“This Is My Favorite Concert That They Do”

by Andrew Swensen

Last night I was talking to a friend during intermission at “Three’s Company,” the current program by Chatham Baroque. “This is my favorite concert that they do,” she said. She was referring to the trio’s annual tradition of setting aside one concert per season to play just as a trio. They have a wonderful season of inviting guests to perform with them, which opens up its own possibilities, and they also regularly perform with other ensembles. Yet each year they take one program for themselves, perhaps to explore new repertoire or to revisit old favorites. There is something of a personal touch here, and the personality of the musicians shines through.

Chatham Baroque: Andrew Fouts, Patricia Halverson, and Scott Pauley

Chatham Baroque: Andrew Fouts, Patricia Halverson, and Scott Pauley

The music was magnificent. It always is with these three, and I fear that my vocabulary for praise will soon run out of adjectives for what a pleasure it is to hear them perform. The program provided a number of opportunities for each to share of the limelight, and to have a musical conversation with one another. A suite of dances that opened the second half of the program provided a musical montage of various French composers, allowing them to feature Patricia Halverson (viola da gamba) and Scott Pauley (theorbo), and finally violinist Andrew Fouts. It was a metaphor for the special collaboration that these three have built. Similarly, a Buxtehude sonata and a pair of Bach keyboard pieces, transcribing the right hand for violin and left for viola da gamba, had the melodies moving between Fouts and Halverson in what Fouts said “seem like exercises in counterpoint.” Once again a metaphor came to mind as I thought of a piece written for a single instrument so seamlessly played by two individuals, each becoming the right and left hand of a larger whole.

Finally, the Schmelzer ciaccona and the Biber sonata that open and close the first half of the program are alone well worth the price of admission. They are demanding pieces for the violin, and yet they represent something more than merely show pieces for exhibiting virtuosity and technical achievement. Fouts has a way of bringing such elegance and lyricism to his performance that even the most demanding passages seem so fluid, drawing attention to the beauty of the music rather than to himself. I feel tempted to use the cliché of “seeming effortless,” but it is not really so fitting. Rather, his effort and devotion are evident, but they pour into the artistry and expression. You feel the magnificence of the art rather and then after a moment pause to realize the talent required to usher you into that space.

I write these words not to preach to the choir, so to speak. That is, my hope is more to reach those who may not realize what a musical treasure we have in Pittsburgh, in the form of these three devoted artists. If names like Schmelzer, Biber, and Buxtehude are new to you, don’t let that prevent you from taking a moment to learn about Fouts, Halverson and Pauley. For the present, I am more interested in perhaps having you find the three names of Chatham Baroque and let them take it from there. These three commit themselves to finding music treasures, and you can have faith that they will succeed.

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Chatham Baroque: Fête Parisienne

by Rebecca Rollett

Another Sunday afternoon, another Steelers game left to record itself whilst I headed out to participate in the local music scene, this time as an auditor. My sole option for attending Chatham Baroque’s December concerts for their program Fête Parisienne was Sunday 12/21, so that’s the way it goes. Fortunately the Steelers once again managed to take care of business without me.

To make matters worse, my husband, who is always trying to get me to do things for my own good, suggested we walk there. It was cold outside. For that matter, it was cold inside the chapel at Chatham University. But the atmosphere was warm and inviting, and the music-making made up for everything.

Andrew Fouts at Bach Fest

Andrew Fouts, violinist of Chatham Baroque (Photo: Mickey Miller)

And in case you’re wondering why I tend to begin my reviews with whining about the difficulties attendant upon making it to the concert, I have a larger purpose. In over 40 years of voluntary concert attending, I have regretted making the effort a handful of times at most. And make no mistake, it is always an effort. When you have young children you have to find a sitter, or else go alone. When the kids are older you are crazy busy with a million things. When fall/winter concerts are on Sunday afternoons you usually have to miss the Steelers game.

My husband is one of the busiest people I know. And I can’t tell you how many times he has suddenly grabbed his pen and started scribbling frantically on his program, because suddenly the solution to something he had been beating his head against the computer trying to work out (metaphorically speaking) has come to him in a beautiful moment of clarity as he listens to the music. We all have a million excuses not to go, but there are so many benefits to attending live performances. One of those benefits is to help ensure live performances continue.

I’ve been talked down off my soapbox now, and here’s what I experienced. The program was bookended by two of the 12 so-called Paris quartets of Georg Philip Telemann, the first from the 1730 publication of Nos. 1-6, the second from the 1738 set (Nos. 7 – 12.) As guest artist Stephen Schultz informed the audience, playing these quartets, (unusually scored for flute, violin, gamba, and continuo) is on the bucket list of every Baroque flautist. He noted it is a difficult feat because the pieces are so virtuosic, and it can be hard to find sufficiently capable musicians to perform with. Luckily for Pittsburghers, there’s no problem here. As you would expect, the musicians of Chatham Baroque did them proud. Both were interesting pieces, very much not of the sort of “Baroque for the Bath” variety of chamber music we tend to accuse Telemann’s music of being.

The performances from the technical standpoint were essentially flawless. Here are
some other things which struck me as I listened:

Violinist Andrew Fouts has to be one of the most sensitive musicians I’ve ever heard. Even with a baroque violin, it isn’t difficult to cover up a baroque flute, and Fouts brought his lines forward or back seamlessly as his line or the flute line was the dominant one.

The interplay between Schultz and Fouts as they ornamented was a joy to see and hear. When they had parallel ornaments, they were almost always precisely matched. Their mini-cadenza at the end of the Prelude to the Premiere Suite was playful, as if they were tossing a ball back and forth.

Gambist Patricia Halverson had some fireworks of her own. So often the gamba is in the background, but Telemann gave her some great material, and she made the most of it.

It was a delight to hear these two quartets, and not only because one so seldom has the
opportunity. The first quartet was followed by what the program notes informed us was Georg Muffat’s only surviving work for solo violin (in the sense of solo with continuo accompaniment.) It was a great surprise to my husband and I, both of whom are familiar with Muffat only through a series of rather turgid and uninteresting organ works. (Or perhaps we are just turgid and uninteresting organists : )

Before they played the Muffat, though, harpsichordist Adam Pearl played a Couperin Allemande, which was lovely. Pearl was solid throughout the concert in a mostly subsidiary role, so it was nice to get to hear him alone. The Adagio which began the Muffat and was recapped at the end was so beautiful that I was, in the immortal words of Linda Richman, verklempt. It made me think that if I could only take one local musician with me to a desert island, my eventual choice might well be Andrew Fouts. I would gladly listen to him for the rest of my life. Hopefully I could also take one local metallurgist, and Tony, you would definitely win that contest : )

couperinThe second half began with the Premiere Concert of François Couperin. It is the first of the four Concerts Royaux, and Couperin wrote them to be performable by a number of possible combinations of instruments, or even solo harpsichord. The ensemble made the most of this, using a great many of the possible combinations, including just gamba and lute, just flute and harpsichord, and even having the flute and violin occasionally play in unison.

This is a treacherous thing when there are only two of you, and there are two different types of instruments, but Fouts and Schultz played with immaculate intonation and precisely matched ornaments, for a really lovely effect. Once again one of the unsung members of the ensemble was featured, as Scott Pauley played two movements of Robert de Visée’s Suite in a for solo lute. The first of the two movements is an unmeasured prelude. I couldn’t find a score of the Visée piece, but generally this means something which looks like the Couperin prelude at left. The composer gives the performer complete liberty to choose the note lengths as s/he chooses. Pauley followed this with a dance movement, La Mascarade. It was a treat to hear the lute on its own.

The program ended with the D major Telemann quartet, but as an encore they played a chaconne movement from the final of the Paris quartets, which made a lovely and fitting ending to a wonderful afternoon of music-making.

Rebecca Rollett is the Artistic Director of The Pittsburgh Camerata

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Pittsburgh Camerata: Reinventing the Renaissance

by Gail Luley

I need to confess that I have been on the Camerata roster since the late 1980s and have been the group’s Managing Director since 1998. You might infer that my review of this concert is a biased account, but as we prepare for our upcoming presentation of Romancing the Baroque on February 14 and 22, I thought it a good time to have a look back on a wonderful season — and on a concert when I was in the audience and not on stage!

The Pittsburgh Camerata performed “Reinventing the Renaissance” on Saturday, October 4, 2014 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Highland Park and on Saturday, October 11,2014 in the chapel at East Liberty Presbyterian Church. The highlight of the concert was the amazing “Mass in g” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Twelve singers, led by Artistic Director Rebecca Rollett, sang this incredible work of art as well as “Lamentations” by Thomas Tallis and shorter works by John Bull, Herbert Howells, Thomas Campion, Gustav Holst and more.

CamerataLogo_RGBI was nervous for the Camerata when they began singing “Lamentations.” It is a beautiful, sublime piece of music that calls for perfect vocal control. The lines are exposed, and with only 12 singers to cover 5 parts, no one can show any weakness. Unfortunately the singers began timidly and reinforced my nervousness. Perhaps the singers and Rollett were trying to communicate the sorrow of the text, inherent in the music; instead, they communicated insecurity. But only briefly. As the piece moved from loneliness to weeping, to the final demanding cry, the 12 singers gained confidence and when they sang out “Jerusalem, return to the Lord, thy God,” the moment was thrilling and worth the wait.

It was then that I understood why Rebecca placed the “Lamentations” first on the program. We, the audience needed a prelude, a way to be ready of the opening Kyrie of Vaughan Williams’ “Mass in g.” To my ears, this is one of the most exquisite choral openings ever! The alto line is hauntingly beautiful and so exposed! The three altos (3!!) Kate Clark, Ann Cloutier and Jennifer Lawyer were spectacular. I had chills from the opening note. The chills kept coming each time another voice part entered, so I was frozen by the end of the movement. Rebecca balanced a quartet against an 8 voice choir for the rest of the movements. This added vocal interest and nuance to the music, bringing out sections and emphasizing the parts where everything came together. I could go on and on about Vaughan William’s masterpiece and this performance. Kudos to the quartet Kathryn Copeland-Donaldson, Kate Clark, Jon Erik Schreiber and Paul Nicolaysen and to the double quartet.

I heard the concert twice, once at St. Andrew’s and once at East Liberty. The performance at St. Andrew’s had a few “blips” that came and went quickly, almost without notice. The acoustic, however warmed the sound, and sometimes it was hard to believe there were only 12 singers. An audience member told me at intermission that this was an “auspicious” beginning to the season. I had to agree.

The performance at East Liberty, to my ears had no blips, but the acoustic did not warm the individual voices as much. Therefore you could hear vocal imperfections and flaws a bit more. But, for me this made the complexity of the Credo in the Vaughan Williams even more exciting, more thrilling. I forgave the instances of mistuned singing, especially in the second half and enjoyed the music.

The balance of voices at East Liberty suffered a bit as well, and for me this reduced the charm of the second half of the concert. At St. Andrew’s the three different trios that performed Weep O Mine Eyes, Drink to me only with thine eyes and Never weather-beaten sailor were delightful. They were less enchanting at East Liberty.

This was a dangerous concert! The hazards of exposure were enormous. I challenge any 12 singers in the city to sing this music as well, with the same beauty and emotional impact. I began this review by saying I was nervous for the singers and Rebecca when they began Lamentations. I can’t imagine why.

The Pittsburgh Camerata takes some more risks in our next performance, another venture with a small ensemble of 12 singers. Romancing the Baroque features works by Bach and Handel, and then gives a look at their influence on those who followed them. We hope you can join us.

The Pittsburgh Camerata will present two performances of Romancing the Baroque: Saturday, February 14, 8:00pm at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Highland Park and Sunday, February 22, 3:00pm at 6th Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill.

Gail Luley is the Managing Director of The Pittsburgh Camerata, and Managing Director of Renaissance & Baroque.

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Holiday Happening! – A Review of the Bach Choir’s Christmas concert

by Rebecca Rollett

It was Saturday night. My husband had come back from Boston with a cold. It was wet and chilly outside. But I promised to review this concert, so I dutifully fired up the Momma-mobile and headed for the St. Agnes Center on the Carlow University campus.

And am I ever glad I did. What a wonderful evening!

10801915_10152853063482278_6040332700574695974_nFirst of all, St. Agnes itself is beautiful, and the acoustics are simply outstanding, so it is a great place for a choral concert. Two of my favorite pieces were on the program—Giovanni Gabrieli’s In ecclesiis and the Christmas Cantata of Daniel Pinkham. With brass. But wait, there’s more, as they say on the Shopping Channel. Sharing the program was Dr. James T. Johnson Jr. and the Boy’s Choir of the Afro-American Music Institute. I wasn’t the only person who thought this sounded pretty appealling—by the time the choir entered the hall, the seats were largely full.

The program began with the Gabrieli, accompanied by a brass ensemble from Carnegie Mellon University and the inimitable Gabriel d’Abbruzzo. We all know by now that Bach Choir Artistic Director Thomas Douglas likes to get his singers in space, and this piece was no exception. About half the group were on the risers in the usual sort of place, and the rest were in small groups on either side and in back of the audience, and a very small group was even up in the organ loft. This made for a very nice effect, although also for very occasional ensemble problems. But the Bach Choir seems to be getting awfully good at singing from any number of awkward locations. What’s next? I’m guessing we’ll soon see some singers suspended from the ceiling : )

However, after the Gabrieli the singers all converged on the risers, and they got to sing from there the rest of the evening.

Next came a lovely piece I didn’t know existed. And I thought my group was the only one in town who does pieces nobody knows on their Christmas concerts… Said piece, Good Tidings to the Meek, is by the well-known American composer Randall Thompson, but is from a Requiem he wrote in the 1950s, and which has apparently had few to no performances since its premiere in 1957. (In fact the Philadelphia Singers are currently engaged in a Kickstarter campaign to make the first ever recording of the whole work.)

But it was no such esoteric considerations which prompted Thomas Douglas to program it. Or at least what he told the audience was, it was in a pile of music in his basement where he tosses the scores he gets at reading sessions from music stores and conventions and so on, and as he went through the pile he was attracted to this piece’s bright green cover. I wish Thomas wouldn’t reveal the state secrets of choral programming.

It turned out to be even more lovely than the green color, and Douglas evoked a beautiful tone color from his singers.

After the brass ensemble played a cute arrangement of The Twelve Days of Christmas which would have benefitted from a conductor or a bit more rehearsal, Douglas introduced Dr. Johnson. As he took the microphone, Johnson asked Howie Alexander, the keyboard player for the AAMI’s rhythm band, to give him some soft music while he talked. He then explained how this was a meeting of cultures—we were all getting something a bit out of our usual experience. He then introduced the boy’s choir, who took the field rather like the Steelers breaking the huddle, with clapping and a unison shout of “AAMI!.” I like it…

They sang Johnson’s very jazzy arrangement of I wonder as I wander, with Johnson himself also playing piano. Just before he sat down to play, he indicated two of the young men, Winston Peters and Mohammed Nasir, and said they would be doing “a little scat-singing.” I had the impression that, rather like the boy who sings the first verse of Once in Royal Davids City, a cappella, on the King’s College Lessons and Carols broadcast, none of the boys knew beforehand who would be doing this. Nasir was particularly accomplished at this, and the band was fantastic. My only quibble would be that since they were amplified and the boys were not, sometimes the boys lost the sonic battle. But it was highly enjoyable nonetheless.

Johnson then had the Bach Choir stand, and they joined him and the boys as back-up singers on an original composition by Johnson, Thank You Lord For Giving New Life. They did very well too, without any music in evidence. After the performance I asked one of the section leaders whether there ever had been music, and he said no, that Johnson had come to rehearsal and taught the song by rote. I think us “trained” musicians would all benefit from having to do that from time to time!

The soloist for this piece, Nasir Butler, has a wonderful voice. It was a treat to hear him. In fact, I always find it a treat to see young men singing at the age that so many decide singing isn’t “cool,” and I’m thrilled that Johnson is raising up another generation of singers.

Next was the piece I was eagerly awaiting, the Pinkham cantata, and it did not disappoint. The singing was crisp where appropriate and beautifully legato where that was call for, and the brass played well. The only thing which reconciled me to it being over was knowing the AAMI boys were coming back at the end of the program.

But first we got a few other pieces, notably including a very complex and lovely arrangement of In the Bleak Midwinter by Thomas Douglas. It was very well sung. The Gabrieli piece which followed, again by the brass ensemble, was the Canzon Duodecimi Toni. Douglas split the nine players, five on the main floor and four in the organ loft. The only difficulty is that this is a piece for 10 players, and therefore one of the parts was missing. This was not really noticeable in the full ensemble sections, but I couldn’t help listening for the missing part in the organ loft group, and it sort of took the shine off the piece for me.

Fortunately the Bach Choir then sang a rousing Robert DeCormier spiritual medley, with soloist Katherine Mosley-Turner. She was terrific, and the ensemble sang with verve and flair.

The program ended with two more pieces led by Dr. Johnson, his arrangement of Silent Night (preceded by a gospel “styling” by Royce Hearn,) and Johnson’s original piece Brother Rudolph, with scat singing by Wesley Peters. The Bach Choir again joined for the final piece, and this was much more rhythmic and tricky for the choir. They pulled it off, and it was a rousing way to end a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Rebecca Rollett is the Artistic Director of The Pittsburgh Camerata

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Great Music in December

bach choir photo

Bach Choir of Pittsburgh

The organizations of the Pittsburgh Music Alliance are presenting music all through the month of December. Have a look at the schedule below, and click on the event titles for more information. We look forward to sharing great music with you!

Bach Choir: Holiday Happenings
Sat., Dec. 6 & Sun., Dec. 7, 2014 at St. Agnes Center at Carlow University

Chatham Baroque, Presented by Chamber Music Pittsburgh: Masters of the Baroque
Monday, December 8, 2014, 7:30 at the 20th Century Club in Oakland

Rebecca Rollett, Artistic Director of the Pittsburgh Camerata

Rebecca Rollett, Artistic Director of the Pittsburgh Camerata

Renaissance & Baroque: New York Polyphony, performing “Wondrous Birth, O Wondrous Child
Saturday, December 13, 2014, 8:00pm at Calvary Episcopal Church

Pittsburgh Camerata: Recounting the Nativity
Friday, Dec. 12, 2014, 8:00pm at Mt. Lebanon Lutheran Church
Sunday, December 14, 2014, 3:00pm at Sixth Presbyterian Church
Saturday, December 20, 2014, 8:00pm at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church

Chatham Baroque: Fête Parisienne
Friday Dec. 19, 7pm at St. James Parish in Sewickley
Sat., Dec. 20, 2014, 8:00pm at Synod Hall
Sun., Dec. 21, 2014, 2:30pm at Campbell Memorial Chapel of Chatham University

Chatham Baroque: Andrew Fouts, Patricia Halverson, and Scott Pauley

Chatham Baroque: Andrew Fouts, Patricia Halverson, and Scott Pauley

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Thoughts on the November 16 Bach Choir concert, by an Occasional Reviewer : )

by Rebecca Rollett, Artistic Director of The Pittsburgh Camerata

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Bach Choir’s performance of Handel’s Occasional Oratorio. This is a piece which I knew existed, but that’s about as far as my knowledge of it ran, and it turns out I’m not alone. In a brief talk prior to the performance, Artistic Director Thomas Douglas asked how many in the room had heard a performance of the work. Not a single hand was raised.

Douglas went on to explain the circumstances under which the work was written. Briefly, Handel had retired after a highly unsuccessful year. We modern conductors think we have it bad, but Handel was the underwriter for all of his concerts and productions, and if, for whatever reason, an insufficient number of people attended the performances and he had to cut the run short, he could lose a LOT of money. So “classical” music of the time functioned more like a Broadway play, except that, generally speaking, you were your own primary or sole underwriter.

But to return to Douglas’s remarks, he noted that 1746 was a time of great national unrest, as George II had returned to Hanover and “Bonnie Prince Charlie” was threatening an invasion on the Scottish border. Handel, despite ill health, was prevailed upon to write an oratorio to hearten the populace.

handel-fpSince he had only three weeks to write it, Handel, who was not opposed to the practice at the best of times, cribbed a great deal of the material from earlier works, particularly Zadok the Priest, Messiah, and Israel in Eygpt.

In honor of the political situation, Douglas chose to wear a kilt to conduct the performance. Or so he said. I think he just liked the idea of having a sporran available in which to secret cough drops, a handkerchief, and all the other things we conductors need but don’t have a good place to put. I may try it myself some time.

Prior to attending the concert, the one thing I pretty sure would be the case about the performance is that it wouldn’t be an oratorio performed in the standard “stand up and sing for x number of hours” oratorio format.

After all, Handel developed the oratorio form because, as an entrepreneur, he discovered numerous advantages to it:

  • you could perform them during Lent and other solemn seasons in which secular entertainments were discouraged or banned,
  • you could save a great deal of money up front on the spectacular costumes and complex machinery expected of any popular opera
  • you could get away with a few really good soloists, as opposed to a houseful of divas/divos,
  • you saved a ton of money on stage directors, props and people to disburse them, dance masters and troupes, and the various other accoutrements of a Baroque stage production, and most importantly,
  • a whole lot more of the gate would be going straight into your pocket.

But Douglas is steeped in the stage, and not a fan of the expected. And as a result, the Social Hall in East Liberty Presbyterian was a constantly-shifting tableau of singers and soloists.

In many ways, it was the ideal venue for such a production. The Social Hall has a large main floor, balconies running the length of the room on both sides, a dramatic double staircase at the back of the room, and a stage area in the front. Douglas used just about every possible configuration of the singers, mostly to good effect.

The one place where this venue falls short for a choral performance is in the acoustics. “Dead as a doornail” wouldn’t be an entirely accurate description of the room, but it isn’t very “warm,” in the acoustical sense, and just a little bit more reverb would have really helped out the soloists in particular. The little reverb it has decays flat, and this occasionally produced pitch difficulties when the orchestra and singer(s) were separated by a good distance.

I attended a Quantam Theater production of an opera a year ago or so, and they used very subtle miking of the singers. It was quite effective and really helped to overcome the inherent acoustical disadvantages of the space. Because of the numerous soloists in last night’s performance and their deployment in multiple spaces it would have been almost impossible to do, but almost all of the soloists would have benefitted to a degree from some help overcoming the spacial sonic limitations.

But let’s talk about the music.

The small orchestra of 14 musicians was good to excellent for the most part. Amazingly, the violins, who were sawing away pretty much without respite for the entire two hours, held up their end of things with verve and assurance. The oboists were also extremely busy, and Jim Gorton’s mini-concerto which began the third portion of the work was stunning. The orchestra was in the center of the room, with choir risers on either side and audience seating in front and behind the orchestra. As a result, because I was sitting at the back of the room, the conductor was facing me. You don’t think about how accustomed you are to seeing a faceless conductor until you have the opposite experience. It was very interesting, and I was able to appreciate the absolute clarity with which Douglas conducts.

Although the orchestra was comprised of modern instruments, and they were playing in a fairly modern interpretation of Baroque style, there was one aspect of the performance which turned out to be absolutely authentic. I was unaware of this until after the concert, and I think Douglas should have included this factor in his opening remarks, as I think it would have heightened the audience’s enjoyment. What might this possibly be, you may ask?

Well, I knew the Occasional Oratorio wasn’t performed very often, but it turns out that apparently no set of orchestral parts exists anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. Possibly in the Eastern, but I don’t think they checked. This was a surprise to the good folks in the Bach Choir admin offices, as Barenreiter’s catalogue lists a set of parts. However, they lie. The only thing that exists is a full score.

Thomas Douglas, Artistic Director of the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh

Thomas Douglas, Artistic Director of the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh

So Douglas put his CMU connections to work and contracted an army of student labor to notate parts from the full score. And, very much like a Handel premiere back in the 18th century, parts were still coming in right up to the opening performance on Saturday night.

This also led to one of those wonderful moments you only get in a live performance.Because of the afore-mentioned central location of the orchestra, the bass player was only about four feet away from the first row of audience chairs. So when he attempted to quickly put up the part for the next chorus, somewhere during Part I, a number of pages of music flew to the floor. An alert audience member gathered up the sheets the bass player couldn’t get to and tucked them back on his music stand. You don’t get to see THAT on your CD!

As for the choir, they were extremely well-drilled, both in the “choralography,” if you will, and more importantly the music. The sound was generally very good, although it would have benefitted from better vowel matching. But I was particularly impressed with how cleanly they sang the many florid choruses. And despite the difficulties of ensemble when the singers were spread all over the room, ensemble was only occasionally an issue, and generally a minor one at that, which is impressive.

There were a number of soloists. This is mainly due to an artistic choice on Douglas’s part. One of the difficulties of performing Handel oratorios for an organization in which the choir is the central focus is that essentially all of them consist of endless da capo arias with infrequent choral interpolations. This work is no exception—by my count it consists of 13 choruses, one chorus with solo, two duets, and 29 recitatives and/or arias.

Douglas chose to deal with this in a couple of ways in addition to spreading around the solo work. He made judicious cuts of a number of solos, and chose several of the others to have the full sections sing. Depending on the section, this was more or less effective. The sopranos were particularly good on “Fly from threatening vengeance, fly.” On the other hand, the bass aria, sung by the whole section, suffered from ensemble problems, both within the ensemble and as a result of their being a good ways away from the orchestra. That said, it makes a nice contrast to constant solos to have a single section sound.

Douglas also varied the sonority by having two of the choruses sung just by the core singers (25 singers, out of a total ensemble of 74.) These were especially lovely to me, as I personally prefer the “historically informed” choral sound which uses a great many less singers and less vibrato. On the other hand, the double quartet he used in Hallelujah, your voices raise was almost inaudible.

As to the soloists, as mentioned, almost all of them would have greatly benefitted from miking. Soprano Nicole Tascarella was one of the few exceptions, and her aria was powerfully sung. Ben Filippone’s aria was well-sung but often difficult to hear over the orchestra.

As with the chorus, the soloists sang from all over the room, and some of them moved around during their aria. This led to another wonderful “live performance” moment. Sitting across the aisle from me was a woman and her guide dog, and during Jon Erik Schreiber’s tenor aria, said dog went on full alert as Schreiber moved up the aisle towards his mistress. She gave him a reassuring pat, and he looked around a bit more, sighed, and started licking some phantom speck of food off of the bluestone floor. Since the aria was The Lord hath heard my prayer, it seemed especially appropriate.

So although I may feel that musically the evening would have benefitted from the choir singing from the risers the whole time, if Douglas had gone with the standard choral static format I would have missed some fun moments. And I have to confess that a full evening of Handel, lovely as it is, can definitely benefit from a bit of visual variety.

Finally, I want to commend the Bach Choir singers for managing to move all over the place, on a hard floor, without covering up the music during which they were moving. That’s no easy feat! Altogether it was a fun evening, and I thank the Bach Choir for making it happen.

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Kristen Linfante Writes on Chatham Baroque

photo 1 This past week I had the pleasure of attending Chatham Baroque’s season opener, A Musical Banquet at both Synod Hall and at Chatham University’s Campbell Memorial Chapel. I also had the great fortune of performing on the concert with my beloved CB colleagues Andrew Fouts (baroque violin), Patricia Halverson (viola da gamba and violone), and Scott Pauley (theorbo and baroque guitar). As always, CB’s programming was creative, insightful, and enjoyable. Granted, I am a bit biased being a viola player since the program featured not one, not two, not three, but FOUR violists on stage! It is quite rare when violists outnumber violinists in any performance. In addition to myself, Karina Schmitz (baroque viola) Matthew Hettinga (baroque viola), Allison Edberg Nyquist (baroque violin and viola), and Adam Pearl (chamber organ) joined Chatham Baroque for this musical feast. The program featured seventeenth century string band music influenced by the musical trends in Austria and Germany. Johann Hermann Schein, Johann Heinrich Schmeltzer, Heinrich Biber, and Antonio Bertali were the featured composers. (While Bertali was Italian, he spent most of his career in Vienna, and was heavily influenced by the Austro-German style.)

“Reviewing” a concert that I performed on seems a bit self-indulgent to say the least, so I will refrain from doing so. Instead, I’ve chosen to write about the experience of preparing for these concerts. The concerts took place on Saturday, October 18th and Sunday, October 19th. Rehearsals began bright and early on the previous Wednesday, October 15th. We spent most of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday delving deeply into the works to be performed. From the start I was especially inspired and humbled by the fact that this concert was dedicated in memory of Emily Norman Davidson (1967-2003), one of Chatham Baroque’s founding members.   To bring even more poignancy to the week, both Andrew and Allison performed portions of the concert on Emily’s violin, which was recently brought back to Pittsburgh.

photo 2Much of the music on the program was written in a style called “stylus fantasticus” or “fantastic style”. In 1650 the music theorist Kircher wrote, “stylus fantasticus is especially suited to instruments. It is the most free and unrestrained method of composing, it is bound to nothing, neither to any words nor to a melodic subject.”

One of the things that I love about performing in the baroque style is that freedom of expression, improvisation; etc is not only encouraged but expected. Therefore, preparing for this type of concert was quite unique. Rehearsals were not focused around making a permanent musical blueprint that would simply be regurgitated in concert. Instead, preparation was focused on connecting musically on such an intimate level that flexibility and improvisation in each individual’s playing was felt almost automatically by the other players. There was constant give and take; constant creative spontaneity and constant connection. We breathed together, we phrased together, and we responded to each other on an almost telepathic level by the time the concerts came around. What an incredible experience! This is why I love being a musician. For me, music is the glue that connects human beings on a deep level. The connection happens both on stage among the performers and with the audience through a shared emotional experience.

I have included a few photos from the week leading up to the concerts. I hope you enjoy this “sneak peak” into the evolution of music making with Chatham Baroque!

Kristen Linfante is the Executive Director of Chamber Music Pittsburgh, as well as being a career musician.

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