Past Seasons

2009-2010 – Magnificat’s 19th Season

February 19th, 2016 No comments

DocHdl1OnPRINTREADYtmpTarget2009-2010 was one of Magnificat’s most expansive seasons, featuring music by two remarkable women and two pioneers of the new music of the seventeenth century. The programs ranged from a puppet opera to a liturgical reconstruction and culminated with two appearance at the 2010 Berkeley Festival and Exhibition and the release of volume one of the complete works of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani.

The season opened with the return of the Carter Family Marionettes for an unforgettable production of Francesca Caccini’s opera La Liberatione di Ruggiero. Almost decade had past since Magnificat had collaborated with the Carters on Fuzelier’s parody of Lully’s opera Atys and Melani’s Il Girello. As Magnificat’s artistic director noted in an SFCV review “Hardly a concert has gone by since then when an audience member hasn’t come up to me to ask when we’ll do another puppet show. The Carters are great at connecting with the audience and already had a very funny and engaging production of La liberazione in their repertory.”

The daughter of Giulio Caccini, one of the leading proponents of the nuove musiche of the early 17th century, Francesca had a remarkable career in her own right as a performer and teacher, but above all, as a highly respected composer to the Granducato of Tuscany. We were grateful for the advice and support of Caccini biographer Suzanne Cusick who contributed three excellent essays to the is blog (Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero and the Culture of WomenWhat is Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero About? and Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court.) The role of Alcina was sung memorably by Catherine Webster, with José Lemos in the trangender role of Melissa and Scott Whitaker as Ruggiero. The cast also included Jennifer Paulino, Dan Hutchings and Hugh Davies.  Read more…

2008-2009: Magnificat’s 17th Season

September 25th, 2014 No comments

Magnificat’s 16th season opened with two divertissements of Marc-Antoine Charpentier.  In 1682, Charpentier’s patroness Madame de Guise commissioned entertainments for the coming winter season, when she would be in residence at Versailles. One of these court events was the “Fête of the Apartments”, an innovation by Louis XIV himself that began in November of that year and continued well into January. Three times a week, from 6 until 10 in the evening, a variety of entertainments were held in the principal rooms of the Great Apartment of Versailles: billiards, cards, games of chance, refreshments (including fruits, sorbets, wine and liqueurs, and hot coffee and chocolate), plus “symphonies” and “dancing”. Les Plaisirs de Versailles and La Couronne de Fleur were most probably performed on these occasions.

In his review of  the Berkeley performance, Joseph Sargent of the San Francisco Classical Voice wrote “Delivering a crystalline performance marked by luscious vocal purity and elegant instrumental support, Magnificat captured the vitality and freshness of these charming works, turning the evening into an impeccably refined affair.” Laura Heimes can be heard in an excerpt from Le Plaisirs de Versailles on Magnificat’s music page.

In December, Magnificat presented a Christmas Vespers drawing pslams and motets from the Messa e salmi concertate of 1639 by Giovanni Antonio Rigatti. Having sung as a boy under Monteverdi at San Marco in Venice, Rigatti held positions at several institutions in Northern Italy including one of the Ospedale in Venice. He returned to San Marco in 1647 shortly before his untimely death at the age of 35. The program also featured instrumental music by Massimiliano Neri, one of the organists at San Marco.

In February, Magnificat performed Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien in a program that was similar to a program first performed at the 1996 Berkeley Festival and Exhibition but on a more intimate scale. The Exequien was commissioned for the funeral of Prince Heinrich Reuss Posthumus in 1635. In wishing to give this unqiue work a life beyond the specific occasion of its initial composition, he suggested in the preface of the publication that it could serve as a paraphrase of the Kyrie and Gloria in a amass for the Feast of Purification. Following the liturgical practice of the Dresden Court Chapel of the mid-1630s, and incorporating other music by Schütz and his collaegues, Magnificat’s program did just that.

As in other programs based on Lutheran liturgies, the audience was invited to join in for the congregational chorales. The program was framed by a Ricercar and Toccata by Johann Jakob Froberger played by Davitt Moroney.

Magnificat’s season concluded with Scarlatti’s serenata “Venere, Amore e Ragione” in performances that featured three “Jennifers”: Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Jennifer Paulino and Jennifer Lane. The precise circumstances of the first performance of Venere Amore, e Ragione are unknown, though it seems likely that the it was associated with Scarlatti’s induction in the Arcadian Academy in 1706. The libretto, attributed to the Roman poet Silvio Stampiglia -a fellow member of the Arcadian Academy who collaborated with Scarlatti on many occasions – recounts a dispute between Venus and Reason over the conduct of Venus’ son Cupid.

Over the course of the 2008-2009 season Artistic Director Warren Stewart directed ensembles that included Annette Bauer, Peter Becker, Louise Carslake, Daria D’Andrea, Hugh Davies, Rob Digins, John Dornenburg, Kristen Dubenion Smith, Jolianne von Einem, Paul Elliott, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Ruth Escher, Elise Figa,  Vicki Gunn Pich, Katherine Heater, Laura Heimes, Martin Hummel, Dan Hutchings, Jennifer Lane,  Christopher LeCluyse, Craig Lemming, José Lemos, Davitt Moroney,  Jennifer Paulino, Hanneke van Proosdij, David Tayler, and David Wilson.

2006-2007 – Magnificat’s 15th Season

February 10th, 2014 No comments

During the 2006-2007 season, Magnificat presented four programs, two of which were repeated on tour. In addition to our usual subscription series concerts in Palo Alto, Berkeley, and San Francisco, Magnificat appeared on the Tropical Baroque Festival in Miami and as part of the Society for Seventeenth Century Music conference at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. The image used on Magnificat’s brochure and website for the season, both designed by creative director Nika Korniyenko, was from Harmonia Macrocosmica by Andreas Cellarius published in 1660.

The season began in October with a program of music that Marc-Antoine Charpentier wrote while he was  music master of the Saint-Chapelle. Founded in the 13th Century, the Sainte-Chapelle was situated in the heart of a walled enclosure of what was formerly the palace of the king and, during Charpentier’s tenure, the Parlement. The reconvening of the Parlement, which took place annually on November 12, the day after the Feats of St. Martin, was commemorated by the celebration of a grand ceremonial mass, called the Messe Rouge because of the magistrates scarlet vestments. The two works on Magnificat’s program were written for performance at the “Red Mass”, the Motet pour une longue offrande in 1698 and Judicium Salomonis (The Judgement of Solomon) in 1702.

In her review for the San Francisco Classical Voice, Michelle Dulak Thomson praised Magnificat as “and ensemble that can do it all,” observing “[o]ne of the recurring joys of hearing Magnificat is the ease with which the ensemble slips into the stylistic garb of each program. It takes an uncommonly disciplined musical sensibility to range as widely over this bewildering century as these musicians do — and yet they always seem right at home. On Saturday night, the rhetorical tone was just right for Charpentier: poised and serene, perceptibly stylized and yet sincere, unfailingly elegant — but also, rejoicing unabashedly in the richness of the harmony. The performance-practice niceties — the easily swung notes inegales, the lovingly dwelt-upon cadential appoggiaturas, the (to my ears) impeccable French Latin — all seemed as natural as breathing.”

In December, Magnificat performed a program model on one that had been part of our 1998 season featuring the music of Dietrich Buxtehude. The program included seven Advent cantatas whose central themes involve the expectation of the arrival of the divine beloved. The texts include mystical devotional poems, Lutheran chorales, and scripture and the affective range of

the cantatas reflect the emotional richness of the season, from joyous anticipation to somber self-examination and spiritual preparation. The program also included two ensemble sonatas. Buxtehude’s sonatas owe more to the tradition of improvisatory virtuoso music of mid century Germany than to the Corelli trio sonatas that had become the model across Europe by the end of the century. It is possible that some of the music on the program may have been incorporated into Buxtehude’s famous Abendmusik productions, though it is just as likely that it was intended for devotional services in court or private situations.

Writing in the San Francisco Classical Voice, Joseph Sargent wrote “Buxtehude — more familiar to audiences for his organ music — has a distinguished output of sacred vocal music that reveals a composer of great invention who could deploy a stunning variety of textures and styles over the span of just a few minutes of music. Magnificat proved up to the task of negotiating these shifts, delivering a sparkling performance that further established their Bay Area reputation as a leading interpreter of 17th century repertory.”

In February 2007, Magnificat presented Alessandro Stradella’s oratorio La Susanna. One of at least 86 oratorios composed during his tragically shortened life, La Susanna was commissioned by the Francesco, Duke of Modena. Its text, in two Parts as was usual, was written by the Modenese poet Giovanni Battista Giardini, who was also secretary to Francesco, and he based his libretto on the biblical account of Susanna given in chapter 13 of the Book of Daniel.

After three performances on our series in the Bay Area, Magnificat travelled to Miami to perform Susanna at the Tropical Baroque Festival. In his review for the Miami Herald,  Alan Becker praised Laura Heimes, who sang the title role, as “balm to the ears. Her tones were perfectly floated over the ensemble, and her willingness to sing softly made her a Susanna of beauty indeed.”

For the final program of the season, Magnificat returned to the music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, with music for vespers that was repeated at the conference of the Society for Seventeenth Century Music at Notre Dame University. Kathryn Miller observed in the SFCV review“Cozzolani’s distinctive style focuses on contrasts. Long, spun-out homophonic lines turn suddenly to quick moving polyphony, out of which a soloist will emerge, only to be drawn back into the ensemble. These musical contrasts are also paired with dramatic shifts, and the women of Magnificat deftly crafted each moment, infusing phrases with freshness and spontaneity. Each new motive or dynamic bloomed and grew.”

The performance at Notre Dame was an important one for Magnificat artistic director Warren Stewart. “Performing at the 17th Century music conference was a special thrill for me,” noted Stewart. “It was a privilege to perform for a select audience of musicologists, many of whom had devoted their lives to researching the music of women and specifically nuns in the 17th century. A high point!”

During the course of the season, artistic director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Elizabeth Anker, Peter Becker, Louise Carslake, Christopher Conley, Steve Cresswell, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Kristen Dubenion Smith, Jolianne von Einem, Paul Elliott, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Andrea Fullington, Katherine Heater, Laura Heimes, Dan Hutchings, Suzanne Jubenville, Jennifer Paulino, Hanneke van Proosdij, Byron Rakitzis, Deboah Rentz-Moore, David Tayler, Catherine Webster, and David Wilson.

2005-2006 – Magnificat’s 14th Season

January 1st, 2014 No comments

Magnificat’s 2005-2006 featured music by two composer, by then quite familiar to our audiences, Schütz and Charpentier, a less familiar name, Johann Rosenmüller and program featuring a variety of composers’ settings of text from Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido that opened the season. The season also marked the debut of the Magnificat blog as part of a new website designed by creative director Nika Korniyenko. The frontispiece the collected works of Jakob Böhme, published in Amsterdam in 1682, served as the basic image for the season brochure.

“A pastiche of little madrigals” is how Gaspare Murtola described Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido in 1626, and while his comment was intended as derogatory, he succeeding in pointing both to the strength and weakness of the play. The overblown and self-consciously poetic language of Guarini’s tragicomedy succeeded in making the play a relative failure on the stage, tremendous success as a work of literature, and a goldmine for composers seeking affective, emotional texts through which to display the new compositional techniques of the early baroque. The order of the program was determined by Guarini’s play, with settings by Sigismondo d’India, Claudio Monteverdi, Tarquinio Merula, Alessandro Grandi, and Giovanni Ghizzolo. In his review for the San Francisco Classical Voice, Joseph Sargent noted “Magnificat displayed impressive command in the ensemble madrigals, their faultless intonation and carefully matched phrasing adding greatly to this music’s effectiveness.”

For our Christmas concert, Magnificat returned to one of our most beloved programs, the Nativity Pastorale of Marc-Antoine Charpentier. An arrangement interpolating traditional French noels into Charpentier’s histoire sacrée, this program has been featured on Magnificat’s series four times, most recently in 2012. In each revival, audiences and musicians alike are struck by the sheer beauty of Charpentier’s contrapuntal technique, the profound simplicity of the timeless noels and the exuberance and sensuality revealed in their juxtaposition.

Writing for the San Francisco Classical Voice, Michelle Dulak Thomsen observed that “[o]ther Bay Area early-music ensembles visit the 17th century from time to time, but Magnificat is the only one of its size that practically dwells there, and it seems to be even more thoroughly at home with each performance. Certainly Saturday’s performance at St. Mark’s in Berkeley was a marvel of ease, balance, and brilliance.”

In January, 2006, Magnificat turned to Heinrich Schütz. Following on a very enjoyable program drawn from the composer’s first collection of Symphoniæ Sacræ in the 2003-2004 season, this program featured music from Symphoniæ Sacræ II, published in Dresden in 1647. Including works composed by Schütz over the almost two decades since his second trip to Venice, the collection represents the fullest example of the blending of the “new music” he had heard in Italy with the German language.

The collection differs from the first Symphoniæ Sacræ in its generally dark themes and more subdued tone, no doubt a reflection a desperation of war-ravaged Germany. Rebekkah Ahrendt commented on this darker tone in her review noting “Stewart’s programming was impeccable as usual for this concert. With his team of musicians who have long been together, Stewart, through the music of Schütz and his friends, showed that even in a time of war, friendship, hope, and art can endure. That is the message I took home from this concert; I hope others did as well.”

The final concerts of the season featured psalms and a Magnificat by the remarkable Johann Rosenmüller, who perhaps better than any composer of the period embodies the amalgamation of German temperament and Italian style. The program followed the vespers liturgy for the Feast of the Annunciation, and also included psalm settings by Cavalli and Rovetta, with Rosenmüller’s instrumental sonatas as antiphon substitutes. Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Joshua Kosman noted the effect of he antiphon substitution “As Warren Stewart, Magnificat’s visionary artistic director, noted in a preconcert lecture, 17th century Italians “spent a lot of effort to make going to church as much like going to a concert as possible.” Nowadays, he added ruefully, he spends his time trying to make going to a concert as much as possible like going to church — “and all in the name of authenticity!” … The performance, by a quintet of strong singers and a small instrumental consort, was first-rate.”

Born around 1619 in a small town near Zwickau in Saxony, Rosenmüller studied theology at the University of Leipzig and music with Tobias Michael, cantor of the Thomasschule. He quickly rose to the position of assistant cantor by 1650. He was appointed organist at Nikolaikirche in 1651 and in 1653 he was promised the succession to the cantorate. This promising career came to an abrupt halt in 1655 when, along with several of the St. Thomas schoolboys, he was accused of homosexuality for which he was jailed. While awaiting trial he managed to escape and eventually made his way to Venice where in January of 1658 he was appointed as a trombonist in the orchestra of San Marco. He remained in Venice until 1682, when he was appointed Kappelmeister in Wolfenbüttel, where he remained until his death in 1684. While in Venice, Rosenmüller was active as a composer, both at San Marco and at the Ospedale della Pietà, where Vivaldi would be employed a few decades later.

Over the course of the 2005-2006 season artistic director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Peter Becker, Meg Bragle,Louise Carslake, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Paul Elliott, Cathy Ellis, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Ruth Escher, Cynthia Freivogel, Vicki Gunn Pich, Katherine Heater, Laura Heimes, Daniel Hutchings, Phoebe Jevkovic, Hanneke van Proosdij, Byron Rakitzis, David Tayler,Catherine Webster and David Wilson.

2004-2005 – Magnificat’s 13th Season

December 16th, 2013 No comments

Magnificat was especially active in the 2004-2005 season, performing four programs on our own series while also appearing on the San Francisco Early Music Society concert series and returning for an engagement with the Music Before 1800 series in New York City. Each program focused on the work of a single composer: Carissimi, Monteverdi, Rovetta, Charpentier, Cozzolani, and Schütz.

The season opened with a program devoted to the music of Iacomo Carissimi, featuring two oratorios – Vantitas Vantitaum and Baltazar – a madrigal Fuggi, fuggi, and the allegorical dialogue Alma che fai, che pensi? The program also included two canzoni for two violins and continuo by Frescobaldi and a harpsichord toccata by Michelangelo Rossi. In her San Francisco Classical Voice review, posted on September 28, 2004, Anna Carol Dudley noted “Sopranos Catherine Webster and Jennifer Ellis, tenors Paul Elliott and Scott Whitaker (Elliott mostly singing alto parts) and bass Peter Becker were all at the top of their form, consistently sensitive to the words, spot-on in tuning, varied in their use of dynamics and vocal color, masters of coloratura, peerless in stylistic delineation of recitative and aria — above all, bringing wonderfully expressive music fully to life.”  Several works from the San Francisco performance on September 24, 2004 can be streamed and downloaded at Magnificat’s music page.

In November, Magnificat presented works of Monteverdi in a program that featured sopranos Caherine Webster and Jennifer Ellis Kampani and violinists Rob Diggins and Cynthia Freivogel. Vocal works included Zefiro torna and Si dolce e’l tormento as well as Chiome d’oro, Exulta filia Sion, Confitebor tibi Domine, Salve Regina, O come sei gentile, Ed è dunque pur vero and the Lament d’Arianna. The instrumental ensemble contributed two trio sonatas by Marini and a solo sonata of Dario Castello. Michelle Dulak, writing for San Francisco Classical Voice observed “Ellis and Webster have the agility, the accuracy, and the focused sound for this music, in which any of those three qualities being lacking spells major trouble. Agility, for example: Ellis’ coloratura in the solo motet “Exulta filia Sion” (Rejoice, daughter of Zion) and Webster’s in the third “Salve Regina” from the Selva morale were marvelous.

The following month, Magnificat was presented by the San Francisco Early Music Society in a Christmas  Vespers featuring music by Giovanni Rovetta, Monteverdi’s successor as maestro di capella at the basilica of San Marco in Venice. While working in has shadow of Monteverdi has affected Rovetta’s historical position it did not hinder his reputation during his own lifetime as he was one of the outstanding figures in Venetian musical life and he was active as a performer and as a composer of five large vespers collections, four volumes of concertato madrigals, at least two operas and numerous works in anthologies and manuscripts in a career than spanned thirty six years. Though we had previously performed individual works by Rovetta, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to share five psalms and a Magnificat from Rovetta, along with five sonatas by Venetian musician Massimiliano Neri and a motet by Cavalli with the San Francisco Early Music Society audience.

In January, we turned to the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier in a program featuring two of the composer’s Latin oratorios, or histoires sacrées:  Filius Prodigus and the Sacrificium Abrahæ. Representing the most direct link with Charpentier’s teacher Carissimi both in genre and style, Charpentier’s oratorios form a significant if isolated repertoire nearly unique in France, a country that seemed to have little interest in dramatic settings of religious subjects.

Magnificat’s season concluded with a program featuring two dramatic works of Heinrich Schütz: the Seven Last Words of Christ and the Reusrrection Story. For these concerts Magnificat welcomed back German baritone Martin Hummel and the Sex Chordæ Consort of Viols. Certainly the most striking of Schütz’s innovations in the setting of the Resurrection narrative is his use of a quartet of viols to accompany the evangelist’s words. Adapting a popular vocal style of the period called falso bordone, the viols sustain chords under the stationary reciting tone and bursting into expressive and florid part writing at each cadence. Kip Cranna praised Magnificat’s interpretation Schütz in his San Francisco Classical Voice review noting “This can be difficult repertoire to bring to life, with its narrow-ranged melodies, rhetoric based phrasing, frequent, formulaic cadences, and somber modal hues. Magnificat has mastered this refined art through exacting attention to detail and an obvious love for the music itself… .”

After completing our home season, Magnificat travelled to New York, where we were presented in a return engagement on the Music Before 1800 series. As in 2003, the program featured Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, this time the mass ordinary set in the context of the liturgy for Easter Sunday.

Over the course of the season artistic director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Peter Becker, Meg Bragle, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Paul Elliott, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Ruth Escher, Cynthia Freivogel, Amy Green, Martin Hummel, Daniel Hutchings, Boyd Jarrelll, Julie Jeffrey, Tim Krol, Christopher LeCluyse, David Morris, Farley Pearce, Hanneke van Proosdij, Deborah Rentz-Moore, Wolodymyr Smishkevich, David Tayler, Catherine Webster, Scott Whitaker, and David Wilson.

2003-2004 – Magnificat’s 12th Season

March 23rd, 2013 No comments

Magnificat’s Twelfth Season focused on lesser known works by three of the giants of the 17th Century, Henry Purcell, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and Heinrich Schütz and a program devoted to one of the century’s most extraordinary female musicians, Barbara Strozzi.

The season opened in September with “The Muse’s Feast” a program of songs and sonatas by Purcell that featured soprano Catherine Webster. Highlights included the songs Cupid, the slyest rogue around, from Playford’s 1685 Theatre of Music, the Evening Hymn from Harmonia Sacra and the beautiful ground bass aria O Solitude, though it would be difficult to pick a favorite from this program. Rebekkah Ahrendt, writing in the San Francisco Classical Voice praised Webster’s rendition of the Marian motet Tell Me, Some Pitying Angel noting her “command of emotion was superb, expressing the whole gamut of feelings a distressed mother might experience.” The program also included two trio sonatas and works for theorbo and harpsichord.

In December, Magnifcat turned to the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier in a two-part program. The first half included Charpentier’s settings of the seven so-called “O” antiphons. The name comes from the fact that in the Roman breviary the  Magnificat antiphons in vespers for the seven days preceding Christmas each begin with the acclamation “O”. We took up the composer’s suggestion of prefacing each of the antiphons with one of his noël seeitngs, by quite familiar to Magnificat’s audience from our productions of the Nativity Pastorale. The second half was devoted to the Dialogus inter angelos et pastores Judæ, one of at least six settings of the Christmas narrative by Charpentier. Packed with rich harmonies and a variety of textures and emotions the Dialogus is a particularly fine example of Charpentier’s mastery of dramatic narrative. Magnificat would present the work again in December 2010.

In January 2004, Magnificat presented selections from Heinrich Schütz’s first volume of Symphoniæ Sacræ, a collection that we will re-visit in our upcoming season next January. For these concerts we were joined by two friends from the early wind ensemble The Whole Noyse (who will also join us again next season): Steve Escher and Richard Van Hessel.  In April of 1628, Schütz applied to his employer, Elector Johann Georg I of Saxony, for permission to travel to Venice “not out of any frivolous desire to disport myself there for my own employment, but, it is to be hoped, to receive a better spirit.”  He was granted permission and spent almost a year in the most Serene Republic where he encountered a musical culture vastly changed from when he had studied with Gabrieli some twenty years before. The “fresh devices” that he heard in Venice figure prominently in the Symphoniæ Sacræ, published while he was in Venice, particularly in varied instrumentation and vocal groupings.

The concerts were extremely successful and prompted a program two years later that featured selections from Schütz second volume of Symphoniæ Sacræ. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Joshua Kosman observed that “to hear the music performed as brilliantly as it was on Saturday, under the leadership of artistic director Warren Stewart, was to marvel all over again at Schütz’s melodic fecundity, his mastery of counterpoint and formal proportions, and especially his distinctive blend of sensuality and sincere religious fervor, unmatched by anyone but Messiaen.” Writing for, Bruce Lamott praised the program as ” a model of artistic programming; rather than slavishly adhering to the order of publication, Stewart artfully assembled over half of the twenty symphoniae into a variegated program that showed both performers and composers in the best possible light.”

For the final program of the season, Magnificat continued its exploration of music by women from the 17th Century, devoting a program to the music of Barbara Strozzi.  The adopted daughter of poet Giulio Strozzi, Strozzi had the good fortune to be born into a world of creativity, intellectual ferment, and artistic freedom. She made a mark as composer and singer, eventually publishing eight collections of songs – more music in print during her lifetime than even the most famous composers of her day – without the support of the Church or the patronage of a noble house.

Strozzi is perhaps best known for her solo cantatas, which no doubt reflect her own repertoire as a virtuoso singer of the highest caliber and several of these cantatas were included in Magnificat’s program. Less well-known are the ensemble madrigals, eleven of which Magnificat were included on the program.

Over the course of the season, artistic director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Meg Bragle, Louise Carslake, Daria D’Andrea, Hugh Davies,  Jolianne von Einem, Jennifer Ellis, Steve Escher, Cynthia Freivogel, Richard Van Hessel, Dan Hutchings, Byron Rakitzis, Rob Diggins, Katherine Heater, Hanneke van Proosdij, David Tayler, Catherine Webster, Scott Whitaker, and David Wilson.

2002-2003: Magnificat’s 11th Season

February 13th, 2012 No comments

Coming off a triumphant performance at the 2002 Berkeley Festival and the release of a second recording of music by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, Magnificat’s eleventh season featured music by Charpentier, Stradella, Isabella Leonarda and Buxtehude, as well as a conference on Women and Music in Italy and our first appearance in New York.

Working with Charpentier scholar John Powell, Magnificat opened the season with a program of music the composer had written for the Parisian theatre. In our first season we had presented incidental music that Charpentier had written mostly from plays by Moliére also based on Powell’s work. For this program music we selected music from three plays written in the 1670s: Circé, Les fous divertissements and La Pierre philosophale.

When, in 1673, Charpentier became the principal composer to the King’s Troupe (Troupe du Roy), he became involved in the ongoing struggle between the company’s director and chief playwright, Jean-Baptiste Molière, and the composer Jean-Baptiste Lully.  Throughout the 1660s, Molière and Lully had worked closely in providing for the king’s entertainment a series of multi-generic experiments that combined theater, ballet, vocal numbers, choruses, and machine effects.  But by the spring of 1672 Lully had decided that his own future lay in opera.  Having witnessed the successes of Perrin and Cambert with pastoral opera, Lully set about obtaining the royal opera privilege and, thereafter, a series of draconian decrees designed to protect his monopoly and reduce his musical competition. Molière soon found another musical colleague in Charpentier, recently returned from Rome and his studies with Giacomo Carissimi.  The revivals of earlier collaborations with Lully (La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas, Le Mariage forcé) with new music by Charpentier led to a full-scale comedy-ballet, Le Malade imaginaire.  This devastating musical satire would be the playwright’s last work—for during its fourth performance Molière, playing the leading role of the hypochondriac Argan, fell ill during the finale and died at his home shortly thereafter.  Thereafter, musical life in Parisian theater was a struggle to survive in the face of Lully’s active opposition.

In his review for the San Francisco Classical Voice, Joseph Sargent wrote that “Magnificat’s artistic director Warren Stewart elicited a finely crafted performance, the precision and musical expression outstanding… a quartet of vocalists gave Charpentier’s music a nuanced, sensitive reading … from the opening overture to the final chorus, the instrumental consort was impressive in its precision. The seven-member band of winds, strings and continuo displayed tight ensemble work throughout the program, with impeccable attacks, perfect intonation and precise phrasing.”

In November of 2002, Magnificat hosted a conference on women and music in 17th Century. The conference was held at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and included papers read by four scholars whose work has illuminated our understanding of the emerging role of women as musicians and composers.The conference opened with Reflections and New Findings on Cozzolani’s Music., by Robert Kendrick of the University of Chicago and was followed by Poems for Nuns: Models of Sanctity and Religious Practice in Serafino Razzi’s Legends by Gabrielle Zarri of the University of Florence, Italy. After a discussion the conference continued with Washington University professor Craig Monson’s paper  Putting the Convent Musicians of Italy in Their Place, which included some of the material found in his 2010 book Nuns Behaving Badly. In the afternoon two more papers were given: Ann Matter of the University of Pennsylvania spoke about the rich tradition of Christian allegorical and spiritual language in the dialogues of Cozzolani and other nun composers in her paper Sacred Dialogues in 17th Century Italian Women Composers’ Spirituality and Colleen Reardon of Binghamton University read Persuasions: or You Can Catch More Nuns With Music, about the custom of constraining a young woman to enter the convent against  her will was both roundly denounced and widely practiced throughout  early modern Italy.  The conference included two programs performed by Magnificat, a vespers with music by Cozzolani in the choir of Grace Cathedral and a mixed program of motets by several women composers at Trinity Episcopal Church.

In December, Magnificat once again benefitted from the musicological research of another scholar, working from editions of Stradella’s two Christmas Cantatas prepared by  Eleanor F. McCrickard of the University of North Carolina.  Details about the two Christmas cantatas are scanty.  It is not known for whom they were composed, where they were first performed, or who the poets were.  One would like to think they were a part of the sixty-five-year tradition of music in the papal chamber in Rome from 1676-1740 for which a composer was invited to provide a cantata on the Christmas subject for a performance on Christmas Eve.  No proof exists, however, that either of them was used.  Other evidence—handwriting, paper, style—indicates that Si apra al riso ogni labro was for Modena and Ah! troppo è ver, for Rome with composition in the1670s, Si apra being the earlier of the two.  The subject in each work is treated in a different manner, from the somewhat pensive Si apra al riso ogni labro to the dramatic Ah! troppo è ver. Magnificat also performed one of Stradella’s instrumental sonatas on the program.

Magnificat next turned to the music of another remarkable woman from the 17th Century, Isabella Leonarda, an Urseline  nun and prolific composer who lived in a convent in Novarra during the second half of the century. The program was built on liturgy for the Feast of Purification and featured settings of four psalms and the Magnificat by Isabella as well as several of her instrumental sonatas. Kerry McCarthy, writing for the San Francisco Classical Voice noted that “the rapport and energy among the musicians was evident throughout the evening.” Two recordings from this concert are available on Magnificat’s music page, with Catherine Webster featured in Isabella’s setting of Lætatus sum and Rob Diggins in her extraordinary solo violin sonata.

In March Magnificat was presented by the Music Before 1800 series in New York. The concert took place at Corpus Christi Church near Columbia University and the program, like the recording Vespro della Beata Vergine, was built around Second Vespers for the Feast of the Annunciation. The excellent acoustics of Corpus Christi and the very warm audience contributed to a very successful East Coast debut for Magnificat.

Magnificat’s season concluded with a revival of Buxtehude’s cantata cycle Membra Jesu nostri. As in our 1996 performances, Buxtehude’s setting of the Medieval poem Salve mundi salutare were interwoven with Johann Georg Ebeling’s setting of Paul Gerhadt’s German translation of the text. In the program notes artistic director Warren Stewart wrote “In Buxtehude’s cantatas and the chorales of Ebeling we are presented with something quite outrageous — the image of a lover embracing a broken and disfigured body, compassionately desiring to examine its wounds. To our modern sensibility it is shocking and revolting, or at the very least in questionable taste. Today we hide our wounded in institutions, and we are required, in the interest of productivity, to conceal our own wounds.” Commenting on the performance, the San Francisco Calssical Voice observed that “each of the five voices was lovely in its own right, but when they sang together, the resulting alchemy made the group a real pleasure to listen to.”

Over the course of the season Warren Stewart directed ensembles that included Elizabeth Anker, Peter Becker, Meg Bragle,Louise Carslake, Maria Caswell, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Suzanne Elder Wallace, Jennifer Ellis, Ruth Escher, Andrea Fullington, Julie Jeffrey, Rita Lilly, Anthony Martin, Stephen Ng, Hanneke van Proosdij, Elisabeth Reed, Deborah Rentz-Moore, David Tayler, Catherine Webster, Scott Whitaker, David Wilson and Ondine Young.

2001-2002: Magnificat’s Tenth Season

December 8th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat celebrated it’s tenth season with a mix of old and new programs that included two of the composers featured in the 20th anniversary season this year: Heinrich Schütz and Claudio Monteverdi. The season also saw the release of our first two recordings of the Chiara Margarita Cozzolani’s music and two more weeks of recording sessions. Magnificat also made another appearance at the biennial Berkeley Festival and Exhibition.

A week of Cozzolani recordings in August preceded the regular season, which began in September with a program devoted to an excellent but under-performed composer, Johann Hermann Schein, one of Bach’s predecessors as cantor at Thomas Kirche in Leipzig. Already in Magnificat’s first season, Magnificat had included Schein’s striking setting of the Vater unser as part of our December concerts and individual works by the composer had made their way into program on other occasions. The release of a recording of Schein’s Banchetto Musicale in 2000 by the Sex Chordæ Consort of Viols led to plans for a joint program of the composer’s consort music and vocal works.

Instrumental works included three of the suites from Banchetto musicale(1617) and two Intradas from Venus Kräntzlein (1609.) The bulk of the vocal works were drawn from Schein’s motet collection Opella nova (1628,) with secular lieder from Diletto pastorali (1624) and Musica boscareccia (1628.) One of the joys of Magnificat has been programs like these when we have had the opportunity to explore music that is seldom if ever performed and give our audiences the rare chance to hear it.

In December, Magnificat marked the tenth anniversary season with a revival of Schütz’s Weihnachtshistorie, or Christmas Story, which, of course is filling the same celebratory role in our 20th anniversary season this year. It was a pleasure to welcome Martin Hummel back in the role of the Evangelist and to work once again with the early wind ensemble The Whole Noyse. The program was nearly identical to the program in 1992, with a psalm and Magnificat by Schütz and works from Schütz’s colleagues filling in the other parts of the liturgy.

Coinciding with the first of the Schütz’s performances was the release of Magnificat’s first recordings of Cozzolani’s music, Vespro della Beata Vergine. Another week of recordings in January ended with our next series concert which featured Cozzolani’s setting of the Mass ordinary that concludes her 1642 collection Concerti sacri. The program was built around the liturgy for the Feast of Purification and included the motets O Maria tu dulcis, Tu dulcis, o bone Iesu, O quam bonum, o quam iocundum, O dulcis Iesu, and Psallite superi.

Magnificat’s regular season ended with a selection of madrigals from Monteverdi’s Eight Book, published in 1619. Nine of Monteverdi’s madrigals were performed along with two instrumental works by Monteverdi’s colleague in Mantua Salamone Rossi. The program, and the regular season, ended with the ballo Tirsi e Clori, which had been featured in Magnificat’s first program in 1992.

But the season wasn’t really over, later in April, Magnificat performed another program of music by Cozzolani in two very different venues. The first was at the Carmel Mission in a concert presented by the Carmel Bach Festival, and the second was a self-produced concert at St. Vincent’s Catholic Church in Petaluma. The program was built around the vespers liturgy for the feast of Cozzolani’s convent’s patron saint, St. Radegonda.

Cozzolani at the Berkeley Festival 2002

Magnificat’s final performance of the season occurred at the Berkeley Festival and Exhibition and also coincided with the release of our second Cozzolani CD, Messa Paschale, which showcased the mass we had performed in February. For the Festival, Magnificat performed a program built around the liturgy for the Feast of Corpus Christi.

During the course of the season, Artistic Director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Elizabeth Anker, Peter Becker, Edward Betts, Meg Bragle, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Suzanne Elder-Wallace , Jennifer Ellis, Ruth and Steve Escher, Ken Fitch, Andrea Fullington, Richard Van Hessel, Martin Hummel, Yayoi Isaacson, Julie Jeffrey, Joyce Johnson-Hamilton, Linda Liebschutz, Matthias Maute, Marc Molomot, Herb Myers, Hanneke van Proosdij, Deborah Rentz-Moore, Katherine Shao, Sandy Stadtfeld, David Tayler, Lynn Tetenbaum, Catherine Webster, Scott Whitaker, and David Wilson.

2000-2001: Magnificat’s Ninth Season

November 26th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat’s ninth Season began earlier than usual with a week of recordings at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Belvedere in August. All the works by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani that Magnificat had performed on the San Francisco Early Music Society series the previous December were recorded plus two new psalms and a motet, Maria Magdalene stabat. The sessions ended with a performance for a small invited audience. The sessions were such a success that the decision was made for Musica Omnia to release not merely a Vespers CD but to undertake a project to record Cozzolani’s complete works and another week of recordings were planned for January.

The season officially opened in September with a program devoted to settings of texts from the Song of Songs, a rich source for composers throughout the 17th century. While Magnificat’s program most often are focused on a single composer, style, or historical event, this program, entitled “Sonnet vox tua in auribus meis,” featured settings in a variety of genres and from several composers. After an opening motet from Palestrina’s fourth book of motets for 5 voices, the program was divided into four “chapters,” each beginning with one of the four “seasons” of Charpentier’s soprano duet Quatour anni tempestes.

The “Spring” set included Monteverdi’s Nigra sum from the 1610 Vespers and a five voice motet by Orfeo Vecchi. “Summer” featured Grandi’s alto motet Quam pulchra es and another motet from Palestrina, Descendi in hortum nucum. Monteverdi’s motet O quam pulchra opened the second half of the program followed by “Autumn” and a setting of Vulnerasti cor meum by Alba Tressina and Schütz’s Ego dormio. “Winter” included Carissimi’s Anima-Corpo dialogue Tolle sponsa and a remarkable dialogue by Domenico Mazzochi. The program cover featured the altar artwork from St. Gregory Nyssen Episcopal church in San Francisco.

The December concerts explored an almost completely forgotten repertoire. Beginning in the 1670s the Vatican began commissioning a new musical work each year to be performed between vespers and the Christmas Eve feast.  The tradition continued well into the 18th century, with many eminent composers receiving the commissions including both Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, Porpora, Gasparini, and Caldara. Only two of the twenty four cantatas written before 1700 have survived and the music for both was written by Giuseppe Pacieri. Born in Trevi near Perugia, Pacieri took holy orders before succeeding Francesco Cardarelli as organist of the Santa Casa in Loreto in 1670, where he remained until 1679.  He entered the service of Cardinal Cibo in Rome by 1682, and it is most likely this connection that brought him six Cristmas Eve commissions. Il Trionfo dell’ Amor Divino was written for Christmas Eve in 1687 and was performed again in 1692 at St. Ursula in Vienna and it is thanks to this second performance that the work survives, since the only extant score is to be found in Vienna. The elegantly bound manuscript produced as a presentation copy to accompany the performance was used as the basis for Magnificat’s performing edition in what was certainly a modern premiere.

Il Triojnfo dell’ Amor Divino is an allegorical discussion of the significance of Christ’s birth, with singers representing Divine Love, Faith, Humanity, Idolatry, and Hell.  Divine Love reassures Humanity that with the aid of her trusted friend Faith, she will withstand the tyranny of the infidel and eternal damnation. Stylistically, Pacieri’s cantata falls somewhere between the Roman style of Marazzoli and the Neapolitan operatic style of Scarlatti.

The second week of Cozzolani recordings took place in January of 2001, coordinated with the repertoire for concerts in February. The remaining psalms and the second Magnificat from the composer’s 1650 collection Salmi a Otto voci concertati were included in a program built around Vespers for the Feast of Purification.

The program for the February concerts featured artwork by Ronald Chase that would be used for the first two Cozzolani releases. After trying out several ideas with Ronald in his studio, I noticed several framed flowers on on his wall. At first I assumed that they were paintings and was surprised to find out that they were in fact photographs that had been manipulated with a thoroughly “historical” device – a “xerox” machine! The works are described in this article and a gallery of Ronald’s flowers can be viewed here.

The season ended with two divertissements by Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Actéon and Les Arts florissants,  written during the 1680s, while Charpentier was employed in the household of Marie de Lorraine, called Mademoiselle de Guise. Both works fit into the loosely-defined genre of the divertissement, a term used in 17th Century France to refer to a wide range of musical works, from interludes in comedie-ballets and tragedie-lyriques, as well as entertainments that resembled the English masque. Some divertissements, like Actéon, were short independent operas on mythological subjects. Others, like Les Arts Florissants relate more specifically to the pastorale, originally a literary genre that, over the course of the 17th century began to incorporate music and ballet in the manner of opera.

The brochure for the season featured the image for the Star from a 17th Century Tarot deck. This deck also provided the “cats” found on many Magnificat brochures and programs.

Over the course of the season, Artistic Director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Elizabeth Anker, Peter Becker, Meg Bragle, Louise Carslake, Elijah Kenn Chester, Karen Clark, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jennifer Ellis, Ruth Escher, Ken Fitch, Andrea Fullington, Julie Jeffrey, Jennifer Lane, Karen Marie Marmor, Mathias Maute, Marc Molomot, Judith Nelson, Deborah Rentz-Moore, Jörg-Michael Schwartz, Katherine Shao, Mary Springfels, David Tayler, Hanneke van Proosdij, Jolianne von Einem, Suzanne Elder Wallace, Catherine Webster, Scott Whitaker, and David Wilson.

1999-2000: Magnificat’s Eighth Season

November 3rd, 2011 No comments

Spanning the turn of the millenium, Magnificat’s eighth season featured a variety of styles and included a staged production of Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona, choreographed performances of two Monteverdi madrigali rappresentativi and a Mass by Frescobaldi. It also included Magnificat’s first encounter with the astonishing music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani that set in motion a decade-long project of performing and recording her complete works.

There are only two singing roles in Pergolesi’s comic intermezzo a willful and beguiling servant Serpina (sung by Jennifer Ellis in Magnificat’s production) and her bumbling master Uberto (sung by David Newman), whom she  tricks into marriage. But this performance also featured Paul Del Bene in the silent role of Volpone, Uberto’s manservant, and his acrobatic hijinks contributed hilariously to the performances that the San Francisco Classical Voice described as a “refreshing blend of silliness, song, and somersaults.” The program included three instrumental works of Pergolesi: a violin concerto that featured Rob Diggins as soloist, the Sinfonia from the opera Lo frate innamorato that served as an overture and a sonata for violin with obbligato cello.

Four the sixth time in eight years Magnificat was invited to appear on the San Francisco Early Music Society series and these performances had a significant impact on Magnificat in the decade that was about to begin. Artistic Director Warren Stewart had been introduced to the music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani by soprano Judith Nelson while they were performing at the Bamboo Organ Festival in Las Piñas in The Philippines. Impressed by the overtly sensuous text and passionately expressive harmonic language, Stewart set about assembling an ensemble of eight female voices and continuo to perform a Christmas Vespers.

Following the monastic liturgy for the second vespers of Christmas, the program included four of Cozzolani’s psalm settings (Dixit Dominus, Confitebor tibi, Beatus vir and Laudate pueri) and the first of her two Magnificat setting. In addition five motets (Ecce annuntio vobisBone Jesu fons amoris, Quis audivit unquam tale, Gloria in altissimis, and the extraordinary O quam bonus es) served as proper substitutes.

The chemistry among the eight women was exceptional and the audience response overwhelming and Magnificat was approached by Musica Omnia, a new recording label based in Boston, about the possibility of recording the music. It was only after the tremedous success of the first recording sessions in August 2000 that the plan to record Cozzolani’s complete works was hatched. Notably these concerts marked the Magnificat debut of soprano Catherine Webster, who, together with Jennifer Ellis (later Kampani,) were to become so essential to Magnificat’s sound over the next decade.

Magnificat’s next program featured eight male singers in a reconstruction of Mass for the feast of purification built around Frescobaldi’s rarely performed Missa sopra la Monica, which draws much of its melodic material from the popular tune “La Monica.”  The familiar tune (made famous in the film “Tous les Matins du Monde”) served as basis of countless sets of variations for lute, guitar, and keyboard instruments throughout the seventeenth century. Frescobaldi himself composed two sets of variations on the theme for harpsichord. The mass was preceded by an elaborate processional ceremony involving candles and included several instrumental works and a motet by Frescobaldi and concluded with a setting of the Nunc dimitis by Palestrina.

For the final program of the season, Magnificat once again turned to Monteverdi in a program that featured staged and choreographed performances of two works from the Eight Book of Madrigals, the Madrigals of War and Love. Elijah Chester revived his role as Testo in the Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and Jennifer Ellis sang the madrigal Chi vol haver felice e lieto il core and Randall Wong and Judith Nelson sang Armato il cor. For the Ballo della Ingrate, Magnificat was joined by Mark Franko’s dance troupe NovAntiqua.Costumes were designed by Callie Flor.

In the spring of 2000, Susan Harvey resigned as co-artistic director and is now on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and active as a performer in the Bay Area. Over the course of her last season with Magnificat, she and Warren Stewart directed ensembles that included Cristina Aguirre, Elizabeth Anker, Peter Becker,Meg Bragle, Susan Burke, Zachary Carretin, Elijah Kenn Chester, Karen Clark, Stephen Cresswell, Daria D’Andrea, Mark Daniel, Hugh Davies, Paul Del Bene, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Stve Escher, Ken Fitch, Mark Franko, Andrea Fullington, Boyd Jarrell, Suzanne Elder-Wallace, Jennifer Ellis, Carla Moore,Herb Myers, Juliet Neidish, Judith Nelson, David Newman, Hanneke van Proosdij, Neal Rogers, Leslie Streit, David Tayler, Catherine WebsterScott Whitaker, David Wilson, and Randall Wong.

1998-99: Magnificat’s Seventh Season

September 28th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat’s seventh season included a full-scale puppet opera, another program of music by Buxtehude, a journey to the New World, and our second production of Monteverdi’s extraordinary Vespers of 1610.

The sold-out performances of the opera parody La Grandmére amoureuse in January 1998 prompted a search for other surviving puppet operas and we quickly began preparing a performance score of Jacopo Melani’s Il Girello. Written and first performed in 1668, Il Girello featured a libretto by Filippo Acciaiuoli in 1668 and a prologue by Alessandro Scarlatti. The opera was immensely successful and saw many revivals into a performance with life-size puppets in Venice in 1682. It was an obvious choice for a follow-up collaboration with the Carter Family Marionettes.

Neal Rogers, Judith Nelson, Randall Wong and Peter Becker perform "Il Girello"

In his review of one of the San Francisco performances, Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle aptly described Girello as “an unalloyed de light, a fluid blend of high and low art” and “a shameless crowd-pleaser.” Unique in the history of Magnificat’s concert series, the Girello production was extended to two weekends with five series performances and an additional concert presented by the Redwoods Arts Council in Occidental CA.

For the third season in a row, Magnificat was invited to perform the Christmas concert o0n the San Francisco Early Music Society series with another program devoted to the music of Dietrich Buxtehude. Like the program that opened Magnificat’s sixth season, the focus was on intimate chamber cantatas with a string band of two violins and two violas.

This was the first Magnificat production to be reviewed by the brand-new classical music website San Francisco Classical Voice. Anna Carol Dudley observed that “there was There is something felicitous about presenting an ensemble named Magnificat in a performance of Advent music.” Of course, while the notion of being “online” was still relatively new in 1998, SFCV went on to become a fixture for music-lovers in the Bay Area.

In January 1999, Magnificat ventured to the New World in a recreation the the festivities surrounding the Feast of Epiphany (oe Twelfth Night) in what is now called Jalisco Mexico.  In 1587, Fray Alonso Ponce, a colonial official was present at a fiesta on the Feast of the Epiphany, and described in considerable detail a play that was performed after Mass that was an annual tradition. For Magnificat’s “reconstruction,” imagined to be in the late 17th century, we used Spanish verses that had been handed down from the colonial period.

The play features many stock characters inherited from Spanish 17th-century theatre; the lazy, gluttonous Bartolo, the 200 year old, whip-cracking Ermitaño (Hermit) given to sudden displays of dancing, the uncouth Ranchero, and Bato, the managerial Everyman. The shepherd’s play, which was realized by members of the comedy troupe L.O.C.O.S. (Latinos or Chicanos or Something,) with Magnificat performing villancicos at several points. The music for the ordinary was Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla’s Missa “Ego flos campi” and the motet Hostes Herodes by Pablo de Escobar with chant drawn from the Graduale Domicale of Pedro Ocharte (1572.)

The season concluded with Magnificat’s second production of Monteverdi’s monumental Vespers of 1610. Returning to this collection of extraordinary music was a pleasure for all involved. For this production Magnificat incorporated Monteverdi’s psalms, motets and Magnificat into the liturgy for the Feast of Annunciation andalso included Alessandro Grandi’s motet Missus est Gabriel.

The first of the three concerts was at Stanford’s Memorial Church and a panel discussion on performance practice issues related to Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers was organized through the music departments of Stanford and UC Berkeley that included Jeffrey Kurtzman, Herb Myers, Doug Kirk, Ray Nurse and Warren Stewart.

In June 1999, Magnificat was invited by the Seattle Early Music Guild to present a revival of our 1998 production of La Grandmere amoureuse at two venues in Seattle. Once again we were joined by The Carter Family Marionettes, along with poultry from a Seattle Chinese market, and the response to the six performances was as enthusiastic as it had been in the Bay Area. The Seattle Times wrote:  “the singers sounded great, the actor-marionettes were a hoot, and the chamber musicians played well. But it was the live poultry that brought down the house.”

Over the course of the season, artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Carlos Aguirre, Peter Becker, Jaime Bolaños, Melvin Butel, Chris and Stephen Carter, Bruce Chessé, Elijah Kenn Chester, Mark Daniel, Hugh Davies, Paul Del Bene, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Ruth and Steve Escher, Arturo Fernandez, Ken Fitch, Boyd Jarrell, Jeff Kabatznik, Jennifer Ellis, Doug Kirk, Susan Rode Morris, Herb Myers, Judith Nelson, Ray Nurse, Vicki Gunn Pich, Mack Ramsey, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Richard Savino, Sandy Stadtfeld, Bill Wahman, Scott Whitaker, David Wilson, and Randall Wong.

1997-98: Magnificat’s Sixth Season

September 19th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat’s sixth season expanded on repertoire and genres that we had explored in out first five seasons and included a program of chamber cantatas by Buxtehude, a revival of Charpentier’s Nativity Pastorale, an Annunciation Vespers with music by Maurizio Cazzati and Giovanni Legrenzi and another opera pardoy – this times with puppets – and chickens!

The enthusiastic response to our performances of Buxtehude’s cantata cycle Membra Iesu nostri in 1996 encouraged us to explore more of the composer’s music and we turned to the extensive repertoire for one, two and three voices with violins and continuo. Entitled “Searching for the Beloved,” the program was built around themes of longing and spiritual journey with several settings of texts drawn from the Song of Solomon: Ich habe lust abzuscheiden, Ich suchte des nachts in meinem Bett, Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe, Liebster, meine Seele saget, Wie soll ich dich empfange, Ich bin eine Blume zu Saron and Jesu meine Freude.

For the San Francisco Early Music Society Christmas concerts, we revived, and modified, our production of Charpentier’s Pastorale sur la naissance de nostre Seigneur – the Nativity Pastorale – that had been on our second series in 1993. It was our first opportunity to revisit music that we had performed before – a thoroughly enjoyable experience for all. We even toyed with the idea of making the work a regular holiday tradition to compete with the innumerable Messiah performances each December, but of course there was so much wonderful Christmas music from the 17th century left to explore that we settled for bringing this wonderful program back to life every few years.

Nothing Magnificat had presented before, even the Parodie de Telemacque in 1996 could have prepared our audiences for the next program – another vaudeville parody from the Parisian fair theatres, this time with puppets.  La grandmére amoureuse (“The Lusty Grandma”) was written by Louis Fuzelier and his collaborator Dorneval, was a parody of Atys, the tragédie en musique by Lully and Quinault, which was revived at the Opéra in the 1725-26 season. As she had for Temacque, Susan Harvey created a score from Fuzelier’s libretto, using the popular vaudevilles of the day along with some of Lully’s music. Susan has recently prepared a score of La grandmére amoureuse for A-R Editions.

The use of puppets was actually historical – restrictions on the number of singers and actors allowed that were imposed on the fair theatres by the authorities became so severe that they were forced to use puppets rather than live actors. Oboist Sand Dalton had mentioned a puppet troupe that he had seen in Seattle and put us in touch with the Carter Family Marionettes, whose offbeat (and often off-color) humor suited the spirit of Fuzelier’s irreverent parody perfectly.

In the original, after his beloved Sangaride has been transformed into a stream, Atys begs the goddess Cybèle to change him into a tree by the stream, so that he can remain near his lover. In the parody Sangaride is changed into a chicken and Atys boldly asks to be made a rooster for reasons obvious to the audience but Cybèle instead changes him to a capon. But how to stage this? On the suggestion of a friend who was chef, we purchased two live chickens in Chinatown with the intention of returning them (ineffectively explained to the owner of the market) but by the time we got home, the chickens had been named and there was no chance of them returning to the market. The stage transformation was accomplished with a puff of smoke and was the final touch in a most uproarious performance. (The chickens retired from the stage after the performances and lived out their free-range lives at Alison Harris’ family farm near Sebastopol.)

Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle observed that  “both the specifics of “Atys” and the absurdities of opera in general came in for ribbing. The traditional “sommeil” scene, for instance, an operatic staple in which a gentle lullaby soothes a character into a peaceful sleep, was replaced here by a fight between good and bad dreams — the latter represented by fierce demons armed with Bobbittesque scissors and cleavers.”

Prior to the puppet opera Joshua Kosman also wrote a preview that captured some of the spirit of the first years of Magnificat: “Magnificat Obsession / Musicologists put together a Baroque puppet show.”

The season ended somewhat more seriously with a Vespers for the Feast of Annunciation with music by Maurizio Cazzati, transcribed especially for Magnificat’s production and most likely most of the works received their modern premieres in these performances. The five psalms and Magnificat were drawn from Cazzati’s Messa e Salmi a quattro voci of 1653 and the sonatas used as antiphon substitutes were selected from Legrenzi’s Sonate op. 2  from 1655. In these concerts, Magnificat used all male voices for the first time, a distinctive format that we have employed on several occasions since and will again this December for our performances of Schütz’s Christmas Story.

Over the course of the season, artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Peter Becker, Louise Carslake, Stephen and Chris Carter, Bruce Chessé, San Dalton, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Julie Jeffrey, Jennifer Ellis, Judith Nelson, Hanneke van Proosdij, Neal Rogers, Robby Stafford, Bill Wahman, Roy Wheldon, and Randy Wong.

1996-97: Magnificat’s Fifth Season

August 25th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat’s fifth season featured programs that explored the music of new composers (for our series) Buxtehude, Cavalli and Marazzoli, our first modern premiere, along with another masterpiece by an old favorite, Charpentier. It was a season of contrasts in nationalities and genres: a North German cantata cycle, a reconstruction of a Venetian vespers, the staged production of the first Italian opera performed in France and a very Italianate French setting of the Orpheus legend.

The season opened with Dietrich Buxtehude’s cantata cycle Membra Jesu nostri. Published in 1680, the cycle sets texts drawn from a 13th century poem, Oratio Rythmica, formerly thought to be by Bernard Clairvaux and now attributed to Arnulf of Louvain, together with scriptural verses. Arnulf’s poem also served as the basis of a cycle of hymns by Paul Gerhardt and for this program Magnificat integrated Gerhardt’s hymns, preceding each of the sections of Buxtehude’s cycle. Magnificat would return to Buxtehude’s several times in the following seasons and revive this program for 2002-2003 season.

In December, Magnificat appeared on the San Francisco Early Music Society series, beginning a run of four consecutive seasons in which we provided their holiday concerts. For the December 1996 program Magnificat turned to one of Monteverdi’s colleagues at San Marco, Francesco Cavalli, whose monumental Musiche Sacre of 1656 provided the psalms and Magnificat for a Christmas Vespers. Best known to music history as the finest of the first generation of Venetian opera composers, Cavalli was also a prolific composer of sacred music and was employed at San Marco for a half century, first as an organist and later as maestro di capella. As substitutes for the antiphons after the psalms, Magnificat played five sonatas by another successor of Monteverdi at San Marco, Giovanni Legrenzi, and in place of the antiphon following the Magnificat, we performed a Cavalli Canzona. Magnificat will perform Cavalli’s Magnificat again this December.

In March 1997, Magnificat presented our first modern premiere, the opera Il Capriccio by Roman composer Marco Marrazoli, a work that had not been performed since the middle of the 17th Century. Warren Stewart and Susan Harvey prepared a modern edition from facsimiles of the only surviving manuscript score, now housed in the Chigi collection of the Vatican Library in Rome. Like Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo, Marrazoli’s Il Capriccio is allegorical, and although it is a comedy, its principal interest, and its principal characters, are concepts: Caprice, Deceit, Reason, True Love, Beauty, Jealousy, Shock and Time (along with Beauty’s maid servants, played in drag by Neal Rogers and Raymond Martinez for Magnificat’s production.)

As Joshua Kosman described in his thoughtful review “the title character, aided by Deceit, seduces Beauty away from her moping swain True Love; but of course his interest wanes quickly, leaving her to enlist the help of Jealousy in making him return. Presiding over it all is Reason, whose clear-eyed perceptiveness does not preclude a puckish sense of humor.” The production was Magnificat’s first to use supertitles thanks to equipment purchased with the help of a grant from the San Francisco Grants for the Arts. Costumes, many loaned from American Conservatory Theater, were designed by Callie Flor.

The season concluded with Charpentier’s setting of the Orpheus legend, La Descente d’Orphée aux enfers. A work that defies categorization, sharing aspects of cantata and opera, Orphée was one of the last works charpentier composed for the Hôtel de Guise, where he lived and worked for almost two decades after his return from his studies with Carissimi in Rome. Magnificat will open our 20th season with a revival of this exquisite piece.

After the final performance of Orphée, Magnificat marked the completion of our fifth season by treating the audience to a reception that included a performance of Charpentier’s very silly “La, la, la Bonjour” and other equally ridiculous works. Both musicians and audience members enjoyed the opportunity to share wine and cheese after the final concert and receptions after the Sunday afternoon concerts soon became a feature of every Magnificat set.

Over the course of the season artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Roberto Balconi, Peter Becker, Amy Brodo, Louise Carslake, Hugh Davies, Paul Del Bene, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Ruth Escher, Melissa Fogarty, Boyd Jarrell, Julie Jeffrey, Suzanne Elder Wallace, Jennifer Ellis, Raymond Martinez, Judith Nelson, Hanneke van Proosdij, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Mary Springfels, David Stattelman, Bill Wahman, David Wilson, and Randall Wong.

1995-96: Magnificat’s Fourth Season

August 16th, 2011 No comments

With the Cavalieri recording completed, Magnificat planned a new season that would keep our audiences guessing – three wildly varied programs, establishing a pattern that became a point of pride as the ensemble grew over the years. The season culminated with a return to the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition.

The season opened in September with a program of oratorios by Iacomo Carissimi. Magnificat had performed Carissimi’s Jephte in the first series concert in 1992 (and will perform again this November) together with music by other Italians, mostly Monteverdi. This time Magnificat devoted an entire evening to this most musically influential figure of  mid 17th century. In addition to Jephte, Magnificat also performed the oratorios Job (also on the program this coming November), and Ezechia, and Historia dei Pellegrini di Emmaus, as well as the dramatic cantatas Tolle, sponsa and Sponsa canticorum. Three works by Girolamo Frescobaldi punctuated the vocal works: the Canzone detta la Todeschina and la Bianchina for two violins and continuo and the extraordinary Capriccio Chromatico con Ligature Contrario for harpsichord.

Magnificat’s December concerts December concerts featured the Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli. The program was built around the Third Mass of Christmas Day at the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. The ordinary of the Mass was drawn mostly from the collection of Giovanni’s works published posthumously in 1615 but also included Andrea’s magnificent 16 part Gloria published in 1597.

The Whole Noyse (and friends) played canzone by Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Merulo, a sonata by Cesario Gussago and the famous Sonata pian’ e forte by Giovanni. At the Elevation, Steve Escher played Bovicelli’s divisions on Angelus ad pastores by Cipriano de Rore. The program also included three of Giovanni’s motets: Quem vidistis pastores, O magnum mysterium and Audite principes.

Neither of these programs could have in any way prepared Magnificat’s audiences for the next program – a staged production of a fair theatre from turn of the 18th century Paris. The Parodie of Telemaque was a play set to vaudevilles by Alain-René Le Sage produced at the Foire de S. Germain in 1715, a year after the extremely popular production at the Opéra of the Tragedie de Télémaque by Destouches, which Le Sage satarizes mercilessly with bawdy lyrics, overblown rhetoric and sophomoric gags that resulted in a Baroque Saturday Night Live parody.

William Wahman in Telemaque (click for larger image)

Although Claude Gilliers, a bass player in the Accademie’s opera orchestra, is credited as the composer for the production in 1715, only Le Sage’s libretto survives, so a score was constructed by Susan Harvey, drawing from the author’s specific suggestions – the ouverture of the original opera, the storm scene from Marais’ Alcione – along with other music lifted from the original opera. The bulk of the music in Magnificat’s production was taken from the rich repertory of popular song known as “voix de villes” or, more commonly, vaudevilles.

James Middleton joined Magnificat as stage director for these production and also designed costumes, sets and props, while Angene Feves provided choreography fro several scenes. James brought a Loony Tunes sensibility that meshed well with Magnificat’s enthusiastic, often anarchic, approach to comedy and the low-brow slapstick humor of Le Sage’s parody and a delightful time was had by all.

Magnificat was pleased to be invited to perform at the Berkeley Festival on June 2 1996. For this project, Warren Stewart took Heinrich Schütz’s suggestion in the preface to his Musikalische Exequien that the large first part of the work could be used as a paraphrase of the Kyrie and Gloria in a Mass for the Feast of Purification and built a program around the Dresden court chapel liturgy that included all three parts of the Exequien along with other works by Schütz, a Credo by Alessandro Grandi and a motet by Michael Praetorius. Magnificat’s largest collaborative project included The Whole Noyse and members of the Piedmont Children’s Choir.

For the chorales that form such an essential part of the Lutheran liturgy, Magnificat invited members of many of the choirs that had worked with the Jubilate Orchestra (at the time, somewhat confusingly, also called Magnificat) and a “congregational choir” was formed with members of Baroque Choral Guild,  The Bay Area Lutheran Chorale, the California Bach Society, the St. Gregory Nyssen Church Choir, the San Francisco Bach Choir, the Sonoma County Bach Society and The University of California Chamber Chorus. The concert actually began several blocks away from First Congregational Church in Berkeley, as the 80-voice choir sang the macronic chorale Ex legis observatia/Nach dem Gebet in procession – eventually filing into the church and surrounding the Festival audience.

The 1995-96 season was the first season that Magnificat received funding from San Francisco Grants for the Arts, which has been a tremendous support for arts organizations of all kinds in the Bay Area for the past fifty years (our renewed funding for the upcoming season was just announced.) The 95-96 season was also the first in which Miriam Lewis designed programs and brochures, establishing a graphic style (and the Bellevue font) that endured for a decade. Miriam also appeared as a dancer and was in charge of make-up for Telemaque.

Over the course of the season, artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Carolyn Carvejal, Sand Dalton, Mark Daniel, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Elizabeth Engan, Ruth and Steve Escher, Richard Van Hessel, Boyd Jarrell, Doug Kirk, Miriam Lewis, James Middleton, Susan Rode Morris, Herb Myers, Judith Nelson, Gayle and Phil Neumann, Ray Nurse, Robert Osborne, Ernie Rideout, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Doug Shambo, Sandy Stadtfeld, Bill Wahman (as Idas in the photograph and, yes, he is holding a commuter coffee mug!), Nathaniel Watson, and Randall Wong.

1994-95: Magnificat’s Third Season

August 10th, 2011 No comments

The enthusiastic response to Magnificat’s production of Cavalieri’s La Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo in Ferbuary 1994 led to a recording on the Koch International label. With recording sessions scheduled for the end of October, it wa decided to reduce the concert series to just two sets, but they were both extraordinary programs, each featuring monumental works from the 17th century: Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and Heinrich Schütz’s Resurrection Story. Read more…

1993-94: Magnificat’s Second Season

August 5th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat’s first season of concerts was such fun, plans began immediately for a second season. This time the emphasis was on the 17th century innovations in setting dramatic narrative to music. Three programs were presented and again each program was performed in San Jose, Berkeley and San Francisco.

The season opened in October with dramatic works by Henry Purcell including the masque written for inclusion in a revival of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. Inspired perhaps by the proximity of the concerts to Halloween, the program featured the dramatic scena In Guilty Night, Purcell’s setting of the biblical story of Saul’s encounter with the Witch of Endor, which featured Sand Dalton’s first (and most likely only) performance on the thunder machine – a 6×4 piece of sheet metal that created just the right spooky mood. This would not be the last use of unlikely percussion in a Magnificat production.

In December, Magnificat assembled a program from the three surviving versions of Charpentier’s Nativity Pastorale, interspersing traditional noëls – a holiday tradition that would be re-visited several times over the years. This program immediately became a favorite of both musicians and audiences and we have revived it twice, with minor changes, in 1996 on the San Francisco Early Music Society series and on our own series in 2005. For this first production we were joined in these concerts by Marion Verbruggen, with whom we had performed at the 1990 Berkeley Festival and Exhibition.

With the December concerts, Magnificat settled on the full-size program format that plenty of room for program notes and texts and translations. The programs were still literally cut (with scissors) and pasted (well, taped) and photo-copied but the brochure was designed and laid out by Paul Tokmakian.

The extremely successful final concert of the first season had included some acting and minimal sets and costumes, so for the final program of the season, Magnificat presented a fully-staged production of Emilio de’ Cavalieri’s La Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo – and fully-staged it was, with winged blessed spirits in heaven, damned spirits in flame red body suits and gruesome fingernails in Hell, all accompanied by a colorful instrumental ensemble that included The Whole Noyse.

Over the course of the season, artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included René Boutet, Tina Chancey, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Elizabeth Engan, Ruth and Steve Escher, Richard Van Hessel, Julie Jeffrey, Roxanne Layton, Andrew Morgan, Susan Rode Morris, Herb Myers, Gayle and Phil Neumann, Ray Nurse, Marianne Richer-Pfau, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Sandy Stadtfeld, and Nat Watson.

1992-93: Magnificat’s First Season

July 21st, 2011 No comments

It is satisfying that the composers featured in our first season: Claudio Monteverdi, Heinrich Schütz, Iacomo Carissimi and Marc-Antoine Charpentier and even some of the same masterpieces, notably Jephte and the Christmas Story, should also be featured in our 20th anniversary season. The genius of these composers, their innovations and  the tremendous influence they had on the music of the 17th century have inspired every program on every season that Magnificat has presented since and at least one has been featured on a program in every Magnificat season. In the years since that first season it has been a privilege to get to know these composers and to share their magnificent music with the many fine musicians who have been a part of Magnificat.

Encouraged by the success of our performance at the inaugural Berkeley Festival and Exhibition in 1990, chamber music performances at various venue – including a notable concert at The Musical Offering, also in 1990, and appearances on the San Francisco Early Music Society and The San Jose Chamber Music Society, Magnificat launched a subscription series in October, 1992. The season included three programs, each of which was performed in San Jose, Berkeley and San Francisco.

The first program was given the title “Heroes, Fools and Nymphs” and used Monteverdi’s  Chi vol’ che m’innamori as a framework for a mixed program of Italian vocal and instrumental gems – culminating in Carissimi’s oratorio Jephte, which will be on our November 11-13 program this season. Earlier in the program we performed Monteverdi’s Introduzione al Ballo, which we will revive in our February 17-19 program this season.

In December 1992 Magnificat joined with the San Francisco Early Music Society in a co-production of Heinrich Schütz’s Christmas Story. Schütz’s delightful setting of the Nativity narrative was placed in the liturgical context for which it was written, Christmas Vespers following the order of the Dresden Court Chapel. This was the first of many liturgical reconstructions that Magnificat has presented. It was also the first appearance with Magnificat of German baritone Martin Hummel in the role of the Evangelist. We will be reviving this program this December, again with SFEMS as we celebrate 20 seasons and SFEMS celebrates their 35th!

The final set of the 1992-1993 season, title “Saints and Buffoons,” focused on another composer that would become so important for Magnificat: Marc-Antoine Charpentier. In the first half of the program we performed sacred works from three genres: the psalm Super flumina Babilonis, the motet Oculi omnium, the histoire sacrée Le Reniement de St. Pierre. After intermission was devoted to incidental music Charpentier wrote for the Commedie française culminating with the uproarious Doctor Scene from Moliére’s La Malade Imaginaire.

Over the course of the season Artistic Directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Marilyn Boenau, René Boutet, Kenn Chester, John Dornenburg, Elizabeth Engan, Stephen Escher, Gerald Gaul, Nathan Gunn, Richard Van Hessel, Brian Howard, Martin Hummel, Boyd Jarrell, Claire Kelm, McDowell Kenley, Susan Rode Morris, Herbert Myers, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Foster Sommerlad, Sanford Stadtfeld, David Tayler, George Thomson, Arizeder Urreiztieta, Nathaniel Watson and Lisa Weiss.