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From France, To Italy, To China: Highlights From The IEMF

The final weekend of the Indianapolis Early Music Festival featured one evening of music by an up-and-coming group and one evening of Chinese and Italian music.

Friday night was a program of French music performed by the ensemble Plaine and Easie. They demonstrated themselves as an ensemble to watch after winning both Early Music America's unicorn award and audience choice award in 2009. Their performance alone suggests all of the members have long and bright futures ahead of them. They did a nice job of blending instrumental and vocal works, and the different combinations of the four performers kept the sound fresh.

One of my favorite pieces was the song that closed the first half of the program, "Qu'on ne me parle plus d'amour," meaning "Speak to me no more of love." This song about a wronged woman is perfect for expressing so many emotions: heartache, anger, jealousy, revenge, and all of these emotions were present in their performance.

Sunday evening, I could tell that IEMF had definitely saved the best for last. ¡Sacabuche! featured a concert that blended Chinese and Western music in a program inspired by a map of the entire world drawn by Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit priest, in 1602.

It was a multi-media performance that included projected images of Ricci's map as well as paintings from China and Italy around the time that Ricci was in China. There were also speakers who read letters and other writings about Ricci in both Chinese and English. The map itself has writing on it describing some of the unique features of a particular area of the world. Probably the strangest place on the map is the "Country of Dwarves," which is described as populated by people who "at the age of five already have children, and at the age of eight, are old," and they have to constantly worry about being eaten by hawks.

I was very happy that two traditional Chinese instruments, the guzheng and sheng, were included in the orchestration of this program. Each instrument has at least a 2,500-year history and they really helped transport the listener to another time and place.

One would think that including traditional Chinese music, with its completely different tonality, in conjunction with Renaissance and Baroque Western music might be jarring, but the transitions between Chinese and Italian music was seamless.

All in all, it was another great weekend, and overall great season, of early music in Indianapolis.

George Walker interviewed ¡Sacabuche! in anticipation of their performance at the Indianapolis Early Music Festival. You can read it here.

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