The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The opening of this week’s Madison Early Music Festival blossomed with a stunning performance of early Slavic choral music by The Rose Ensemble of St. Paul, Minnesota. | July 13, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

The 16th annual Madison Early Music Festival opened on Saturday night.

The coming week of daily workshops, lectures and concerts could hardly have enjoyed a more promising opening than the stunning a cappella singing turned in by the justly acclaimed Rose Ensemble (below) of St. Paul, Minnesota. (You can hear the Rose Ensemble in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

MEMF Rose Ensemble 12

The group consists of 12 singers and one string player – she plays a Medieval violin-like instrument called “la vielle” — with some singers doing double duty and playing a drum or recorder.

MEMF 2015 solo and instruments

Somewhere around two-thirds of a house (below) turned out in Mills Hall to hear a thoroughly masterful display of early Eastern European music from the 11th century through the 16th century, which is the topic of this year’s festival.

MEMF 2015 Slavic banner

MEMF 2015 Rose audience

Start with the basics.

As far as The Ear could tell, there was not a single weak link in the chain. Each singer sang strongly and with conviction.

Each excelled at pitch and diction, even in multiple Slavic languages from Poland, Bohemia, Czechoslovakia and Russia.

And the balance that allowed different lines to emerge was nothing short of miraculous.

They sang as a large group of 12.

They sang smaller motets with groups of six women or six men (below).

MEMF 2015 Rose 6 women

MEMF 2015 Rose 6 men

They sang duets and they sang solos.

And all of the permutations proved successful.

They were terrific in all the liturgical music that makes up the bulk of the early Slavic repertory.

But The Ear’s favorite pieces were some of the folksongs from Ukraine and elsewhere. The performers moved around the stage and used their voices in what American poet Walt Whitman aptly described as a “barbaric yawp” that came close to artful shouting.

The singing was nothing short of thrilling as the performers cut loose with chopping arms, moving feet and howling mouths. Yet it all remained controlled and convincing. It reminded The Ear of plain chant and shape-note singing.

The Rose Ensemble organized a masterful display of varied programming and performances that, to be honest, helped offset a lot of the similarities of so much of the music.

MEMF Rose folk

One other thing: If you wonder about attending the lectures, just go. They start one hour before the concerts, at 6:30 p.m. in 2650 Mosse Humanities Building.

For this concert, John W. Barker, a veteran music critic and retired professor of Medieval history at the UW-Madison, provided a terrific historical context that help the audience appreciate the achievement of early Slavonic music. His lecture was filled with wit and facts as he pointed to the map to show how Slavic culture was born and how extensive it became.

What we learned in one hour!

MEMF 2015 John Barker

For more detail about events, venues and prices, go to the comprehensive website:

http://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/MEMF2015.htm

 

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1 Comment »

  1. So glad to know that our colleagues the Rosies knocked it out of the park again and were appreciated in Madison! They are fabulous musicians and lovely, lovely people. Thank you for this write-up!

    Comment by armoniaceleste — July 20, 2015 @ 8:21 am


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