create a space in which the new and the old could thrive together. Whereas their first CD (“One Morning,” 2009) consisted of music composed by McFarlane, this new release is a potpourri of pieces from folk and art traditions. The album centers on the lute as both an heir to tradition and a living, breathing instrument, and it showcases the playing of McFarlane and group members Brian Kay (on vocals and komuz, a fretless stringed instrument popular in Central Asian, especially Kyrgyz, traditions), Willard Morris (on colascione, a relative of the bass lute), and Mattias Rucht (percussion).

Ayreheart Cover 400“Barley Moon” explores the similarities between folk traditions, including those of the last several decades, and the art and popular musical traditions of early Britain. This is by no means a new idea; as they themselves point out, many involved in the British folk-rock movement of the 1960s were also performers of early music. The origins of the folk and art music on this album are entwined to the point where the ensemble questions the necessity of such an artificial division.

Six of the recording’s fourteen selections were composed by John Dowland and one by William Byrd; the rest are anonymous, ranging from medieval carols (“Lully Lulle”) and Child Ballads (“Henry Martyn”) to undatable folk songs (“Ddoi di Dai”). Arrangements of instrumental dances, such as Dowland’s “My Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe,” are interspersed among vocal pieces (“Come Again, Fortune My Foe”). And yet, Kay’s compelling, approachable delivery here is no different than his treatment of such folk songs as “John Barleycorn,” perhaps best known from the rock group Traffic, and “Nottamun Town,” covered by Bob Dylan. In fact, Kay’s rendition of Dowland’s “Come Again” is one of the most conversational recordings in recent memory, his voice catching ever so slightly in cognizance of the narrator’s lovelorn pining and pausing with an almost audible wink before the word “delay.”

However the listener might choose to categorize Ayreheart’s approach, the recording is persuasive. Their performance is at turns intimate, inviting, playful, wistful, melancholy, even menacing. For those familiar with Renaissance lute songs and dances, the lower ranges of the colascione, the unabashed use of the full dynamic range of the instruments, and the support of Rucht’s array of percussion timbres in the new arrangements are enticingly welcome. For those more knowledgeable of “world,” traditional, or rock-oriented music, the feisty, syncopated “Nottamun Town” or Kay’s yearning rendition of “In A Garden Green” would not seem out of place alongside the numerous folk-rock movement of artists listed in the liner notes.

Extra kudos for the superb mixing and inclusion of a Blu-ray audio disc. The recording is a well-executed and thought-provoking addition for fans of early, traditional, and folk music, and just about everything in between.

Karen Cook specializes in the music, theory, and notation of the late medieval and early Renaissance periods. She is assistant professor of music at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.



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Lislevand Plays De Visée and Corbetta

Norwegian theorbo player and baroque guitar Rolf Lislevand highlights two composers on his new disc. (Caterina di Perri : ECM Records)

Norwegian theorbo player and baroque guitarist Rolf Lislevand highlights two composers on his new disc. (Caterina di Perri : ECM Records)

La Mascarade
Rolf Lislevand, theorbo and baroque guitar
ECM New Series 2288

By Benjamin Dunham

CD REVIEW — In 2012, the music of Robert de Visée (c. 1650-1725) was in the air. Three outstanding lutenists—Toyohiko Satoh, Krishnasol Jiménez, and Rolf Lislevand—faced microphones that year to record tracks by the French composer and performer who worked at the court of Versailles. Two of the lutenists saw their results released in 2013, but Lislevand’s sampling of de Visée and the music of his putative teacher, Francesco Corbetta (c. 1615-1681), has waited until this year to become available. Each CD has its special virtues: Satoh’s because this eminent performer and teacher is playing a 1610 Lorenz Greiff lute that was converted into an 11-course baroque lute in 1673, and Jiménez’s because this gifted Mexican player reveals the special qualities of a 1679 guitar by Antonio Stradivari that had been restored to its original playing condition.

La Mascarade cover 400In “La Mascarade,” the Norwegian artist Lislevand gives us a personal statement that mixes not only two composers but also two instruments: theorbo for the music of de Visée (mostly taken from the 1699 Vaudry de Saizenay manuscript) and baroque guitar for the music of Corbetta. On both instruments, Lislevand is a player of remarkable fluidity and nuance. The key to his program is contained in its title, “La Mascarade,” which the artist in his notes defines as “not the true face…Nothing is to be taken literally. Everything is a game of masks. If an identity is in danger of being revealed through too close a contact, the masked face withdraws in order to maintain its secret.”

That is a lot to ask of a casual listener who is trying to understand the character of these two composers. De Visée was a multi-threat musician, serving as a vocalist and player of both plucked and bowed instruments for Louis XIV and holding the title of “Guitar Master of the King” under Louis XV. The older Corbetta was more of a specialist, being known widely as a virtuoso on the baroque guitar. After establishing his reputation in Italy, he visited Spain and The Netherlands and was active in both Paris and London, serving Charles II of England in exile and after the Restoration.

Lislevand’s title track comes about halfway through the disc, and it begins a series of pieces, whether by de Visée or Corbetta, that seem to mirror each other in their melodic gestures. It helps that in alternating between the two composers, Corbetta’s music is played on the guitar, whose range and sonority is so different from the theorbo. But this distinction is somewhat blurred at the end when Lislevand closes with two movements from de Visée’s 1686 collection for guitar, one played on the guitar (along with Lislevand’s improvised and atmospheric “intro” and “exit”) and one on the theorbo.

I felt on firmer ground with the Jiménez disc (Brilliant Classics 94435), with complete suites by de Visée played on a notable historical instrument—the same way I felt when listening to Aldo Abreu’s extraordinary traversal of the Telemann solo fantasias on historical recorders in the collection of Friedrich von Huene. But others may warmly embrace Lislevand’s intriguing presentation, with its diverting juxtapositions and reflections.

Former EMAg editor Benjamin Dunham has reviewed recordings for The Washington Post and Musical America and currently serves as the classical music reviewer for The Sentinel in Marion, MA.

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