MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

LA Master Chorale’s Lagrime

The Meany Center at University of Washington presents the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s production of Lagrime di San Pietro by Orlando di Lasso on Saturday evening, with Peter Sellars directing and Grant Gershon conducting. My program essay for the performance can be found here.

What’s the correct way to refer to one of the most extraordinary musical minds in history: Orlande/Orlando/Roland de Lassus/di Lasso? There’s a Franco-Flemish form and an Italianized one; sometimes the two get mixed together. There’s even a Latin option intended to standardize the situation. The very profusion of variants points to the internationalism and cross-pollination across borders that marked the era of the High Renaissance in Europe….


Filed under: early music, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Peter Sellars

Biber’s Glorious Mysteries at Whidbey Island Music Festival

If you’re looking to plan an unforgettable weekend, here’s a suggestion to start it off: the Whidbey Island Music Festival presents Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s complete Mystery Sonatas performed by some of the finest artists from the early music scene: Tekla Cunningham (baroque violin and director of Whidbey Island Music Festival), Elisabeth Reed (baroque cello), and Henry Lebedinsky (organ and harpsichord.) Performance at 7pm on 5 May. Info and tickets here.

This is the final concert in a three-concert series traversing Biber’s Mystery Sonatas. The Glorious Mysteries begin with the events of Easter and the Resurrection. The capstone of the final set of sonatas is the Passacaglia for solo violin (also known as the “Guardian Angel”).

The concert takes place in the intimate St. Augustine’s in-the-woods Church in Freeland on Whidbey Island, which boasts spendid acoustics.

And to top it off: Tekla Cunningham’s trademark springerle cookies pressed with images of a Guardian Angel will be served at the reception. 


The Glorious Mysteries

Sonata XI in G Major:  The Resurrection          Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704)Sonata – Hymn: Surrexit Christus hodie and variations

Canzona on ‘Christ ist erstanden’                                     Georg Reutter der Ältere (1656-1738)

Sonata XII in C Major:  The Ascension                                                                   H.I.F. von BiberIntrada – Aria tubicinum (trumpet) – Allemanda – Courante and double

Ricercar in G minor for solo cello                                        Domenico Gabrieli (ca. 1651-1690)

Sonata XIII in D minor:  The Descent of the Holy Ghost                                    H.I.F. von Biber
Sonata – Gavotte – Gigue – Sarabanda


Sonata XIV in D Major:  The Assumption of the Virgin                                      H.I.F. von Biber[Sonata] – Arias 1 and 2 – Gigue

Capriccio in G                                                                       Johann Jakob Froberger (1716-1767)

Sonata XV in C Major:  The Coronation of the Virgin Mary                              H.I.F. von Biber
Sonata – Aria with 3 doubles – Canzona – Sarabanda and double

Passacaglia in G minor for solo violin                                                                H.I.F. von Biber

From Whidbey Island Music Festival:

About the Mystery Sonatas: 

Named for the 15 Mysteries of the Rosary (also known as the Rosary Sonatas), these three sets of 5 sonatas for violin and continuo, plus a concluding Passacaglia for solo violin, were completed around 1676. Dedicated to the Archbishop Gandolph in Salzburg, these sonatas are as compelling, affecting and moving as they were when they were written almost 350 years ago. In the manuscript copy, each sonata has a copper-plate print at the opening of the sonata showing the story of the piece. 

About scordatura: 

Scored for a single violin supported by continuo, Biber asks the violinist to tune differently for each sonata. Only the first sonata (the Annunciation) and the final Passacaglia share the standard G-D-A-E tuning. The Resurrection sonata has the most extreme tuning, involving switching the G and the D strings. This technique of mistuning the violin, called scordatura, gives a tremendous range of affects and emotions to this music. Retuning brings the violin into different key areas and creates a kaleidoscope of overtones and sonic effects, helping Biber to create specific emotions or affects in the listener. 


Tekla Cunningham

Elisabeth Reed, Oakland, CA teaches Baroque cello and viola da gamba at the University of California at Berkeley and at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she is co-director of the Baroque Ensemble. Recent teaching highlights include master classes at the Juilliard School, the Shanghai Conservatory and Middle School, and the Royal Academy of Music. A soloist and chamber musician with Voices of Music, Pacific Musicworks, Archetti, and Wildcat Viols, she has also appeared with the Smithsonian Chamber Players, the American Bach Soloists and the Seattle, Portland, Pacific, and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestras. Elisabeth directs “Voice of the Viol”, the renaissance viola da gamba ensemble of Voices of Music. She can be heard on the Virgin Classics, Naxos, Focus, Plectra, and Magnatunes recording labels and has many HD videos on the Voices of Music Youtube channel. She is a Guild-certified practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method™ of Awareness Through Movement ™ with a particular interest in working with musicians and performers.  

Hailed by The Miami Herald for his “superb continuo… brilliantly improvised and ornamented,” GRAMMY-nominated historical keyboardist, composer, and conductor Henry Lebedinsky has performed with the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Charlotte Symphony, Seraphic Fire, Sonoma Bach, and the Cantata Collective, among others. Recent conducting engagements include the Seattle Baroque Orchestra and Sonoma Bach’s Live Oak Baroque Orchestra. As part of a career built on collaboration, he serves as co-Artistic Director of the San Francisco Bay Area’s AGAVE and Seattle’s Pacific MusicWorks. With countertenor Reginald L. Mobley, he has introduced listeners on three continents to music by Black composers from Baroque to modern, including recent appearances at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and Festival Printemps Musical des Alizés in Morocco. In 2014, he founded Seattle’s Early Music Underground, which brought Baroque music to brewpubs, wineries, and other places where people gather, and presenting it in multimedia contexts which both entertain and educate. Lebedinsky’s works for choir and organ are published by Paraclete Press, Carus-Verlag Stuttgart, and CanticaNOVA, and two volumes of his poetry and hymns are in preparation. He holds degrees from Bowdoin College and the Longy School of Music, where he earned a Master of Music in historical organ performance as a student of Peter Sykes. Currently entering his third decade as a church musician, he serves as Missioner for Music at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church on Whidbey Island.


Founded in 2006 by Tekla Cunningham, the Whidbey Island Music Festival is a beloved annual event that presents great performances of baroque and classical chamber music in relaxed and intimate indoor and outdoor venues on beautiful Whidbey Island, with repertoire from Monteverdi to Florence Price. We bring music of the past four centuries to life with vivid and moving concert performances on period instruments.

Filed under: early music, music news

Caroline Shaw with Byron Schenkman & Friends

Byron Schenkman has long been a vital force in Seattle’s musical life. Here’s my Seattle Times story about the legacy of Byron Schenkman & Friends, which he founded ten years ago, and their latest project, a newly commissioned harpsichord concerto by Caroline Shaw. The world premiere takes place on tonight’s concert at 7pm:

You need to engage with the present if you really want to appreciate the musical past.

That, in a nutshell, is the premise underlying the latest program that the Seattle-based chamber music series Byron Schenkman & Friends will present on Sunday, March 26 at Benaroya Hall. Instead of merely repeating baroque masterpieces by J.S. Bach, the concert includes a contemporary counterpart tailor-made for Schenkman and his colleagues by the acclaimed American composer Caroline Shaw.


Filed under: Bach, Byron Schenkman, Caroline Shaw, early music

Purcell’s King Arthur

Juilliard415 is teaming up with students from the Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts and Juilliard Drama to give a rare performance of a new version of Henry Purcell’s “semi-opera” King Arthur at Alice Tully Hall on Saturday 11 February at 7.30pm NYC time. Lionel Meunier directs this interdisciplinary collaboration.

More background in my program essay here. .

You can watch a livestream here — note that this performance won’t be available to stream afterward on demand.

Filed under: early music, Henry Purcell, Juilliard

Charpentier Program from Les Arts Florissants

Les Arts Florissants recorded its concert program Charpentier, Grands Motets at the Royal Chapel at Versailles on 28 February following cancellation of two public performances (at Versailles and La Rochelle) due to the pandemic. The film will be available on Qwest TV starting on April 9

From the press release:

Les Arts Florissants collaborates for the very first time with Qwest TV, a global video platform, to offer the exclusive broadcast of the film Charpentier, Grands Motets recorded at Versailles’ Royal Chapel.

Digital Concert – public premiere
Musical Direction: William Christie
Choir and Ensemble: Les Arts Florissants
Royal Chapel – Versailles
Filmed on 28 February 20212 without a live audience

Coproduction Les Arts Florissants and Château de Versailles Spectacles

Qwest TV recently launched a “Classical” category on their premium SVOD platform, across which Charpentier, Grand Motets will be released.

SVOD broadcast (access by subscription, with 7 days free trial)
For more details on how viewers can stream the film on Qwest, click here.

See also Les Arts Florissants’ film of Haydn’s Paris Symphony no. 87, released on 11 January 2021.

Filed under: early music, Les Arts Florissants, music news

New from Byron Schenkman & Friends

Tune in for Bach & Baroque Virtuosity from Byron Schenkman & Friends on Sunday, 27 December (7:00pm PST). The concert features Rachell Ellen Wong, Andrew Gonzalez, and Byron Schenkman and will remain available for the foreseeable future on the BS&F YouTube channel.

For this concert harpsichordist Byron Schenkman is joined by violinist Rachell Ellen Wong and violoncello da spalla (“cello of the shoulder,” an unusual Baroque instrument rediscovered in recent years) player Andrew Gonzalez. The program journeys through music by Antonio Vivaldi,; Jean-Marie Leclair; Johann Sebastian Bach (the Partita in D Minor, which includes the famous Chaconne); and Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, who was one of the most-celebrated French composers of her time. In addition to music for violin and harpsichord we offer a rare opportunity to hear the violoncello da spalla (cello of the shoulder), an unusual Baroque instrument only rediscovered in recent years.

Filed under: Byron Schenkman, early music, music news, Uncategorized

Rethinking Romanticism: Early Music’s Latest Adventures in Time Travel

The fall edition of Early Music America’s magazine carries my new article on encounters between historically informed performance and Romanticism:

 Revolutions have a way of coming full circle. As the HIP movement began spreading more than half a century ago, its bracing challenge to conventional interpretations echoed the rebellious spirit of the 1960s…

continue (PDF)

Kent Nagano on his collaboration with Concerto Köln to prepare for a HIP Ring

Filed under: early music, Early Music America, Romanticism, Schumann, Wagner

Plagues and Passions: Lamentation Back before Bach at the Ravenna Festival


My first official review in quite some time — albeit of a live stream:

Quite by accident, early music groups and chamber ensembles have turned out to have a natural advantage during the current pandemic. Their compact size can more easily accommodate distancing requirements as presenters gingerly proceed to reintroduce public performances. Even more, Il Suonar Parlante pointedly homed in on the theme of plague itself for their choice of programme at the Ravenna Festival…


Filed under: early music, music festivals, Ravenna Festival, review

Bidding A Baroque Adieu: End Of The McGegan Era At PBO

One of the productions I was most keen on seeing this season is the U.S. stage premiere of Jean-Marie Leclair’s only opera, Scylla et Glaucus: planned as Nicholas McGegan’s spectacular farewell as music director of Philharmonia Baroque — originally planned for later this month.

To mark the occasion, I wrote this profile of this extraordinary artist for Early Music America.

Nicholas McGegan looks back on his 34 years as music director of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, a tenure that ended suddenly amid the coronavirus pandemic….


Filed under: Baroque opera, early music, Early Music America, Nicholas McGegan

A Chat with Nicholas McGegan


Nicholas McGegan conducting Juilliard415 in 2019

Ahead of his upcoming Juilliard projects, I spoke with the always delightful Nicholas McGegan.

A new year and decade: 2020 brings some major milestones for eminent conductor, harpsichordist, and flutist Nicholas McGegan…


Filed under: conductors, early music, Handel, Juilliard

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