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Teamwork Pays Off In Pittsburgh

Chatham Baroque: Scott Pauley, theorbo; Patricia Halverson, viola da gamba; and Andrew Fouts, violin. (Photo by R. Alan Adams)

 

By Mark Kanny

PITTSBURGH — Mergers can be risky business, but Chatham Baroque is looking to build on the initial success of joining forces with Pittsburgh’s Renaissance & Baroque, a presenting organization, at the end of the 2017-18 season.

“Last year was more successful than we had even hoped,” says Donna Goyak, Chatham Baroque’s executive director. She reports attendance increased 32.5 percent in the first year of the merger. Non-board member contributions rose 21 percent.

The combined organization is by far the major player in early-music performance in Pittsburgh. When Pittsburgh Opera presents Baroque opera, Chatham Baroque is the core of the orchestra. When local churches offer Baroque music at Christmas and Easter, Chatham Baroque often is a key participant in the ensembles. Historically informed performance practice is part of the curriculum at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Music, where it is led by flutist Stephen Schultz, who will be part of Chatham Baroque’s final concert of the 2019-20 season.

Fortepianist Sylvia Berry will make her Pittsburgh debut with “Haydn in London” on Oct. 5.

 

The success of the merger was facilitated by trust and rapport built up over the preceding six months, when Chatham Baroque managed Renaissance & Baroque concerts. Even so, there were some surprises during the post-merger analysis.

“We didn’t know how much overlap there was in audiences,” says Goyak. “But given such clear mission alignment between the two organizations, we were surprised how little crossover there was. In fact, there was only 11 percent overlap on mailing lists, six percent on the email lists.”

The 2019-20 season was planned by a programming committee consisting of the three artistic directors of Chatham Baroque – Andrew Fouts, violin, Patricia Halverson, viola da gamba, and Scott Pauley, theorbo and other fretted instruments – plus Goyak and members of the board of directors. The new season is most oriented to Baroque music, and while there’s hardly any Renaissance repertoire, there are two concerts of medieval music.

Concerts are performed at a variety of locations in many Pittsburgh neighborhoods, including the acoustically superb Synod Hall in Oakland and at Chatham University in Squirrel Hill.

The season’s opening program Sept. 20-22 is titled “Foreign Accents.” It exemplifies the increased opportunities for collaboration that made the merger so appealing to Chatham Baroque, which will team with The Four Nations Ensemble, based in New York, and Canadian soprano Pascale Beaudin in cantatas by Bach, Handel, and Scarlatti written in languages and styles foreign to the composers’ own nationalities.

Benjamin Bagby, second from right, and Sequentia colleagues will perform music dating back to the 9th century.

 

Bach never set foot outside of Germany but was fascinated by other national musical styles. His “Non sa che sia dolore,” Cantata No. 209, is a secular work in Italian about the sorrow of a friend moving away. The exquisite flute part will be played by Charles Brink of The Four Nations. Handel did travel and wrote his only work in Spanish, “No se emenderá jamás,” in 1707 while in Rome, five years before the German composer found his future in London. The accompaniment of this cantata about a heart broken by love is led by guitar, which will be played by Pauley.

The Pittsburgh debut of fortepianist Sylvia Berry on Oct. 5 in “Haydn in London” will feature works by four composers performed on an 1806 fortepiano made in London by John Broadwood and Son that has been restored by Berry’s husband. The major pieces are Haydn’s big Piano Sonata in E flat major and Muzio Clementi’s G minor Sonata, Op. 34, No. 2.

Berry notes that the fortepiano’s advantages include better balance because the bass is not overpowering and playing quickly is easier due to the shallow movement of the keys. Slow tempos are less practical as tone decays more quickly than on modern pianos. Berry emphasizes that late 18th-century keyboard style is closer to speaking than singing, to conversations rather than arias.

Chatham Baroque will be joined Nov. 16 and 17 by the vocal ensemble Pittsburgh Camerata and extra instrumentalists for “Welcome to All Pleasures,” featuring both of Henry Purcell’s celebrated odes for St. Cecilia’s Day. Hail! Bright Cecilia from 1692 is the larger in scale and one of this composer’s best-known compositions. Purcell wrote Welcome to All the Pleasures in 1683.

East of the River ensemble will perform “Hamsa: Music from Andalusia, the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, and the Sephardic Diaspora” on March 14.

 

Fouts admires “the whole palette of Purcell’s tone colors in his exploration of music and art. Love, life, and the cosmos are intertwined and inspired by this patron saint” of music. “Purcell expressed beauty through dissonance arriving at consonance unexpectedly and with striking harmonic motions.”

Extra players also will join Chatham Baroque for a holiday feast of fetching string music, “Capriccio Stravagante,” Dec. 5-8. The program’s title is taken from a piece by Carlo Farina, an early Baroque virtuoso violinist and composer who died in 1639. His Capriccio Stravagante is programmatic, evoking the sounds of animals and nature. Corelli’s Christmas Concerto is the other major work. The program will be completed by 16th-century dance music by Anthony Holborne and Michael Praetorius.

The season’s earliest music will be performed by legendary vocalist and harp player Benjamin Bagby and Sequentia, his medieval ensemble, on Jan. 14. Some of the selections in “Charms, Riddles and Elegies of the Middle Northlands” date back to the 9th century and were carried forward by oral tradition for hundreds of years before being written down. The medieval Northlands stretched from the foothills of the Alps along the Rhine river. The program, which debuted earlier this year, employs charms and riddles as emotional antidotes to the elegies. The charms — in old German, Latin, and English — preserve folk wisdom, magical incantations, and even recipes for herbal cures.

“Riddles are a favorites pastime of English poems, difficult to decipher in a hermetic language,” Bagby says. Translations will be projected in time with the performance. Instruments will include a six-string German harp, triangular harps, and wood and animal bone flutes.

Chatham Baroque’s annual “The Art of the Trio” program Feb. 14-16 will focus on stylus fantasticus sonatas by Dietrich Buxtehude and Johann Schmeltzer and suites by Philipp Heinrich Erlebach and Nicola Matteis. Erlebach was a prolific mid-Baroque German composer, but most of his vocal and instrumental music was destroyed in a fire 21 years after his 1714 death. His suites begin with movements in Italian sonata style before shifting to French dance styles.

The Venice Baroque Orchestra will present “Vivaldi and the Apotheosis of the Concerto in the 18th Century” on Feb. 20.

 

Fouts is proud that his organization will present the Venice Baroque Orchestra in “Vivaldi and the Apotheosis of the Concerto in the 18th Century” on Feb. 20 because he doesn’t think there is a better ensemble for high Baroque music, with its “iconic sound and style — a standards bearer and bar setter.”

The program includes the exquisite and well-known Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor, as well as the Recorder Concerto in D major, “Il Giardellino.” The only music not by Vivaldi is Francesco Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso in D minor (“La Folia”), which is based on Arcangelo Corelli’s famous Violin Sonata Op. 5, No. 12.

Ancient harmony and improvisation mix in the East of the River ensemble, founded in 2008 by recorder players Nina Stern and Daphna Mor, which will perform “Hamsa: Music from Andalusia, the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, and the Sephardic Diaspora” on March 14. Other instruments in the ensemble are violin, oud, and percussion.

The earliest music they’ll perform will be 11th-century Armenian chants. Much of the repertoire is from the Sephardic diaspora, when Spanish Jews were expelled, starting in 1492, and ended up in Morocco, Turkey, and Balkan lands. Several texts follow the lead of the Bible’s Song of Songs in using a beautiful woman as a metaphor. Others are intended for the Jewish High Holidays. Examples of Ottoman Empire court repertoire will complete the program.

The music is organized according to middle eastern Makim, a modal system that encompasses more than 100 varieties and includes quarter tones that require special fingerings on the recorders.

Chatham Baroque, top, will join forces with flutist Stephen Schultz, oboist Caroline Giassi, and harpsichordist Justin Wallace to end the season in April

 

Flutist Stephen Schultz, oboist Caroline Giassi, and harpsichordist Justin Wallace will join Chatham Baroque to conclude the season April 3-5 with “Les Nations,” a program of French Baroque music. Music from François Couperin’s Les Nations will be featured. “Les Nations combines French sensibility with lots of ornamentation with the very contrapuntal feel of Italian music, which is for me the best of both worlds,” says Schultz.

The Italian trio sonata portions of these pieces were published by Couperin early in his career under a pseudonym, long before he added French dance movements to each of the suites. These performances will take advantage of the scores’ indications that the top line may be played by flute, oboe, or violin. The program also will include a Paris Quartet by Georg Philipp Telemann and instrumental suites by Marin Marais and Jean Philippe Rameau.

Mark Kanny was classical music critic of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, 1999-2016, and previously wrote for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, New York Times, and other publications.

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Early Music America Announces Recipient of 2019 Thornton Memorial Scholarship

Karin Weston

Early Music America has announced the recipient of the biennial Barbara Thornton Memorial Scholarship, selected by an independent panel of judges.

Karin Weston has been awarded the Barbara Thornton Memorial Scholarship for 2019. Karin will attend a summer course with Micrologus in Spello, Italy, and will also pursue study of the Occitan language in southern France.

“It was clear to the jury,” said Benjamin Bagby, “that Karin’s plan to pursue more specific and advanced study in Italy and France in 2019 would be exactly the sort of project that this award was designed to facilitate. Just as Barbara Thornton had spent several youthful summers pursuing similar goals for study in France and Italy, more than 50 years ago, we feel strongly that this is the perfect moment for Karin to expand her studies into the European scene, and we are pleased that this award will help her to realize these goals.

“This scholarship facilitates opportunities for me to learn from musicians whose approaches to medieval song I find inspiring,” said Karin, “and allows me to study the Occitan language and pronunciation amongst native speakers in ways that will inform my singing of troubadour song. I look forward to growing as a medieval musician and scholar, and to applying what I learn over this summer in my future work with my colleagues in Trobár.”

Karin founded Trobár with Allison Monroe and Elena Mullins three years ago. They have performed in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Washington D.C., and New York, and have held residencies at Avaloch Farm and the University of Louisville.

Karin has a MA in Historical Performance Practice from Case Western Reserve University and a BA in Molecular Biology and Music (Vocal Performance) from Scripps College.

 

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Singing The Praises Of Medieval Women

 

Eric Mentzel conducting Seattle’s Medieval Women’s Choir during their spring concert in March 2018.
(Photo by Ron Anderson)

 

By Philippa Kiraly

In March of this year, Seattle’s Medieval Women’s Choir gave the second concert of its 27th season. It featured music from the 13th and 14th centuries celebrating spring, with excerpts from the original Carmina Burana and works by Guillaume de Machaut, among others. Nearly 40 women sang, accompanied by medieval harp and percussion. Lively, fresh, with most of the music previously unknown to just about everyone in the good-sized audience, it was an event that couldn’t be heard anywhere else in this country, or likely in Europe, either.

Margriet Tindemans, who started the Medieval Women’s Choir.

The choir, which gives its final concert of the season, “Saints and Sinners,” on June 2 at St. James Cathedral, is one of a kind, the brainchild of the late Margriet Tindemans, the renowned scholar of medieval music and performer on early stringed instruments. For nine years before moving to Seattle, the Dutch-born musician was a member of Sequentia, the European ensemble for medieval music.

Tindemans, who had been coaching students at the University of Washington, branched out in 1990 to create the Northwest Center of Early Music Studies, with help from Sally Mitchell, typesetter, recorder player, and volunteer with Seattle’s flourishing Early Music Guild. NWCEMS was affiliated with the Guild and gave workshops on aspects of medieval and Renaissance music for amateur adults. These were so successful that Tindemans decided to start an ensemble — for women only — that became the Medieval Women’s Choir. Besides, choir member Alice Dubiel remembers Tindemans saying, “I want to learn to sing better myself.”

Tindemans decreed from the outset that there would be no auditions, since her favorite medieval composer, the 11th-century Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen, didn’t audition her nuns. To start with, even the ability to read music was not required to join Tindemans’ ensemble, though a decade or so later it was. The women who joined came from all walks of life. Many had learned and continued to play instruments or sing, but few had pursued professional careers in music. What they had in common were a passion for learning, an interest in early music, and enormous respect and affection for Tindemans. They came, and they stayed, year after year.

“There’s something very special about medieval music and its sonorities,” says Mitchell, “and about three years in, Margriet and I realized the choir had become a community.”

For years, Mitchell designed the annual brochures. Others helped with research, wrote, or created artwork to accompany concerts. Tindemans was a born teacher, and through her the group learned about the various modes, how to read neumes (notes sung to a single syllable), and how these indicated the expression for each piece. They learned to sing in multiple early languages, whose pronunciation Tindemans wanted as close as possible to current knowledge of what it should be.

“I love learning,” says Ginger Warfield, 75, a retired mathematics professor at the University of Washington and choir member since 1994. “I get so much joy in being part of the music.”

The singers also learned to understand the translations. “No other repertoire is so physically demanding,” says Dubiel, a visual artist, “and so difficult to guess where the phrasing is.” She finds singing and breathing this music deeply meditative.

Tindemans learned how to be a choir director. Accustomed to working with consummate professionals, she encouraged choir members to take responsibility for the work she demanded of them and to give opinions and ask questions. “A lot of self teaching took place,” says Dubiel, 67.

Tindemans still had commitments elsewhere, guest performing with notable groups in the U.S. and in Europe. When she was out of town, Nancy Zylstra, a retired singer of repute and well-respected voice teacher with extensive experience coaching choirs, took over rehearsals. “For quite a number of years, Margriet asked me to be a part of the MWC ‘family,’ helping her at rehearsals and short weekend-day workshops with vocal training for the choir. It was such a joy to be working with her! We really saw eye-to-eye musically, and it was my pleasure to help her with her vision.”

Since Tindemans was a scholar, not a vocal coach, Zylstra’s input was crucial. “Someone in the choir donated a large sum of money for all the members to have one or two private lessons with her,” says Mitchell, 65, still a member. When Tindemans took a sabbatical, Zylstra took over again, and she led choir practice at other times.

Tindemans rehearsing with colleagues.

As the years went by, Tindemans brought in excellent vocal soloists, and the choir was often accompanied by medieval instruments. She herself often accompanied on vielle, and two early music instrumentalists, medieval harpist Bill McJohn and early percussionist Peggy Monroe, have performed with the choir since the start. Mitchell often played recorder. Guests have included such performers as vielle player Shira Kammen and singers Anne Azema and Eric Mentzel. As well as writing music for the choir, Tindemans commissioned works from other composers. The choir grew to about 60, and Tindemans held rehearsals two nights a week. For many years, the choir has been a resident choral ensemble at St. James Cathedral.

Tindemans planned notable concerts for the choir, some semi-staged, such as Hildegard’s liturgical drama Ordo Virtutem and one based on the 1405 writings of Christine de Pisan blending poetry, song, visual art, and drama. It was a spectacle completely new to the audience. Another, one of the most successful concerts the choir ever presented, was performed in 2008 and based on the story of Héloïse and Abelard. During her previous year’s sabbatical, Tindemans and travel partner (and later spouse) Judith Suther did extensive delving into the lives of the historical pair in Paris, Brittany, and Champagne. On return, Suther wrote the script for the performance and Tindemans researched and found or composed appropriate music.

Members of the choir accompanied Tindemans on two visits to Spain retracing the ancient Camino de Santiago. Singers from Spain and the Netherlands joined them. They rehearsed and sang at a monastery and at the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas, an extraordinary event for the singers, who knew some of the music from the precious Codex Las Huelgas that never leaves the abbey. They were invited to sing for the enclosed order of nuns, after which the sisters retired to an adjoining room — separated by a wall that did not reach the ceiling — and sang the divine office for their visitors.

The choir made two recordings under Tindemans, “River of Red — O Rubor Sanguinis: Music by Hildegard of Bingen” (2006) and “Laude Novella: Music of the Italian Middle Ages” (2012). Both can be heard on iTunes.

In 2014, upon being told that the cancer diagnosed several years earlier had returned, Tindemans decided to retire at the end of the 2014-15 season. At short notice, Zylstra took over the final rehearsals and Christmas concert at St. James Cathedral on Dec. 20, 2014, which Seattle deputy mayor Kate Joncas proclaimed Margriet Tindemans Day “for, among other accomplishments, her virtuosic and deeply informed playing…(which) has opened new worlds of beauty and history” to audiences and students. But Tindemans could not be there. She died, at 63, on Dec. 31, 2014.

Typically, Tindemans had been thinking about what might happen to the choir without her. She had already reached out to tenor Mentzel, with whom she had sung as a member of Sequentia and brought in as a guest soloist with the Medieval Women’s Choir.

The Medieval Women’s Choir in concert led by Eric Mentzel.

“I got a phone call from her a few months before she died,” he says, “to tell me she was retiring and asking if I would act as interim director for the following season (2015-16) during the search for a new director, and also apply for the permanent directorship.”

It was a good time for Mentzel, professor of voice at the University of Oregon at Eugene, since he was going on sabbatical that coming season and agreed to the temporary position. After Tindemans’ death, he agreed to become the choir’s permanent director.

“It’s a unique and wonderful organization,” Mentzel says. “Margriet started something nobody else had ever done. I felt a calling to do it, for Margriet’s legacy.”

The number of people with the right skills and knowledge to follow Tindemans is vanishingly small; Mentzel has them. Choir members, meanwhile, were not at all sure the ensemble could go on without Tindemans. Zylstra took over directing for the remainder of the 2014-15 season. A few members left, though others, including Dubiel, stayed to see what might develop. “Margriet had had us work with Eric at some point, so we knew him,” Dubiel says, “but I wondered, ‘Could we pull it off?’ I’m very happy with it now. Eric is a consummate vocal teacher, and our singing is way better.”

“I thought Margriet was totally wonderful,” says Warfield. “When she died, I couldn’t imagine continuing without her, but I knew Eric, so I stayed.” The result has been good beyond anyone’s imagining. As Warfield put it, “Margriet gave us our soul, but Eric gives us our voice.”

“He’s a perfect fit,” she continues. “What’s different and stupendous is that he knows how to make us produce a beautiful sound. He’s fierce about it, and it builds on what Margriet taught us.”

Mentzel and soloist Marian Seibert with the choir. (Anderson)

Where Tindemans was the researcher, historian, and scholar, Mentzel is concerned with vocal production. He commutes by train from Eugene every other week for rehearsals Sunday afternoon and Monday night, with choir member Marian (Molly) Seibert acting as rehearsal director on alternate weeks. “Molly is extremely valuable,” says Mentzel, “for her understanding of the music and the way we are on the same page. We’ve both drunk from the same font.” Seibert, 46, had studied voice and early music in college and attended workshops, including those given by Sequentia, where she met Mentzel.

With members leaving and joining over the years, the choir gradually had been aging. Warfield says Mentzel has brought in an infusion of vigorous, younger voices fascinated by medieval music. Seibert, a print-shop estimator, has been one of the younger members since she joined right after college, where she studied voice. “It sounded like fun,” she says. “It had lots of people I knew, and my mom was in it,” and still is.

Seibert became a regular soloist with the choir. She possesses the kind of soaring, pitch-pure voice that is perfect for medieval music.

Philippa Kiraly has been a freelance classical music critic since 1980. She wrote for the Akron Beacon Journal, then the Seattle Post-Intelligencer until its print demise, and now for The Seattle Times, City Arts, and a blog, The Sun Break.

Early Music America recently received an anonymous gift of $50,000 to establish the Margriet Tindemans Early Strings Scholarship. During 2018, donors are contributing to the fund to match it for a total of $100,000. The scholarship will give talented young musicians support for a year of study abroad, with the first recipient starting in fall 2019. Upon the anonymous donor’s death, the assets in that estate will go to EMA and the biennial scholarship will become an endowed annual fellowship, with an increased stipend awarded in Tindemans’ honor in perpetuity.

To make a contribution to the Tindemans Scholarship, please click here or call Karin Brookes for more information: 412-642 2778, ext 202.

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