Photo: Courtesy of the ensemble.
Early Music America (or the EMA) is a non-profit organization that serves and strengthens the early music community in North America and raises public awareness of early music. One of their many activities is the sponsorship of competitions for up-and-coming performers. In the spring of 2012, Early Music America launched a brand-new competition for emerging baroque performing ensembles. Six finalists were chosen to compete in a live concert at Corpus Christi Church in New York City in October. This hour, we’ll hear a sampling of performances from all six ensembles.
First up, viola da gambist Josh Lee, together with lutenists John Lenti and David Walker, make up the ensemble Ostraka. Described as [quote] an “ensemble that plays even the most exasperatingly difficult music with total elegance and care,” this trio seeks out overlooked music from the renaissance and baroque. In 2010, Ostraka released their debut recording called Division and have since continued to perform throughout the United States.
The Boston-based ensemble Les Sirènes has been performing together since 2009. Vocalists Kathryn Mueller and Kristen Watson, together with continuo players Michael Sponseller and Cora Swenson, offer concerts highlighting baroque music for two soprano voices. Besides the EMA competition, Les Sirènes has had a busy concert season across the US, from Phoenix to Providence, and beyond.
Another duo in the EMA baroque competition was harpsichordists Faythe Vollrath and Stephen Gamboa of the ensemble Zweikampf. While they perform historically informed early music on their harpsichords, their repertoire extends beyond these bounds to modern, contemporary and popular music from the 20th and 21st centuries.
Zweikampf debuted in 2009, and since then, has maintained an active performance schedule both in their home state of California, and also as far away as New York. Because of their bi-coastal schedule, it’s a good thing that they share not only A common interest of harpsichord playing: both also enjoy road-trips!
Aaron Westman, Shirley Hunt, Kevin Cooper and JungHae Kim are the musicians of Agave Baroque. The ensemble specializes in repertory from the 17th century, and to this end, has recently recorded a CD featuring the music of Biber, Bertali, and Schmelzer called Cold Genius. Besides the EMA Baroque Performance Competition, Agave Baroque’s performances in 2012 included a main-stage event at the Berkeley Early Music Festival and a performance at the Arizona Early Music Society concert series in Tucson.
The Sebastians are violinists Daniel Lee and Alexander Woods, cellist Ezra Seltzer, and harpsichordist, Avi Stein. The Sebastians specialize in the performance of music from both the baroque and classical eras but also actively commission newly composed works for period instruments.
The ensemble has been a finalist in the 2011 York International Early Music Competition, as well as in the 2011 Early Music America/Naxos Recording Competition. In the 2012 EMA Baroque Performance Competition, The Sebastians were awarded the Audience Prize, as voted on by concertgoers in attendance. Congratulations to The Sebastians!
During the final round of the EMA competition (in October) six period-instrument ensembles each presented a 20 to 25 minute program to a public audience and a panel of five judges.
At the end of the evening, the ensemble, Pallade Musica was awarded the Grand Prize, consisting of a $3,000 cash award and bookings in four prominent early music concert series.
Pallade Musica includes Tanya LaPerrière on violin; Elinor Frey on cello; Esteban La Rotta on theorbo; and harpsichordist Mylène Bélanger. Their individual backgrounds are diverse, coming from Quebec, the United States, and Colombia, and they met in Montreal, Canada just a few years ago.
Currently, Pallade Musica is focusing on repertoire for the violin and the cello in which the cello serves not only as the basso continuo, or as the solo instrument, but as a melodic counterpart for the violin. Congratulations to Pallade Musica, the Grand Prize winners of the 2012 Early Music America Baroque Performance Competition!
Featured release: Peterhouse Partbooks, vol. 2
As the Protestant Reformation swept across England, very few books of Catholic church music survived. One exception was a set of five partbooks copied by music scribe and singer Thomas Bull and brought with him to Canterbury in 1540, then eventually residing in the library of Peterhouse, Cambridge.
The problem with the Peterhouse Partbooks—and also what makes this featured recording so special—is that until now the missing parts have prohibited the performance of much of the music found in this source.
Originally, there were five parts in the Peterhouse Partbooks: one for the treble range, one for alto, one each for a high and low tenor, and one bass partbook. But long ago, one of the tenor books went missing entirely, along with several pages from the treble book. Between these two losses, at least two-thirds of the compositions are incomplete.
Scholar Nick Sandon became interested in the Peterhouse Partbooks back in the 1980’s and has since taken up the task of restoring them by recomposing the missing voices. Sandon’s informed re-compositions have finally enabled performances of this repertoire, as well as recordings like this one from the Renaissance choir, Blue Heron.
Music from volume two of Blue Heron’s continuing series of music from the Peterhouse Partbooks: we heard the Agnus Dei from Nicholas Ludford’s Missa Regnum mundi, paired with plainchant from the Proper for the Feast of St. Margaret, in accordance with the Use of Salisbury—a combination of plainchant and polyphony probably not unlike an original 16th-century performance.
Click here for an extended interview with Blue Heron’s Scott Metcalfe from WGBH Boston.