Posted tagged ‘tina chancey’

Filling in the Silence: Hesperus at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Washington Early Music Festival, June 30, 2012

July 3, 2012

What better way to score a silent film about goings-on in medieval France than with medieval music? Even when the film in question, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” était fabriqué aux Étas-Unis from a source novel written with no obvious concern for historical fact other than that there was a big church named Notre-Dame in Paris at the time.

Hesperus, a powerhouse on the local and national early-music scene, played a medieval soundtrack for the film on Saturday night to close out this year’s Washington Early Music Festival, and their performance — colorful, concentrated, and spontaneous — made it nearly impossible to actually take the movie seriously. The silent-film aesthetic is an acquired one, and Saturday night reminded me that I have not acquired it. The limitiations of the medium lead in Wallace Worsley’s “Hunchback” to exaggeration along every possible axis, from facial expressions to body language to emotions in general. Also, the audiences of the past apparently had a limitless tolerance for watching Lon Chaney as the Hunchback grabbing a rope and ringing a bell. I get that he has great enthusiasm for this task, which is why it could have been filmed from more than one angle, rather than simply replaying the same footage every time.

The movie was not as entertaining as this poster, which must have disappointed many people in 1923. From Wikipedia, saver of souls.

Such artifice made a striking contrast with the music Chancey, Priscilla Smith, and Rosa Lamoreaux sang and played. They effortlessly conjured serenity, rambunctiousness, tension, officiousness, and even (especially) romance. Only a few times, for fractions of a second, did the music and images not match; normally, the music was so well-chosen to seem an integral part of the scene, like a dancing tune to lead a festival of peasants, or a crusty woodwind proclamation to usher in a nobleperson.

The movie gets better when it begins rushing towards its surprisingly intense climax, but here it was difficult to separate the pathos of the Hunchback as he enjoys a glimmer of sympathetic human contact from the pathos generated by this trio of musicians, especially when the texture thinned out and Chancey was left alone to limn a few final notes as the priest (SPOILER ALERT) laid the Hunchback to rest.

The trio kept it up for 100 straight minutes, too — no intermissions here. Smith handled 99 percent of the wind-instrument work, with a full set of recorders as well as a shawm, early bagpipe, and crumhorn, and I saw her shaking her right hand out a few times towards the end of the film, trying to keep it from going stiff. Her playing showed no signs of fatigue, and she expertly matched the timbres of her instruments to the onscreen action, varying her sound and approach. Smith even sang soprano in a few two-voice pieces and didn’t sound totally out of her league next to her fellow soprano Lamoreaux, who is pretty much the early-music singin’ queen of the DMV.

Lamoreaux handled the lead vocals, obviously, and her pure, even voice blended so well with Smith’s recorders that sometimes it was hard to tell which line was which. Lamoreaux also had the lead on percussion, and particularly the difficult job of syncing her bells with the carillioneurship on screen. Chancey played not only the vielle but also several other stringed instruments, also varying her instrumentation to keep the sound lively and using effects to make the movie come alive. (If you’re intrigued, Chancey, Lamoreaux, and two other people will be doing the medieval-scoring thing to “Robin Hood” in B-more at An Die Musik on Friday.)

As noted, the concert closed this year’s Washington Early Music Festival, and during the (enthusiastic) applause, Chancey asked that we direct some of our approbation to Constance Whiteside, the festival’s artistic director and prime mover. Saturday’s concert drew the biggest crowd of the three concerts I attended; fittingly, it took place at St. Mark’s, the church that has been the center of the festival since it began in 2004. While Hesperus had a unique contribution, their concert sat squarely in the larger WEMF tradition of presenting little-known music with enthusiastic, committed performers at reasonable prices. The WEMF is a summertime oasis from the fall-to-summer run of the standard rep played by the standard people. I hope it keeps going strong in the years to come.

Other People’s Perspectives: Anne Midgette. I swear I was not stalking Anne this past weekend.


I Found My Thrill on Capitol Hill: Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival at St. Mark’s, July 10, 2011

July 11, 2011

“The idea is to pretend we’re in Elizabethan England,” said Renaissance flautist Jeffrey Cohan on Sunday night, but of course we were all actually in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church for this year’s first Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival concert. Cohan and his transverse flutes formed one-third of a “broken consort” (i.e., one composed of different instruments) that also featured local period standout Tina Chancey on Renaissance violin and viola da gamba and accomplished harpsichordist Joseph Gascho. Together, they traversed various periods and nationalities of music, giving the flavor of each in repertoire that would be unknown even to most hard-core classical music fans. (I certainly didn’t know any of these works before entering St. Mark’s, and I only knew a few of the composers.)

Jeffrey Cohan, ready to flauticize

Once these musicians got past the introductory bars of each piece — more than a few times, someone entered late or not at all, and the trio had to restart — Cohan, Yancey, and Gascho breathed fresh life into the music they played. If one was of a scholarly bent (i.e., me), they made it easy to hear the differences between the various sections of the program. If not, there was simply a lot of fun music to enjoy.

The relentless ornamentation of the cantus firmus melodic line in early Renaissance music came across most strongly a welcome novelty, a stiflingly busy take on the tune “Taunder naken” written by obscure composer Henry VIII. The flute Cohan used for this and the other earlier music played incredibly softly, making the distance between then and now even more audible than normal; Gascho, taking a turn on the viol for this section, and Yancey audibly restrained their volume, and Cohan’s playing grabbed plenty of attention.

One could hardly wish for a more vivid contrast than early Baroque composer Bartolomeo De Selma e Salaverde’s “Canzon Prima à Due. Soprano e Basso,” in which, in Yancey’s words, she and Cohan “traded fours,” each daring the other to new levels of solo virtuosity over Gascho’s minimal (yet smartly phrased) harpsichord accompaniment. The openness of the texture, the move towards the major mode and more structured harmonies, the cleanness of the melodic lines — it was a world away.

Joseph Gascho, harpsichordist

Italy, France, and England each got a chance to shine as well, and the melodic fluency of the Italian selections, particularly Cohan’s spirited melodic corcuscations in Girolamo Dalla Casa’s “Petite fleur coincte et jolye,” contrasted strongly with the more rhythmic French works; two trios by Pierre Clereau elicited particularly emphatic and rousing playing. Italy, however, also brought Chancey improvising over “La Bergamasca,” which showed off her rhythmic boldness and a facility for bubbly ornamentation.

Tina Chancey, doin' it to death

Cohan described the final, English-music section of the program, after the Baroque excursion, as returning “to the present time,” which Yancey amended to “the present time then.” If a national character was not as discernible here, the performances still sparkled, particularly the eccentric “Coockow as I me walked” by John Baldwyn and the vigorous dance of “Hugh Ashton’s Maske,” written, appropriately enough, by Hugh Ashton.

Between Cohan’s efforts on Capitol Hill, the biannual Washington Early Music Festival, and concerts by groups like Armonia Nova, the Bach Sinfonia, and others, the DMV has a surplus of intimate concerts by local musicians where the musicians select interesting, little-known music, discuss it conversationally with the audience (including details about instrumentation and musical forms), and play it with enough enthusiasm and skill to make you like it as much as they do. I almost always enjoy these concerts, and Sunday’s was one of the better ones. The Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival now goes silent for a few months, but it deserves your attention when it returns.

Other People’s Perpsectives: Joe Banno.


After the first time the ensemble had a false start, I wanted to signal after every subsequent one, just like if I was watching the Redskins offensive line. It was strange to me that such fun performances could start so haltingly.