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Aston Magna Music Festival 2016, June 16-July 9, 2016, “Love and Lamentation” — a Preview

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Erin Headley holding her lirone.

Erin Headley holding her lirone. 

Aston Magna Music Festival 2016

June 16-July 9, 2016
“Love and Lamentation”

When I try to imagine how Lee Elman and Albert Fuller felt when they founded the Aston Magna Music Festival in 1972, I find myself somewhat awestruck. That was less than twenty years away from the very beginnings of the Early Music movement in the mid-1950s. When the invaluable Pristine Classical download site form historical recordings recently released Jascha Horenstein’s 1954 recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, a noted by Mischa Horenstein observed that the orchestra, assembled ad hoc in Vienna by Horenstein himself, included two great lights of historical performance, Nicolaus Harnoncourt, playing the viola da gamba, and Paul Angerer, playing viola solo, violino piccolo, harpsichord, and second recorder, in true Early Music style. We would not recognize these performances as historical in style today, however much listeners of the mid-1950s might have noticed that there was something different about their smaller équipe and lively tempi. (Actually, judging by early reviews, people didn’t get it.) Aston Magna in its early days presented the first American performance of the complete Brandenburgs on period instruments, in a style probably rather different from Early Music enthusiasts are accustomed to today, either from Aston Magna or other groups.

Yet there is continuity. Daniel Stepner, an outstanding figure in contemporary as well as early music, has been Artistic Director of the festival since 1991, and Aston Magna continues, with a core group of seasoned instrumentalists and singers. The great soprano Dominique Labelle, who, like Mr. Stepner, has contributed as much to contemporary music as to Early Music, the superb tenor Frank Kelley, Deborah Rentz-Moore, alto, William Hite, tenor, the period clarinetist Eric Hoeprich, gambists Laura Jeppesen and Erin Headley, the Lutenist Catherine Liddell, as well as outstanding younger artists like Edson Scheid, violin, and the soprano Kristen Watson…and others! Under Stepner’s direction Aston Magna has developed an ideal balance between change and stability.

In modern programming vocal music and instrumental music have undergone a certain divergence of their ways, with instrumental music dominating symphonic and chamber programs and vocal soloists and chorus appearing as occasional guests. That would have been unthinkable to musicians and connoisseurs (who overlapped in a way that is rare today) before 1830. The human voice was regarded as the paragon of instruments and vocal music occupied the center of any musical evening. If instrumentalists played on their own, it was usually to accompany dancing, with the partial, growing exception of solo playing on the lute, viola da gamba and their related instruments. Aston Magna has remained especially true to this general experience of music. Especially admirable is their cultivation of the madrigals and canzoni of Monteverdi. Last year Aston Magna opened their season with an unforgettable program of scenes and madrigals by Monteverdi, magnificently played and sung, by Dominique Labelle, Frank Kelley, and William Hite. The beauty of the voices and the expertise and taste in phrasing and expression made this a deeply moving experience, with the works performed in an intimacy which reflected their original performances. Those who heard the concert in Great Barrington and then went on to BEMF’s performance of the Vespers of 1610, much more public in style, although reduced to one singer per line, experienced a striking contrast.

This year the Aston Magna will open with a similar vocal hommage to Monteverdi and his contemporaries, with liberal instrumental interludes. Voice will come to the fore in the final concert, a program built around a secular and religious cantata of Bach and his Third Orchestral Suite. This will be large-scale, gala performance, with its Great Barrington venue moved from the Daniel Arts Center at Simon’s Rock to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.

The opening program, called 17th Century Italian Monody, will be guest directed by the great viola da gamba player, Erin Headley, whose recitals are always among the high points of the Boston Early Music Festival. In this concert she will play the lirone, a bowed instrument, held between the legs, with a flat bridge which made it suitable for playing chords in continuo while accompanying singers. Ms. Headley is one of the few specialized players of this rare instrument. It is related to the lira da braccio, a smaller instrument, designed to be held on the shoulder, which was traditionally used to accompany sung recitation of longer narrative poems. The extended monologues in this program fit this model. Monteverdi’s Lament of Arianna (Ariadne) is one of his most celebrated works, a classic among the dramatic, self-sufficient monologues which form the centerpiece of the program. Kristen Watson and Nell Snaidas, sopranos, will sing these ambitious works.

The second program is typical of the far-ranging, but focused approach of Aston Magna. We will hear 17th and 18th century classics of the trio sonata, an essential genre of the time, written for instrumental solo (violin in this case) and continuo, by Italian, French, English, and Anglo-German composers—Corelli, Leclair, Purcell, and Handel, as well as a new work by composer-in-residence, Alex Burtzos.

The third program, Mozart’s diversions, will feature music for strings and horn, including A Musical Joke, the Horn Quintet, and the expansive divertimento, K. 287, one of Mozart’s most beautiful works. Once you hear a valveless horn, it’s impossible to go back. This should be a feast for the ears.

The final concert of this year’s festival will begin with Bach’s Cantata, “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen,” BWV 12, one of his early masterpieces, which he wrote for the court chapel in Weimar in 1714. It is a large-scale cantata, including three soloists, a four-part choir, and oboe, bassoon, and trumpet. The Third Orchestral Suite (Bach used the French designation, Ouvertüre) is the old favorite, with the famous Air as its second movement, for strings alone, and the other movements enlivened by oboe, trumpet and tympani. It should be a special treat to hear this played by a small ensemble of Aston Magna’s caliber, led by Daniel Stepner.

Bach wrote the secular cantata, The Contest between Phoebus and Pan, BWV 201 (Geschwinde, geschwinde, ihr wirbelnde Winde) as a great display piece to open his first season as director of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum in 1729, which played in Zimmermann’s Coffee House. No less than six characters come into play in the fifteen movements Bach devoted to this story of a musical contest, as well as a full complement of woodwinds, trumpets, and tympani. Aston Magna’s vocal greats, Dominique Labelle, soprano, Deborah Rentz-Moore, alto, William Hite and Frank Kelley, tenors, Jesse Blumberg and Ulysses Thomas, baritones, will be out in force for this spectacular festive work.

The 2016 Aston Magna Festival will close in these high spirits. May there be many more!


June 16, 17 and 18, 2016

Love and Lamentation
17th Century Italian Monody: Monteverdi, Marazzoli, Rossi and Marini

Program:
Claudio Monteverdi – Prologue from L’Orfeo
Lament of Arianna

Marco Marazzoli – Elena invecchiata (vanitas cantata on the aging Helen of Troy)

Luigi Rossi – Lament of Zaida

Scenes from Orfeo

Biagio Marini, Monteverdi and Rossi – Instrumental music

Artists:
Guest Director Erin Headley, lirone/viola da gamba; Catherine Liddell, theorbo; Laura Jeppesen, violin/viola da gamba; Daniel Stepner, baroque violin, and Michael Sponseller, harpsichord Soloists: Kristen Watson and Nell Snaidas, sopranos

Thursday, June 16, 2016 @ 7 PM
Slosberg Music Center
Brandeis University
Waltham, Massachusetts

Friday, June 17, 2016 @ 8 PM
László Z. Bitó ’60 Conservatory Building
Bard College
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

Saturday, June 18, 2016 @ 6 PM
Daniel Arts Center
Bard College at Simon’s Rock
Great Barrington, Massachusetts

Pre-concert talk one hour ahead of each program; reception with the artists follows the Daniel Arts Center performance.
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June 23, 24 and 25, 2016

The Trio Sonata
Program:
Handel, Corelli, Purcell, Leclair and a newly commissioned work for period instruments by Alex Burtzos

Artists:
Daniel Stepner and Edson Scheid, baroque violins; Laura Jeppesen, viola da gamba, and Michael Sponseller, harpsichord

Thursday, June 23, 2016 @ 7 PM
Slosberg Music Center
Brandeis University
Waltham, Massachusetts

Friday, June 24, 2016 @ 8 PM
László Z. Bitó ’60 Conservatory Building
Bard College
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

Saturday, June 25, 2016 @ 6 PM
Daniel Arts Center
Bard College at Simon’s Rock
Great Barrington, Massachusetts

Pre-concert talk by Artistic Director Daniel Stepner one hour ahead of each program; reception with the artists follows Daniel Arts Center performance.
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June 30, July 1 and 2, 2016

Mozart’s Diversions
A Musical Joke, The Horn Quintet, Divertimento, K. 287

Artists:
Todd Williams, natural horn; Linda Dempf, natural horn; string ensemble

Thursday, June 30, 2016 @ 7 PM
Slosberg Music Center
Brandeis University
Waltham, Massachusetts

Friday, July 1, 2016 @ 8 PM
László Z. Bitó ’60 Conservatory Building
Bard College
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

Saturday July 2, 2016 @ 6 PM
Daniel Arts Center
Bard College at Simon’s Rock
Great Barrington, Massachusetts

Pre-concert talk by Artistic Director Daniel Stepner one hour ahead of each program; reception with the artists follows Daniel Arts Center performance.

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July 7, 8 and 9, 2016
J.S. Bach: Sacred and Secular
Orchestral Suite No. 3, BWV 1068
Cantata No 12: Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen
Cantata No. 201: The Contest of Phoebus and Pan

Dominique Labelle, soprano; Deborah Rentz-Moore, alto; William Hite and Frank Kelley, tenors; Jesse Blumberg and Ulysses Thomas, baritones; Robinson Pyle, trumpet; Jonathan Hess, tympanist, Jeanine Krause, oboe; and the Baroque ensemble

Thursday, July 7, 2016 @ 7 PM
Slosberg Music Center
Brandeis University
Waltham, Massachusetts

Friday, July 8, 2016 @ 8 PM
László Z. Bitó ’60 Conservatory Building
Bard College
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

Saturday, July 9, 2016 @ 8 PM
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
SEASON FINALE
Great Barrington, Massachusetts

Pre-concert talk by Artistic Director Daniel Stepner one hour ahead of each program; reception with the artists follows Mahaiwe performance.

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Box Office: 413.528.0100
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