Don’t be looking around for the Britten Ceremony of Carols this pre-Christmas weekend. And Handel’s Messiah has just finished its run at the Oregon Symphony. How about a Bach Christmas Cantata? Nope, even the Bach Cantata Choir isn’t doing Bach. But they and Trinity Episcopal Music sure are inviting us to embrace the Baroque with Charpentier, Cozzolani and triple shots of Vivaldi. Then In Mulieribus transports us to Medieval and Renaissance times before depositing us in Christmas here and now.
Nuns and priests in Catholic churches writing music and one fleet-of-foot mezzo soprano. Sounds like a typical Portland pre-Christmas choral happening.
Gloriaski: Viva Vivaldi due volte
Bach Cantata Choir, Vivald Gloria RV589, Friday, Dec. 17 with live feed.
Trinity Music Series, Vivaldi Gloria RV589, Saturday, Dec. 18.
Concert advertisements will usually read The Vivaldi GLORIA or Vivaldi’s GLORIA in D Major. The “famous” one, you know it. Well, did you know that this Vivaldi Gloria has a sibling, perhaps almost a twin, that has been getting the short end of the baton for years? Indeed it has and it’s about time that we gave it a proper shout out.
The “famous” (sigh) one is RV589. The neglected one is RV588. It’s got the same text and the same key signature. It’s around the same length with similar instrumentation and voicing. And it was probably written around the same time. Yet 588 gets no love. It doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?
Okay, so poor 588 wasn’t left abandoned in a trunk in Turin, Italy for almost two hundred years the way 589 was, only to be discovered, sold and grandly debuted in the 1950s to become a choral fad. So 589 had a big coming-out party; big deal. That doesn’t mean 588 should be ignored! Sheesh! And – icing on the 588 obscurity cake – there was probably yet another Vivaldi Gloria that hasn’t even been found. Yet.
Joking. It’s wonderful how people enjoy the Antonio Vivaldi Gloria in D Major RV589, an ideal representation of the hundreds of sacred choral works of the prolific composer, violinist, teacher and Catholic Priest. You can delight in the abundant use of hemiola, although for that technique the beginning movement of RV588 – shameless plug – is a music theory mini-seminar. (Listen here). And It’s got the predictable Vivaldi harmonic walkabouts, i.e. Mvt. 2, “Et in terra pax hominibus” (And on earth peace among men).
There’s not one moment of wasted space in RV589; compact, functional and glorious. The “Laudamus Te” (We praise You) duet is by itself worth going to the concert. Here’s a 2017 “Laudate” Early Music Vancouver, B.C. performance featuring a few familiar Northwest artists.
The Bach Cantata Choir concert on Friday is half Vivaldi Gloria and half the Messe de Minuit pour Noël (Midnight Mass at Christmas) by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, a French baroque composer just slightly ahead of Vivaldi in the Baroque period. The pairing of Charpentier with Vivaldi offers an interesting comparison of Baroque styles from two regions. Three soloists will be on stage for the Vivaldi: sopranos Cameron Herbert and Nan Haemer and alto Hannah Penn. The Charpentier features several vocal roles sung by sopranos Doro Gauer-Lail, Gail D’Aloisio and Elaine Goldsmith; countertenor Tim Galloway; tenor Brian Haskins; and bass Kevin Helppie. Dim the lights and it is midnight on Christmas eve in Cathédral Notre-Dame de Paris while outside large flakes of snow drop silently into the River Seine.
BCC strings will be joined by winds and stalwart and steady John Vergin at the keyboard. Vergin has been with BCC since their founding in 2006, says Artistic Director Ralph Nelson. The continuo keyboard role requires talent in listening, leading, following and adapting, and Vergin is a model.
The choirs in both BCC and Trinity performances will be SATB. In 1715, however, every role – solo, chorus and instrumental – would have been performed by females residing in the Ospidale della Pietà (Hospice of Mercy) orphanage where Vivaldi was teacher and musical director for approximately 36 years. But Vivaldi did not compose only for SSA voices; he wrote the Glorias and other choral works for SATB with female voices often into the tenor range and sometimes even extending to upper bass.
Private voice teacher and mezzo-soprano Sarah Beaty confirms that her role does require a lower range. Beaty, new to Portland in June of 2021, will solo in one of the lower-voiced Gloria arias, Mvt. 10 “Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris” (Thou who sits at the right hand of the Father). She also remarked on the pleasure of singing in the same sonic channels as countertenor Tim Galloway in a work by Benedictine nun Chiara Margarita Cozzolani on this Trinity program.
Bruce Neswick, Trinity Canon for Music and organist, is generous in his utilization of many fine soloists in solo and duet roles of the Vivaldi. Featured soloists are sopranos Vakaré Petroliūnaité, Amy Stuart Hunn and Christine Johnson, and mezzo sopranos Beaty and Hannah Penn. The Cozzolani work, Magnificat primo a otto, is an “8-part motet which alternates between duet and choral phrases, sometimes homophonic and sometimes polyphonic. It’s a delightful piece!” says Trinity Music Administrator and singer Christine Johnson. To fill in the octet, Johnson, Petroliūnaité, Beaty, and Galloway are joined by tenors Les Green and Jeremiah Davis and basses Daniel Myers and Liam Resener. Katie Burk conducts the Trinity Choir accompanied by members of the Portland Baroque Orchestra and Neswick on the organ.
Also on the TM program is a work composed by Trinity Organ Scholar Katie Burk, another by Rosephanye Powell, and a brief instrumental jewel by Vivaldi. Concerto for two oboes in D Major, RV 563 will be performed by Eugene oboist Matthew Hudgens and trumpeter Kyle Erickson of Seattle. The mix and match of like-voiced instruments, i.e., violin, oboe, recorder, soprano trumpet, was usual and often musician-dependent in Vivaldi’s time. The same voicing, different timbre combination can be wonderful. And the second movement is this heart-grabbing violin solo….whew. Vivaldi is more than harmonic progression and ice crystals.
Still, you might really appreciate Vivaldi on that first snow day when you cue up his “Winter” (L’inverno) violin concerto, from what is now called the Four Seasons (Le Quattro stagioni). Peer into the stark iciness or watch the snow twisters spin across the white roadway and shiver with every beat of musical mimesis. And remember that the day will come when it’s time to cue the “La primavera” (Spring).
The Bach Cantata Choir performs Vivaldi and Charpentier on Fri., Dec. 17th (7:30 PM) at Rose City Park Presbyterian. Advanced tickets are required for safe audience spacing. Tickets here. Live feed at the website.
Women singers of today
If you do want to hear the finest in women’s singing, In Mulieribus is in concert at St. Mary’s Cathedral on Sunday and Monday. The numerous and varied works in their Love’s Pure Light program date back to the Late Medieval and Renaissance, then leap frog all the way to our contemporary period for solo and ensemble offerings by the stellar IM singers.
Francisco Guerrero, one of the three most prominent Spanish Renaissance composers – along with Tomás Luis de Victoria and Cristóbal de Morales – was a Catholic priest with a tremendously large output of sacred choral works. IM sings his Gabriel Archangelus, heard here in male voices from Ensemble a Sestina of Nice.
Individual voices will be featured in anonymous works of the 13thand 14th centuries, but the full choir will engage with contemporary composers. Two samples of Hodie Christus natus est bookend the second portion of the IM program. Commenting on Northwest composer Craig Kingsbury’s Hodie, included on IM’s 2014 CD Live 2, reviewer James Bash said it conveys “the tranquil and timelessness of the Christmas story.” (Bash, James. Northwest Reverb online. Feb 17, 2015.) The Hodie of late Hungarian composer József Karai sounds like the bells of a campanile have been loosed to carry the message of the season into the stratosphere.
Artistic Director Anna Song has programmed two contemporary composers, Sungji Hong and Nicola LeFanu, who are comfortable writing for both instruments and voices. Irishwoman LeFanu’s work is relatable within a contemporary structure and style. She speaks of her journey as a composer and her own comfort with reaching back to plain chant and Renaissance style in this interview. South Korean composer Sungji Hong breaks through comfort and challenges performer and listener with her experimental textures, rhythms and tonalities. Yet there is a structural cohesiveness that draws interest.
In Mulieribus concerts are Sun., Dec. 19 (4 PM) and Mon., Dec. 20 (7 PM), St. Mary’s Cathedral, Portland. To get tickets and to register for IM’s free Holiday Highlights video click here. Vaccination proof with ID, distancing and masking are required at live concerts.
Let’s pause for a quizlet. Who is the busiest singer on this extended concert weekend – singing with three choirs, on four days with solo roles in four separate pieces? Yes, it’s mezzo soprano (and sometimes alto) Hannah Penn, for whom there must be some kind of award. But then, of course, we all win. How absolutely marvelous!
A little bit lower now
Southern Oregon Repertory Singers (Artistic Director Paul French) who have been making beautiful choral music in the Ashland, Oregon region for 35 years, canceled their September live performance. But they are back for the holidays and performing on their home stage at Southern Oregon University campus. Their 2021 program The Waiting Sky promises “music from the Renaissance to newly-composed, as well as fresh settings of carols and traditional holiday music from around the world.” Just announced– their live performances are SOLD OUT, but they are live streaming their Sat., Dec. 18th (1:30 PM) and Sun., Dec. 19th (3 PM) concerts. You can purchase the live feed link which then allows you viewing for two weeks. Tickets $10 here, or call 541-522-0900. Vaccination proof and masking is required for the live concerts.
Wait, wait–Bach up. If you live in or will be visiting Eugene you can get your J.S. fix after all. On Sunday, Dec. 19th (1:30 PM) and Tuesday, Dec. 21st (7:30 PM) soprano Laura Wayte and friends are offering two Bach Cantatas, BWV 152 and 191 at Eugene’s Christian Science Church. Friends are Emerald Chamber Orchestra and vocalists Erika Rauer (sop), Ryan Dixon (counter-tenor), Patrick Hosfield (tenor) and Peter van de Graaf (bass). No reserved tickets; attend with a donation at the door. No health protocols to report, but masking will be required.
Choral musicians of the Pacific Northwest–you are reconnected. Nice work, everyone. Thanks. May you all have the happiest and most meaningful of holidays, just the way you want.
Trinity Music has a great New Year’s Eve event in store for you. And it’s also your chance to support the Trinity Food Pantry which offers hospitality, emergency food and toiletries to the community. The gift of art becomes the gift of food and caring; it’s a heartwarming and fun way to begin a new year. From Trinity’s news release:
“Artists include jazz singer Jessica Israels and the Chuck Israels Sextet, poet Brandt Maina, Portland Symphonic Girlchoir, organists Bruce Neswick and Katie Burk, and Renegade Opera, with bagpiper Mark Mullaney helping us bid farewell to 2021 as the evening draws to a close. This unforgettable evening of classical music, jazz, spoken word, and more is hosted by a very special celebrity guest emcee—Warren Black of All Classical Portland!”
Tickets: $5-50. Tickets available by clicking here or at 503-478-1201. Vaccination proof and masking required.
Liviu Dumitrescu, Romanian b. 1988 artist’s interpretation of The Annunciation.
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