Gregory G. H. Rihn's Journal|
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Wednesday, July 20th, 2016
|Madison Early Music Festival, Day 7, “Sonnets 400”
The Friday public program of the Madison Early Music Festival began with the “Participant Concert.”
The Festival is an intensive workshop for those interested in learning and performing early music, and the Participant Concert exhibits what has been learned in the week of the Festival, with more than twenty classes having prepared one or more pieces for the concert.
Memorable moments of the concert included the “Wake-up Bagpipes” playing Shepherd’s Hay, a Scottish air, and Ungaresca, a 16th century Italian tune.
“The Knot Untied,” a string group, played the “In Nomine,” by Pickforth, which was a unique piece of music. The lowest line, for violoncello, is played entirely in whole notes (four beats); the next higher (violas) are dotted half notes (three beats) and half notes (two beats); the violin lines are dotted quarter notes (beat and a half) and the “melody” line quarter notes. The overall effect was to be like the gearing of a clock, and the intricacies of its working were quite fascinating.
A trio of faculty members, Taya Konig-Tarasevich, Baroque flute; Charles Weaver, lute; Robert Eisenstein, bass viol, gave us two pieces, “Chaconne, Two in one upon a ground”, by Henry Purcell; and Sonata in G, by William Croft.
“Balanced, not Blended” presented some humorous rounds, again by Purcell. The audience particularly liked “T’is women makes us love/ T’is love that makes us sad/ T’is sadness makes us drink/ T’is drink that makes us mad!” (Each group chose its own name, some more creatively than others. This vocal group’s name reminds us that in music of this period, harmony was not common, but counterpoint was more common.)
Bard Notes presented songs referenced in Shakespeare. “Blacke Spirites and White,” was preceded by a reading of the famous witches “double, double, toil and trouble,” scene, complete with “cauldron,” a Weber barbecue grill overflowing with fumes of dry ice.
Gentle Ladies’ Ballad Society and Tea Club, gave us a gently bawdy song, “My Thing is My Own,” from the book “Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy,” which was very funny, and ended the concert on a definite “up” note.
We drove out to our hotel to check in for the evening, and got dinner at Ella’s Deli on the way back. Ella’s is always reliable, although far from haute cuisine. We’ve been going there on and off for more than thirty years and never had a bad thing. The Fairfield Inn, where we stayed last Saturday night as well, was clean, reasonably comfortable, and reasonably priced, especially compared with hotels downtown. Being out by the freeway past East Towne wasn’t terribly convenient, but not too bad.
The evening concert, “Sonnets 400,” was preceded by a lecture by Prof. Joshua Callahan, “Repackaging Shakespeare’s Sonnets,” which gave us an interesting piece of publishing history. The original 1609 edition of the Sonnets, published during Shakespeare’s lifetime, was a commercial flop and was quickly out of print. However, in 1640, a London publisher, John Benson, “repackaged” the sonnets as part of a volume titled Shakespeare’s Poems. This combined most, but not all of the Sonnets along with others of the Bard’s poems, plus works by other authors blithely gathered in. Benson changed the order in which the sonnets appeared, removed the numbering, added titles, and grouped two or more into single units of verse. Benson’s rough handling proved popular, however, and remained the definitive edition of the Sonnets until well into the 19th Century. Professor Callahan made the interesting argument that reuse of a resource, which he called “conservation,” can be as good for it in the long run as trying to maintain it in a pristine state (“preservation”).
The performance itself consisted of forty of the sonnets read by veteran actor Michael Herrold , with contemporary music between each set of three or four. The musical ensemble consisted of three members of the faculty, Grant Herreid, lute and cittern; Charles Weaver, lute and bandora; and Priscilla Herreid, recorder. They played dance music by Anthony Holborne, from Pavans, Galliards, Almains, and other short Aiers (1599), including such pieces as “Paridizio,” “Last Will and Testament,” “The Funerals,” and “The Fairie Round.”
Mr. Herrold read well, with good intonation, expression, and enunciation, but not overdramatizing. This was a very interesting and well-presented program which we enjoyed.
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|Madison Early Music Festival, Day 8
Saturday the 16th was the final day of the Madison Early Music Festival, and a day for two big concerts by the participants. That morning, we got breakfast at a restaurant called “Manna,” located in a small strip shopping center on Madison’s north east. Everything we had was excellent. My scrambled eggs were light, creamy textured, and very tasty. Georgie had the house specialty, oatmeal pancakes, which she pronounced delicious and filling. She also bought some samples of their other baked goods for later, which were very good also.
In the afternoon, we were treated to performances by the “Advanced Loud Band,” and the “Early Opera” workshop.
The phrase “Loud Band” refers to an ensemble containing wind instruments, specifically shawms (oboe/English horn ancestors); sackbuts (early trombones); and dulcians, which are a family of bassoon-like instruments. “The London Waites,” as the group called itself, played an entertaining selection of music from Shakespearean England.
Early Opera Workshop, “The Fairy Queen,”
The Early Opera Workshop put on a condensed version of Henry Purcell’s masque, “The Fairy Queene.” This is always one of the more challenging sessions, since the participants, in addition to learning the music, have to stage the opera including blocking, and finding (referential) costuming, and minimal props. This was a very entertaining performance. All the singing was excellent, and dancing and acting enthusiastic and more than adequate.
We were keeping dining simple this weekend, and got dinner at Potbelly Deli on State Street. A very basic but pleasant hot sandwich shop that we again have found reliable. They use good ingredients and have a nice variety of drink options.
The evening’s Pre-concert lecture, was by Prof. Emeritus John Barker, and entitled “Elizabeth I as a Politician”. This was a very enlightening and entertaining talk, which brought out the fact that “Good Queen Bess” was not in fact popular with many of her subjects, and relied upon a variety of stratagems in order to keep her throne.
Saturday evening, was the All-Festival Concert, which was quite spectacular. The concert theme was “A Day in the Life of Shakespeare’s London,” and began with Holborne’s “The Night Watch,” and a choral piece by Orlando Gibbons called “The Cries of London,” which is based on the sales calls of the various merchants and mongers of the city in that time. This was quite a revelation, the piece was wonderfully complex, very modern in sound, and exciting to listen to.
The concert was very well put together, with some deep scholarship put into assembling the music and the readings, with some very obscure but appropriate readings chosen, such as a speech about the Queen at her prayers from Henry VIII, and Lorenzo wooing Jessica, from The Merchant of Venice.
Listening and watching this concert made me realize how amazingly much work had gotten done in eight days. Just putting together this concert, which consisted of twenty-four musical pieces and ten readings, in that time would have been a major work by itself. Then, when you consider that in addition, the Loud Band played twelve pieces in its concert, there were twenty-four numbers in The Fairy Queen, and twenty-nine pieces in the Participant’s concert, a huge amount of music was taught and learned. Out of all that, there were only three or four false starts, which I consider truly remarkable.
All praise to the Madison Early Music Festival staff, faculty, and participants. Well done, all around!
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