Carmel Bach Festival Chamber Concert: Birth of the Italian Baroque

Dongsok Shin, Estelí Gomez, Daniel Swenberg, Molly Quin,

Dominic Teresi, Adriane Post, Johanna Novom

The “­Birth of the Italian Baroque” Chamber Concert on Wednesday, July 19, at All Saints Church in Carmel, was an ingenious programming of six Monteverdi vocal pieces interspersed with six Italian early baroque instrumental pieces by other composers. From start to finish, this was a first-rate program. There was something about this concert, above and beyond, that hit all the benchmarks of cohesive musical programming and execution.

The concert opened with the instrumental Sonata à 3 by Antonio Bertali (1605-1669) featuring the first of our duet partners, Johanna Novom and Adriane Post on violin. Then, sopranos Estelí Gomez and Molly Quinn entered for their Monteverdi duet Damigella tutta bella. Their entrance was perfectly choreographed, each seated off to either side, rising simultaneously, gliding to the front of the stage to show us the power of technically well-rehearsed music and a genuine enjoyment of one’s musical comrades.

This deeply confident, prepared, dynamic-duo theme continued for both Ms. Novom and Ms. Post, and for Ms. Gomez and Ms. Quinn for the rest of the concert. Each piece was an example of the energy and connection everyone had with each other. By the way, vocal soloists seated to the extreme sides of the main action (rather than in front of it) seem to be a trend this year: in addition to this concert, you see it in Sunday’s Mozart Mass in C Minor, and in Tuesday’s London Burning! Chamber Concert, another must-hear performance.

All pieces were sung in Italian, with English translations in the program book. The love poetry for Damigella tutta bella contained strong images: “Beautiful maiden, pour, O pour out that sweet wine; Make fall the dew distilled from rubies” and later, “Make fall that dew distilled from topaz.”

Dominic Teresi spoke after this second piece, saying that this is a Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) year, 450 years since his birth, and musicians are taking advantage of the opportunity to program more Monteverdi as a tribute (as observed in the programming of the Monteverdi Vespers on the sold-out Wednesday night Mission concert). And with the other composers on this program, the ensemble took a look at Monteverdi’s musical world, and the context in which he wrote. The third selection was Sonata quintadecima by Giovanni Battista Fontana (1589-1630) and was the first real showcase of the Novom/Post duet sound (both members of the Diderot String Quartet). The program notes (written by Dominic Teresi) state that “… Sonata quintadecima has a beautifully sweet character that is typical of Fontana’s style. The two violins engage in fanciful interplay throughout with each getting a turn at extended solos.”

Continuing the Gomez/Quinn duet sound, O come sei gentile was haunting, with straight tones melting into quintessential early music goat-trills, well-placed vibrato, and matching unisons, they both excelled in the melismatic writing in the upper registers. The song compared the captivity of a song bird to that of one in love, “…dear little bird! O, how my being in love resembles your state! You are a captive, I am a captive, you sing, I sing; you sing for the one who has bound you to herself, and I sing for her. But there is a difference concerning my dreary fate: It is worth your while to be a songster; you live singing, and I die singing.” It was on this fourth piece of the program that I lamented there would be no recording, and what a shame to lose the beauty of these live performances, but more on this later.

Canzon à 3 by Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676) featured excellent solos for Ms. Novom. According to the program notes, the piece, “…harkens back to an earlier form of instrumental composition and the opening dactyl theme (long-short-long) is typical of 16th century style… transitions to a virtuosic, imitative section followed by a soulful passacaglia characterized by a repeated descending pattern in the bass thus bridging the gap into the 17th century.” Estelí Gomez’s slow and strophic solo piece, Si dolce é ‘l tormento, was a beautiful song expressing the torment of love and the strength that comes from enduring the pain.

Next was Sonata sopra Fuggi dolente core, an instrumental piece by Biagio Marini (1594-1663), based on an Italian folk song, which apparently has the current distinction of being the national anthem of Israel. A Monteverdi vocal duet followed: Lidia spina del mio core, Lidia, thorn of my heart. Another femme fatale… Mr. Teresi spoke next about his bass reed instrument, the dulcian, and did the second Fontana piece of the program, Sonata duodecima, which featured an instrument-exemplifying solo so we could really see and hear it clearly for the first time. Of this dulcian and violin duet with Ms. Novom, the program notes state “the dulcian discovers a new voice as a fully melodic partner with the violin. The two instruments start out in alternating dialog, thoughtfully commenting on each other’s statements. Eventually their voices join together and finish in a playful dance.” If one were to hear this instrument with no knowledge of what it was, yes, it is not so far from its successor the bassoon, but it uncannily at times sounds string-like. In the Renaissance, the dulcian was the preferred bass accompanying instrument to use with strings, because it provided enough sound and dynamic range, and was better for agility than the trombone, and easier to carry than the string bass.

Daniel Swenberg then spoke about how the theorbo is the biggest of all the lutes, and made a comparison to it being like a cross between a harp and a guitar. He accompanied Molly Quinn’s trill-filled solo, Ohimé ch’io cado. “…Monteverdi proves his mastery of strophic variation, as he finds six different melodic variations for the opening of each verse.” Dongsok Shin deserves special mention for playing on every piece in the program and steadfastly exemplifying the basso continuo.

The last instrumental piece Sonata l’Aguzzona, by Marini, featured the intriguing dulcian again. Echo sequences were part of the texture that offered an instrumental parallel to the vocal affects composers were trying to emulate. The cheerful Monteverdi vocal duet Chiome d’oro that ended the program was familiar sounding — reminiscent of the composer’s Beatus vir melody, and the final note was a true seamless unison.

Full of energy and happiness even to the end, the well-rehearsed BOTIB Ensemble, as I am dubbing them, is a special gem within the Festival. Programming is of utmost interest in these concerts, and when seven musicians are dedicated to the task of putting together complementary repertoire, the artistry must also be seen in this process of creating a true musical story.

As I sat listening and writing, I suddenly lamented that unless I came again next week, and everyone were on their game again, this would be it. If I wished to enjoy these specific pieces, in this fine order, I would have to go online and find them all, perhaps on GooglePlay, presumably performed and recorded by other artists, and create a hodgepodge playlist. The internal lament continued that there is no CBF record label, no festival-specific CDs to buy, no online musical archive, no full, live performance recording to have for one’s very own, to remember the experience, to continue the musical love-affair with our own beloved musicians. The most we get are the main evening concerts rebroadcast on the radio, and unless one makes the effort to be available on exactly the right radio rebroadcast nights, presumably later this fall, and properly record, edit, track, and type in all the relevant composer, movement, and artist info, then this music wafts into the sea wind, to join the chamber concerts.

Just after this Birth of the Italian Baroque chamber concert, I ran into Paul Goodwin outside the church and we discussed how excellent this particular concert was, how well-rehearsed and tight it was, no flaws, perfectly programed, and lamented that it was not a full house, not quite three-quarters full, and that it should have been full. He agreed, and then said something that struck me. “This performance was of an international standard,” he proclaimed. Precisely. I then demanded to know why there was no CBF label to capture the true gems of the festival, the small concerts, the ones with limited personnel, like this one. Goodwin pointed to various reasons, not the least of which is the exorbitant cost of recording engineers. I rejoined, “Well, other festivals manage it, don’t they?”

Analysis:

In fact, the list of classical music organizations that manage to turn something out in the way of recordings is not short. Turning to page 187 in the festival program book (opposite the Seaside Community Concert program on page 186), there is an advertisement for twelve other summer music festivals taking place in the western United States. The headline reads, Fill your summer with music! Explore the musical riches and unique settings of these allied festivals of the Western United States. I decided to take a look at what our allied festivals are doing in the way of bringing their concerts to a wider audience.

The Aspen Music Festival, comprising a hearty eight-week summer run, utilizes InstantEncore to make available entire concerts, recitals, lectures, and radio programs to the world, via their website. I browsed the whole section and leisurely listened to a solo piano recital, and a recent episode of From the Top, broadcast from Aspen; there are over 300 free recordings to enjoy on their site. http://www.instantencore.com/contributor/music/works.aspx?CId=5115715

The Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival has their music for sale on their site. If you hover over Box Office, you will see a link to Musician CDs, and when you go that page, you are rewarded with the possibility to purchase three whole bona fide CDs at $22 each, some selections on which were taken from their live performances. http://www.seattlechambermusic.org/box-office/shop/

The Grand Teton Music Festival, seven weeks in Jackson Hole, WY, utilizes Soundcloud and has a nice organized selection of full movements from their 2012-2015 seasons, just click play and listen for free. http://gtmf.org/listen/

To see a few familiar faces and see how Bach outreach is really done, head over to https://www.trinitywallstreet.org/videos/music and watch some of the live, unedited Bach at One videos of Trinity Wall Street’s professional music ministry.

Are we not musically on par with these institutions? Those who are involved in classical music in any serious way know that there has been a great push in recent years to generate new audiences, bring in younger fans, make the concert-going experience more accessible to the next generation and to those who may have never been to such concerts. All the major arts organizations are bending over backwards to create not only performance programming that will appeal, but to make the whole experience easier to understand (supertitles), more youthful, modern and fresh, even to the dismay of the eye-rolling old-guard. And this is done not only for the hope of ticket sales each current season, but there is a realization that the “graying of audiences” means that if artistic leadership, development professionals, and the artists themselves don’t do something that works, our art forms, at least as we have them now, will not be viable to continue as a business.

All this is to say that, the Carmel Bach Festival is ripe to embrace web-streaming, sound and video archives, and live-concert albums. It will only happen when reaching a global audience, and creating a new income stream, are made a priority — and funding is then developed to make it happen. Artists and producers have been negotiating contracts for a long time, and surely at least one small grouping of musicians should be able to reach consensus on the terms and pave the way to move forward? It is time to follow the model of our allied festivals and offer some of our music for free, partly in the spirit of good-will towards our paying audiences, and partly in the spirit of good-will towards those who were not able to attend a particular concert, or could not afford to go. And, of course, for the financial watchdogs, recordings for profit are always a gamble, although there is a chance to add a perpetual new income stream from album and song sales from specially-selected recording projects. Who of the readership here would not relish the ease of simply buying some of our own Festival’s hard-won digital albums on the usual sites, or even having a selection of our recordings made available on streaming services? Our own Pandora channel? It is probably too, too much to ask to be able to pick up one of our favourite concerts on vinyl (it’s coming back, you know) at the Bach Festival Boutique in the lobby… that would be my preference.

End

 

Archived in these categories: Baroque, Carmel Bach Festival, Chamber music.
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