San Jose Mercury News Review: Magnificat celebrates holiday and its 20th anniversary with Schütz’s ‘Christmas Story’

December 19th, 2011 No comments

This review was posted at the San Jose Mercury News on December 17 2011.

Everything but the sermon.

Other than that, it’s the full package this weekend as the Magnificat Baroque Ensemble re-creates Christmas Vespers at the Dresden Court Chapel circa 1660. Friday’s rendering in Palo Alto was a gleeful holiday present for early-music lovers, unleashing sounds of sackbut and curtal (distant relatives of trombone and bassoon), while bringing forth German composer Heinrich Schütz’s “Christmas Story,” a setting of the Gospel narrative.

Schütz’s wondrous piece — quasi-operatic — was the centerpiece not only of the court’s service back in 1660; it also was the centerpiece of a 1992 program by Magnificat, during its inaugural season in the Bay Area. And just as Warren Stewart, the group’s artistic director, conducted the performance in 1992, he led it Friday. He was surrounded onstage at First United Methodist Church by 13 instrumentalists and eight singers, including bright-voiced German tenor Martin Hummel, passionately singing the role of the Evangelist, as he did in 1992. Read more…

San Francisco Examiner Review: The seventeenth-century Christmas service at St. Mark’s

December 19th, 2011 No comments

This review was posted at the San Francisco Examiner on December 19 2011.

The San Francisco Early Music Society and Warren Stewart’s Magnificat combined forces this season to reconstruct a Christmas Vespers service, as it would have been given in the Dresden Court Chapel of 1660.  This production was given its San Francisco performance last night at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.  The Lesson for such a service would have been an account of the Nativity from one of the Gospels.  Music for the service would have been the responsibility of the Kapellmeister to the Elector of Saxony, at that time Johann Georg I.  That Kapellmeister in 1660 was Heinrich Schütz.

Thus, the major work at last night’s performance was a setting of Nativity texts in what was probably one of the earliest forms of oratorio.  This involved music for both a chorus and soloists, with the soloists corresponding to the characters of the narrative along with an “Evangelist” narrator, with instrumental accompaniment.  For the libretto for this narrative, Schütz drew upon two of the Gospels:  Luke (primarily the first 21 verses of the second chapter) and Matthew (the first 23 verses of the second chapter).  In addition to the Evangelist, the characters consisted of an angel, the shepherds in the field, the three wise men, Herod, and his high priests. Read more…

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.

Italians in Dresden – The Musical Ensemble at the Court of Johann Georg II

December 8th, 2011 No comments

When Schütz was first engaged as Kappelmeister by the Elector of Saxony, Johann Georg I, the court in Dresden boasted one of the finest musical establishments north of the Alps. After Saxony’s disastrous decision in 1627 to enter the then decade-old conflict  now known as The Thirty Years War, this once glorious musical establishment was decimated, and Schütz spent a considerable amount of time away from Dresden – notably in Venice and Copenhagen. After the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 matters improved and the Elector was again able to devote resources to music.

Significantly, the Elector’s son, who would become Johann Georg II, created his own musical ensemble, parallel to his father’s, that reflected his musical tastes – and those those tastes were decidedly Italianate. Johann Georg II was strongly influenced in his musical tastes by his father’s Kappelmeister, particularly after Schütz’s visit to Venice in 1629. Already in the 1640s, he had begun recruiting Italian musicians for his nascent ensemble – often unscrupulously luring them away from other German courts creating some political difficulties for his father. He also sent agents to Venice, Rome and other Italian cities to scout out potential talent.

For the first years of the 1650s, the two ensembles co-existed but after the death of Johann Georg I in 1655 they were merged and formed, with as many as 50 musicians, the most elaborate musical ensemble in Northern Europe. Though he was still listed as one of the Kappelmeisteren of the merged ensemble, Schütz essentially retired at this time and the duties of leading and composing for the ensemble passed to a series of Italians: Giovanni Bontempi, Vincenzo Albrici, Giuseppe Peranda, and later Carlo Pallavicino and Sebastian Cherici.

Unlike other rulers of Lutheran states in Germany that imported musicians from Catholic Italy, Johann Georg II did not require Italian musicians to convert to Lutheranism a condition of employment. He also turned a blind eye to their attendance at the celebration of Mass at the residences of diplomats from Paris and Vienna, which was forbidden by law in Saxony. This contributed to doubts about the Prince’s commitment to the Reformed Church and speculation about the possibility of his conversion to Catholicism – speculation that proved to be baseless. The Prince was well aware of the social and political upheaval his conversion would cause and while there was encouragement from some of his Catholic allies, it seems to have never been serious option for him. He just wanted to hear the best musicians at Vespers and Mass and to his taste the best musicians were to be found in Italy.

The roster of musicians, especially singers, was also dominated by Italians, who were all paid three or four times as much as the German musicians – for far less work. Generally the Italians were required for Sundays, Feasts like Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and for special events – all situations calling for complex, figural music. Generally, these were services in which the Elector was in attendance. But morning and evening services took place every day in the chapel and the German musicians were required to provide the more humble music required at these services.

Needless to say this led to some hard feelings, most notably the departure of Christoph Bernhard, a noted pupil of Schütz, who labored as Vice-Kappelmeister in charge of the daily services for years. In 1663, when Albrici left Dresden to serve at the court of King Charles II in London, the Elector once again passed over Bernhard, despite his seniority, his demonstrated ability to write in the Italian style, and his long history at court and appointed Peranda as Kappelmaister. The disappointed Bernhard sought a position elsewhere and was appointed cantor in Hamburg, though he eventually returned to Dresden later in the decade.

When Johann Georg died in 1680, his son and successor Johann Georg III wasted little time in disassembling his father’s opulent – and extremely expensive – ensemble. All debts and obligations to the Italian musicians were settled and they were released from service. Bernhard was finally elevated to the status of Kappelmeister but now with only a shell of the previous magnificent ensemble. A large part of the court repertoire – the music composed by the Italians that could no longer be performed with the reduced ensemble – was given to the city music ensemble in the Saxon town of Schneeberg. No trace of this music survives today and the only examples of the repertoire of the court under Johann Georg II that do survive are various manuscript copies, notably those made by organist Gustav Düben and preserved in the library at Uppsala University in Sweden. It is from this collection that we have both Schütz’s Christmas Story and Albrici’s setting of the psalm Lætatus sum, which Magnificat will perform next week.

Schütz’s Christmas Story

December 7th, 2011 No comments

Magnificat performs Schütz’s Christmas Story and other music from the Dresden Court the weekend of December 16-18. Tickets are available here.

In what has become a decennial tradition, Magnificat will perform Schütz’s Weihnachtshistorie (Christmas Story) in the context of a Christmas Vespers from the Electoral Court Chapel of Saxony in Dresden. Schütz’s masterpiece served as the Gospel reading in the Dresden liturgy and in 1992 and 2001, settings of the remaining texts in the liturgy (the psalm, Magnificat, Vater unser, etc.) were drawn from other works by Schütz and colleagues from earlier in his carrier in Dresden, namely Michael Praetorius, Johann Hermann Schein, and Samuel Scheidt – all music from the first half of the 17th Century. For this season’s incarnation of Christmas Vespers ina co-production with the San Francisco Early Music Society, Magnificat will focus on the music in fashion in Dresden in 1660, when Schütz wrote the Weihnachtshistorie. In creating this program, we have been fortunate to have the assistance of Magnificat Artistic Advisory Board member Mary Frandsen, professor of musicology at Notre Dame University, whose 2006 book Crossing Confessional Boundaries, explored musical patronage in Dresden under Johann Georg II.

Fresh from his studies in Venice with Giovanni Gabrieli, Heinrich Schütz was named  Kappelmeister to the Elector of Saxony in Dresden in 1617, the year in which the centennial of the Protestant Reformation was celebrated throughout Lutheran Germany. By the time he wrote the central work on our program published in 1664 as Historia, der freuden- und Gnadenreichen Geburth Gottes und Marien Sohnes Jesu Christi, Unsers Einigen Mitlers Erlösers und Seligmachers, commonly referred to as Weihnachtshistorie, or Christmas Story, Schütz was one of the few members of his generation surviving to remember those celebrations.

Saxony, along with the rest of northern Europe, was finally beginning to recover from the economic and social devastation of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).  As always resources had been devoted to weapons instead of people and for many years during the war musicians in the court musical ensemble were paid only occasionally.  In a letter written in 1651, Schütz described “the very great lamentation, distress, and wailing of the entire company of poor, deserted relatives of the singers and instrumentalists, who live in such misery that it would move even a stone in the earth to pity.”

Johann Georg II, Elector of Saxony in 1658The situation changed significantly in the 1650s, particularly with the ascent of Johann Georg II in 1656. While there was some concern among church authorities about his allegiance to the Lutheran confession, Johann Georg II was quite devoted to spiritual matters and to the support of the arts, and the new Elector lavished huge sums from the court treasury on an opulent musical ensemble. Some of the finest Italian singers were appointed and the instrumental ensemble was expanded to become one of the finest musical establishments in Europe.

It was with this magnificent ensemble in mind that Schütz composed his setting of the Christmas narrative, based on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The trend toward the dramatization of Vespers readings was already under way by the time Schütz wrote theChristmas Story, as for example in a similar work composed in the 1650s by his colleague Peranda, but Schütz was the first to use such a diverse orchestra to depict the characters in the story. The use of operatic recitative style for the Evangelist’s narrative was also innovative and reflected a theological trend toward the personalization of liturgy in an effort to communicate directly to the emotions of the congregation.

In developing a liturgy for the reformed church, Luther and his followers retained the Matins and Vespers services from the daily Divine Office of the pre-Reformation church, adapting their content to suit the new theology. The basic structure of Vespers remained in an abbreviated form, along with many of the Gregorian melodies and recitation formulæ, but the congregation was involved directly through the singing of chorales and the use of German along with Latin. The inclusion of chorales, the addition of a sermon, and the expansion of the lesson to include large sections of scripture recited in German served to shift the emphasis of the Vespers service away from prayer and meditation and toward the education and spiritual edification of the congregation.

Though Luther established a basic structure of worship, the details of liturgy and ritual were left largely to the discretion  of local authority. Upon his ascension to the Electorate in 1656, Johann Georg II established a revised liturgy for the Dresden Court Chapel and this, together with diary entries from the court secretaries has provided considerable detail in determining the structure of worship in Dresden and the specific entry for Christmas 1660 has provided the framework and many of the musical elements of Magnificat’s program.

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.

SFCV Review: Magnificat’s Moving Oratorios and Motets

November 16th, 2011 No comments

The following review was posted at San Francisco Classical Voice on November 15, 2011.

One of the nice things about an ensemble like Warren Stewart’s Magnificat, which I heard Saturday at St. Mark’s Church in Berkeley, is that having a flexible roster of musicians enables it to match itself to the needs of the music at hand. Giacomo Carissimi’s 1650 oratorio, Jephte, which Magnificat performed, has been a particular victim of the tendency to recast early music into the Romantic mode of grand works: adding wholesale orchestrations and lush vibrating string parts to this work for continuo and soloists. Composer Hans Werner Henze once managed to work in parts for tom-tom, boo-bam, banjo, marimba, glockenspiel, trumpets, and four flutes when commissioned to orchestrate it for a London Bach choir.

So it was a relief to hear Magnificat perform the work in a manner the composer may have recognized and, not surprisingly, at the ensemble’s usual high standard. I might fault Magnificat for going too far in the other direction: performing the work’s choruses by soloists. Still, by virtue of attracting the right solo voices, Magnificat achieved a moving choral effect. The beauty of Jephte’s concluding chorus, one of the great choruses of all time, is the reason the work remains marginally familiar. The biblical Jephta story is essentially the same as the Greek Idomeneo story: The hero makes a vow to God that if he is victorious on his quest he will sacrifice the first person he sees when he returns. In Jephta’s case it’s his daughter, thus providing an opportunity for expressive sad music. The masterwork was clearly known to another great Baroque composer. In addition to writing an excellent Jephtha oratorio 100 years after Carissimi, Handel found it fitting to appropriate Carissimi’s choruses in some of his other oratorios, especially when he needed choruses for Jews in various forms of bondage. Read more…

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.

Carissimi’s Roman Colleagues

November 3rd, 2011 No comments

In addition to four vocal works by Carissimi, Magnificat’s November program will include three instrumental compositions by composers active in Rome during Carissimi’s lifetime: keyboard works by Michelangelo Rossi and Girolamo Frescobaldi, and a toccata for theorbo by Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger. All three were among the finest virtuosi active in Rome during the first half of the 17th century and it is certain that their paths crossed with Carissimi after his arrival in 1629.

Michelangelo Rossi

A remarkably versatile musician, Michelangelo Rossi held prominent positions as a composer, violinist, organist, and most likely also as a singer. Rossi was most famous during his lifetime as a virtuoso violinist (in pay records in Savoy he is often referred to as “Michelangelo il Violino”,) though no examples of his music for that instrument survive. Born into a musical family in Genoa, Rossi moved to Rome by 1624 and entered the service of Cardinal Maurizio of Savoy, where he worked with Sigismondo d’India, whose influence on Rossi’s vocal music is striking. During this period he also encountered Frescobaldi, with whom he may have studied.

Rossi published two books of madrigals and his opera Erminia sul Giordano with a libretto by Giulio Rospigliosi (who later became Pope Clement IX) based on Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata was performed in the theater of the Palazzo Barberini at Carnival 1633. A second opera, Andromeda was produced in Ferrara in 1638. Our program includes Rossi’s Toccata Settima from his collection Toccate e Correnti d’Intavolatura d’Organo e Cimbalo, published posthumously by Ricarii in Rome in 1657. It’s highly chromatic language and mannerist style is similar to that of Frescobaldi and Froberger.

Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger

Widely recognized a the finest lute virtuoso of his time, Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger, was the son of an Austrian Colonel stationed in Venice and spent his entire life in Italy. In 1604, at the age of 24, he published his Libro primo d’intavolatura di Chitarrone, from which the Toccata Arpeggiata on our program is drawn. In 1605 the young “Alemanno nobile” went to Rome, where he entered papal service, and by 1610 he had begun a prolific series of publications in a variety of genres.

In 1624 Kapsberger entered the service of Cardinal Barberini, one of the most important centers of arts and science in Europe in the early Baroque period. He also became close to Galileo Galilei, who also frequented the Barberini household, and he performed concerts with Frescobaldi and Stefano Landi, who also served the Barberinis at the same time. He remained in the service of the Barberini until 1646.

Girolamo Frescobaldi

Most familiar to modern audiences, Girolamo Frescobaldi was one of the most highly respected performers and composers of the first half of the seventeenth century. A student of the great Luzzaschi in Ferrara, Frescobaldi was elected to the position of organist at the basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome in 1608, at the age of 25. He remained associated with St. Peter’s for the rest of his life, and, while his official duties as organist did not require composing, it seems likely that many of his sacred works that survive were in fact written for St. Peter’s.

The writer Giustiniani commented in the 1620s that “for Organ and Harpsichord, Frescobaldi of Ferrara carries off all the honors, both in his skill and in the agility of his hands.” His compositions for keyboard influenced not only his contemporaries but composers well into the 18th century, including Buxtehude and Bach. Today, his fame rests almost entirely on his keyboard music, but he also composed a significant body of sacred and secular vocal music including two double-choir settings of the mass ordinary, several books of madrigals and numerous sacred motets. Our program includes a Canzon from Frescobaldi first publication, the Ricercari, et canzone of 1615.

The Most Excellent Iacomo Carissimi

November 1st, 2011 1 comment

“The most excellent Iacomo Carissimi, a composer of great fame, most worthy maestro di cappella of the Church of S Apollinare of the German College for a period of many years, outshines others in originality and in case of compositional style, moving the spirits of the listeners into many moods; for his compositions are full of life and vivacity of spirit.”

Writing in 1650 in his widely circulated tome Musurgia Universalis, Athanasius Kircher was unreserved in his praise for his fellow Jesuit Iacomo Carissimi and drew on many of the master’s works to exemplify the use of music to express emotion and touch the affections of an audience. His reputation as a composer and teacher was promoted by the singers he worked with and his many students, most notably Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Händel famously plagiarized some of Carissimi’s works and Charles Burney, writing over a century after the composer’s death, devoted more space to Carissimi in his General History of Music than to any other composer of the 17th century.

The son of a barrel-maker, Carissimi’s exact birth date is unknown, but it was probably in 1604 or 1605 in Marino, near Rome where he was baptized on April 18, 1605. Little is known of his life before he is listed as a singer at Tivoli in 1623. Two years later he was organist there. His first appointment as maestro di cappella came in 1627 at the S. Rufino Cathedral in Assisi. The following year he was called on by Bernardino Castorio in Rome to fill the post of maestro di cappella at the German College there, a prestigious post in which Victoria and Agazzari had served earlier. Carissimi spent the rest of his life at the college and he was ordained to the priesthood in 1637. His responsibilities included training the choirs and providing liturgical music for the adjoining S. Apollinare chapel.  His official salary of 5 scudi (in 1634) probably reflects only a fraction of his actual income. In 1655-56 he was given the title maestro di cappella del concerto di camera by Christina, the Queen of Sweden in exile in Rome.

During the 1650s he also composed and conducted for the Oratorio del S. Crocifisso. Among his prominent pupils were Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Johann Kaspar Kerll, Christoph Bemhard, and possibly also Johann Philipp Krieger. That he was in a comfortable situation, both financially and professionally, is suggested by his rejection of several opportunities for prestigious employment, including the post at St. Mark’s in Venice on Monteverdi’s death in 1643 and the position of maestro for the emperor’s son, Leopold Wilhelm of Brussels. Carissimi chose to remain in Rome, and after 44 years of service to the College he died a rich man.

The musical ensemble of the German College included around ten singers and enjoyed a richness of musical activity rare even in Rome. Outside musicians often supplemented the capella for major feasts and the instrumental tradition was stronger than in almost all other churches in the city. Soon after its reestablishment, with a significant endowment, by Pope Gregory the XIII in 1573 the German College became a model for liturgical practice for Jesuit institutions throughout Europe. It was an exceptional case, blessed with both an enthusiasm for liturgy and the financial resources necessary to employ excellent musicians for liturgical adornment.

None of Carissimi’s was published during his lifetime, and the autograph manuscripts, which remained in the possession of the German College, all disappeared in the early eighteenth century.  The oratorios cannot be dated with certainty and all of their texts are anonymous but the works were held in such high esteem that manuscript copies were circulated throughout Europe, and in fact, more oratorios from Carissimi survive than from any of his contemporaries. A copy of Jephte exists in Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s hand (the title page is shown here.) Jephte was the most widely admired of Carissimi’s works, with over 25 complete scores extant, and 15 more fragments, most of which are the stunning final chorus.

Carissimi is best known today as a composer of oratorios and indeed his works for the Oratorio of S Crocifisso are among the finest dramatic music of the century. It is therefore somewhat surprising to learn that it was his secular cantatas, circulated in numerous manuscript copies that spread his fame throughout Europe. The term cantata, a loose designated for any vocal work with an Italian text, first appeared in a collection published by Alessandro Grandi shortly before 1620 in Venice but by the 1630s Rome had become the center of composition for this new genre. Some of Carissimi’s most dramatic writing is found in the setting of Domenico Benigni’s Suonerà l’ultima tromba, most likely written for performance at the noble house of the Barberini in the 1640s. The text warns of the impending last judgment. It incorporates several examples of word painting into a complex structure.

SFCV Review: Magnificat’s Ascent to Perfection

October 24th, 2011 No comments

The following review of Magnificat’s October 16 performance of Charpentier’s La Descente d’Orphée aux enfers was posted at San Francisco Classical Voice on October 18.

I have long wished to hear a live performance of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Descent d’Orphée aux enfers. Several years ago, I even transcribed portions of the composer’s manuscript from a facsimile in the UC Berkeley library. If I could have chosen any Bay Area ensemble to perform the work, it would have been Warren Stewart’s early-music ensemble, Magnificat, which assembled an ideal cast for its performance Sunday at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco. I cannot imagine a more perfect rendition.

Charpentier’s work, dating from around 1686, is what would have been called a “masque” in equivalent English works of the period: something of a secular oratorio or expanded cantata for a small instrumental ensemble and eight soloists. It retells portions of the ancient Orpheus story, but stops before the usual climactic scene where Orpheus gives in to temptation and loses his wife for good. Because of this, there is speculation that La Descent was never finished. As it stands, Charpentier’s work came during the heyday of the classical French musical style essentially founded (and enforced) by the composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, and predates the Italianizing influence of the early-18th-century French craze for cantatas. French musical style from this time is distinct from the more mainstream Italian and German styles forming the bulk of repertory of early-music ensembles.

Successful performances depend on assembling the rare musicians who “get” this style. With Magnificat, tenor Aaron Sheehan sang the title role of Orpheus with an exquisite tone perfectly matched to this repertory. French Baroque music requires a sort of nuanced singing that is less oriented toward large phrases and showmanship, though I doubt that Sheehan, who sang superbly, would have any difficulty in more legato music. His is the type of singing I aspire to.

Bass Peter Becker’s fine acting and full voice were perfectly suited to the role of Pluto. I have never heard him sound better. Sopranos Jennifer Ellis, Laura Heimes, and Clara Rottsolk sang with great beauty and clarity in each of their extended solos. I do not think I have ever heard a more memorable performance of a single note than Heimes’ pathos-laden “Ah.” Rounding out the cast with equal vocal deftness were tenor Daniel Hutchings, countertenor Andrew Rader, and bass Robert Stafford. Most important, all the soloists showed themselves to be first-rate ensemble singers (save Sheehan, whose role did not call for it). One’s ability to sing with a blendable tone and adapt one’s intonation and volume so that it matches other parts is of paramount importance in Baroque music, in which soloists also perform trios, duets, and full six-part choruses.

I have heard countless disappointing performances of works like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Bizet’sCarmen performed by expensive, international soloists who simply do not understand how to sing with a group. Instead of straight-tone, they require the ability to move between solo and ensemble textures, which for me is the characteristic quality of so-called early-music singers.

Inappropriate use of vibrato can wreck ensembles, but it usually indicates a deeper lack of musicality. Magnificat’s performers did not eliminate either vibrato or vocal maturity. Examplars were several performers on period instruments, such as violin leader David Wilson and gambist John Dornenberg, who frequently used vibrato to good effect. In the softer, more resonant, and blendable tone of period strings, well-paced vibrato can work.

Although he is most distinguished by his ear for choosing the right performers, Stewart conducted his crew from memory and without a score, and was in complete control of the ensemble. The intermissionless concert lasted barely an hour, and Stewart wisely did not program a first half. I had the impression that this gave his fine musicians ample time in rehearsal to reach an outstanding level of polish. Every bit of pacing and each detail was worked out to achieve its best dramatic impact.

Considering La Descent’s bloodless text, a plot that goes nowhere, the lack of special lighting or costumes, and the limited (and unstaged) forces of eight instrumentalists and eight singers, the success of Sunday’s concert challenges conventional notions about just what it takes for a dramatic work to be entertaining. I wish more people had turned out to hear this remarkable concert.

Thomas Busse,, is a professional tenor.

Magnificat’s 20th Season Opens with Charpentier

October 13th, 2011 No comments

New Time for Friday and Saturday Concerts – 7:30 pm

Magnificat’s 20th season opens this weekend with three performances of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s La Descente d’Orphée aux enfers. A stellar cast is led by tenor Aaron Sheehan, making his Magnificat debut in the role of Orpheus. Aaron is joined by Laura Heimes (Euridice,) Jennifer Ellis Kampani (Proserpine,) Clara Rottsolk (Énone,) Andrew Rader (Ixion,) Daniel Hutchings (Tantale,) Peter Becker (Pluton,) and Robert Stafford (Apollon.) The instrumental ensemble includes David Wilson and Aaron Westman, violin; Vicki Boeckman and Louise Carslake, recorder; John Dornenburg, Julie Jeffrey and Lynn Tetebaum, viola da gamba; and Jillon Stoppels Dupree, harpsichord and organ.

Charpentier’s masterful setting of the Orpheus was performed once before on Magnificat’s series in 1997. Returning to the work has been a revelation for all – the subtlety of the harmonic language, the beauty of the poetry, the colorful instrumentation and the range of Charpentier’s emotion palette are on display throughout this brief masterpiece.

The concerts on Friday October 14 at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Palo Alto and Saturday October 15 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley will begin at 7:30 pm. The performance on Sunday October 16 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco will begin at 4:00 pm. Artistic Director Warren Stewart will give a lecture 45 minutes prior to each performance.

The program, with notes, texts and translations and bios is available for download here: PDF. Magnificat will be performing from an edition prepared by Charpentier scholar and member of our Artistic Advisory Board John Powell from the University of Tulsa. The score can be downloaded from Dr. Powell’s website.

Tickets are available at,, and by phone at (800) 853-8155.

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. Magnificat presents ‘household entertainment’ from Marc-Antoine Charpentier

September 18th, 2011 No comments

Stephen Smoliar posted this preview of Magnificat’s upcoming concerts at

The first concert of Magnificat’s twentieth season will consist of a single composition, La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. The circumstances under which this work was composed throw an interesting light on how music was practiced in the late seventeenth century, particularly with regard to the Hôtel de Guise. This was the household of Marie de Lorraine, called Mademoiselle de Guise and a princess in rank. She chose to live in Paris away from the court of Louis XIV, and her residence was known as the Hôtel de Guise.

Her household included an ensemble of musicians, described by Susan Harvey (in notes for an earlier Magnificat performance now available on their Web site ) as “less opulent than that to be found at court, but highly admired by the Parisian connoisseurs of the time.” Harvey continues her description as follows:

The ensemble was made up for the most part of young people from families long under the protection of the Guise who, having come to live with Marie de Lorraine first as chambermaids or companions, demonstrated some talent or interest for music. They were given lessons and eventually granted the status of musicians-in-ordinary, taking part in the devotional services at the private chapel and in the frequent private concerts at the Hôtel de Guise. The ensemble, although it included some salaried male singers and one member of a famous musical family (Ann Nanon Jacquet, sister of the remarkable Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre), was fundamentally amateur and it is extraordinary that it should have developed to the extent that in 1688 the journal Mercure Galant wrote that the music of Mlle. de Guise was “so excellent that the music of many of the greatest sovereigns could not approach it.”

Charpentier joined the household of the Hôtel de Guise in 1670, and it was for this setting that he composed La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers , probably in late 1686 or early 1687. In 1683 he had composed a small chamber cantata, Orphée descendant aux enfers for three male singers and a small chamber orchestra. The later work is more extensive. It is scored for seven vocalists, recorder, violin, two viols (used for “special effects” in the depiction of the underworld), and continuo (harpsichord in the Magnificat performance). This composition is actually the longest of Charpentier’s dramatic chamber works; but, given the setting for the performance, it was probably not staged. There is also some question as to whether it may be incomplete. It is in only two acts; and the second act ends with Orphée and Euridice leaving the underworld, leaving no account of the tragic turn of events about to ensue.

The San Francisco performance of La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers will take place at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell Street (just west of the corner of Franklin Street) on Sunday afternoon, October 16, at 4 PM. General admission is $35 with special rates for seniors aged 62 and over ($28) and students with proper identification ($12). Magnificat has provided a Web page for ordering both individual and subscription tickets. There are two subscription options, one of which does not include the Christmas co-production with the San Francisco Early Music Society (for the benefit of those already subscribed to this organization). Tickets may also be ordered by telephone at 800-595-4849.

Magnificat in Bloomington: Stunning music stunningly realized

September 12th, 2011 No comments

The following review of Magnificat’s performance at the Bloomington Early Music Festival by Peter Jacobi appeared in the Bloomington Herald-Times on September 12, 2011.

The group is San Francisco-based, and some of its members actually reside in that area. Its artistic director, Warren Stewart, however, now lives in Berlin. One of its two tenors, Paul Elliott, directs IU’s Early Music Institute. Its theorbo player is Nigel North, another EMI stalwart. The bunch of them get together periodically as Magnificat Baroque. And as such, they united here in recent days, six vocalists and eight instrumentalists, to prepare for a Bloomington Early Music Festival performance Saturday evening in First United Church. What a concert they gave.

They roused a large audience to cheers with generous samplings of music from Claudio Monteverdi’s Eighth (and final) Book of Madrigals, his “Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi” (“Madrigals of War and Love”). The event turned out to be a case of stunning music stunningly realized.

The Monteverdi material has been at the heart of Magnificat Baroque’s repertoire for some 20 years. One could tell. Heard was a combine of singing and playing completely natural, stylistically right, and utterly tantalizing. Director Stewart devoted the first part of the program to the songs of war, the second to those of love. They intersect in the belief espoused by Monteverdi and the poets whose words he used that war and love have a strong relationship, in that warriors return from battle to love and that lovers do battle in the conflict between the sexes. Read more…

With links to the Early Music Institute and Themester, Bloomington Early Music Festival opens Sept. 7

September 7th, 2011 No comments

From an Indiana University Press Release:

The 18th annual Bloomington Early Music Festival (BLEMF), held Sept. 7-11, continues a tradition of collaboration with the IU Jacobs School of Music Early Music Institute, presenting renowned local and national musicians, many of whom are alumni, students and faculty.

This year, the festival expands its relationship with Indiana University by linking up with the College of Arts and Sciences’ Themester 2011, “Making War, Making Peace.” With panel discussions, lectures, and concerts featuring music from the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods in venues throughout Bloomington, the 2011 festival is free to all IU and Ivy Tech students, as well as anyone under the age of 18. Ticket prices for individual performances are $15, and festival passes are $40.

“This year’s festival, at the start rather than at the end of the school year, is offered so that a large number of the students and faculty of the Jacobs School of Music and IU will be able to attend,” said Paul Elliott, director of the Early Music Institute and chair of the early music department. “Here is a unique opportunity to sample something new, or to reacquaint yourself with music that you love but rarely get the chance to hear ‘live’.

“As the pedagogical aspect of its mission, the Bloomington Early Music Festival supports emerging artists, and in particular, from the Jacobs School of Music by providing opportunities to perform alongside established professionals,” said Christine Kyprianides, president of Early Music Associates, the not-for-profit that organizes the festival. “For 17 years, the stars of the festival have been above all the talented faculty, students and alumni of the school’s Early Music Institute. This year is no exception: Nearly 70 percent of the musicians are current or former members of the EMI. Other performers and lecturers are affiliated with the Jacobs School or the IU College of Arts and Sciences.”

Magnificat Baroque Ensemble performs as a featured ensemble at the 2011 Bloomington Early Music Festival.Print-Quality Photo

The festival headline performance is Magnificat Baroque Ensemble, a renowned San Francisco-based early music ensemble performing selections from Monteverdi’s Madrigals of War & Love. The concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10, at First United Church, 2420 E. Third St.

“We are thrilled that Magnificat is coming to Bloomington to perform during BLEMF,” said Kyprianides. “They are certainly one of the preeminent early music ensembles in the country and have an accomplished director in Warren Stewart.”


Bloomington Early Music Festival returns with new schedule, model |

September 5th, 2011 No comments

From the Bloomington Herald-Times:

BLEMF. Yes, BLEMF, the new BLEMF, the Bloomington Early Music Festival revived and in a changed calendar slot, a period commencing Wednesday evening, just ahead of IU’s about-to-start flood of concerts. Whatever the future holds for BLEMF will, we’re told, take place not when things used to, at the end of May, but henceforth, in early September.

“This will be a watershed event for us,” says Christine Kyprianides, president of the festival’s board of directors. “Two years ago, it was apparent that we had to change direction, find new audiences, and revisit our mission. By moving the festival to a time during the academic year, we have the opportunity to profit from the immense resources of the university and to make a significant contribution in return. We’ll see if this is a successful model or not.”

… BLEMF is also entering into the spirit of IU’s Themester initiative, Making War, Making Peace, presenting the distinguished San Francisco-based Magnificat Baroque Ensemble in a program of selections taken from Book 8 of Claudio Monteverdi’s Madrigals, “Madrigals of War and Love.”

“I first heard Magnificat in South Bend several years ago,” says Kyprianides. “It was a wonderful concert, and I talked for some time afterwards with its artistic director, Warren Stewart, about all sorts of musical things. Later, when the BLEMF program committee was planning for our War and Peace program, we decided that we had to have a performance of the Monteverdi madrigals. EMI’s Paul Elliott, who is on our board, suggested asking Magnificat. Both he and Nigel are regular members of the ensemble. Read more…

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.