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Posts Tagged ‘early music’

Photo: Anne Rayner.
Athena watches over a production of ‘Semele’ at the Parthenon in Nashville, a city better known for Country & Western than Early Music.

Well, this is fun. Just goes to show that blanket assumptions about places (about groups of people, too) tare always wrong.

John Pitcher writes at Early Music America, about a recent Vanderbilt Opera Theatre production of George Frideric Handel’s 1744 opera-oratorio hybrid Semele.

“The production, featuring a small student string ensemble and singers expertly coached in Baroque performance practice, ran two consecutive nights inside Nashville’s Parthenon. ….

“Vanderbilt’s historical performance (HP) program is just one part of an early-music scene that’s been ebbing, flowing, and growing in Nashville for nearly 20 years. The city is home to two HP ensembles, Music City Baroque and Early Music City. Each can boast of distinguished pedigrees. There are also a couple of churches, St. George’s Episcopal and First Lutheran, that serve as regular venues for early-music performances, along with an assortment of choral groups that routinely perform Renaissance and Baroque music.

“Nashville’s period-instrument musicians can play Bach’s B-minor Mass with the best of them. But these musicians are influenced just as much by their close association with Music City as they are by their familiarity with valveless horns and viola da gambas. Nashville has a music infrastructure that is second to none, with over 180 recording studios, 130 music publishers, 100 live music clubs, and 80 record labels. …

“It’s not uncommon for Nashville classical musicians to perform Mahler with the Nashville Symphony, record a pop song with Miley Cyrus, premiere a 21st-century piece with one of Nashville’s several contemporary-music ensembles, and give a period-instrument performance of a Bach Brandenburg Concerto — all in a few weeks.

“Chris Stenstrom, a long-time cellist with the Nashville Symphony who also performs regularly with Nashville’s contemporary group Alias Chamber Ensemble as well as Music City Baroque, is typical of this kind of musician. Indeed, he keeps a spare cello in his closet, strung with sheep gut and tuned to A415. ‘I like to have one instrument that’s settled in and ready to play Baroque music,’ Stenstrom says.

“The versatility of Nashville’s historically informed musicians has made them flexible, even delightfully heretical, in their approach to performing early music. … Many of Nashville’s historically informed players are open to performances using modern instruments, and most are utterly expansive in their definitions of what constitutes early music.

“Although Bach, Handel, and Telemann are often performed, one also encounters programs devoted to Baroque women composers, along with music from Nashville’s early history, which includes Negro spirituals, hymns, and fiddle music. ‘Nashville musicians have never felt the need to be completely orthodox in their approach to early music,’ says Jessica Dunnavant, a long-time flutist with Music City Baroque who teaches modern and Baroque flute at both Vanderbilt and Lipscomb universities. ‘Rhinestone and twang are welcome at our concerts.’ …

“Things didn’t get started until 2003, when George Riordan, an oboist and scholar steeped in Baroque performance practice, left his post as an assistant dean at Florida State University College of Music to become director of the School of Music at Middle Tennessee State University.

“That summer, Riordan’s wife, Karen Clarke, a noted period violinist who had performed with the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra and Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra, among others, noticed an item in an Early Music America newsletter that caught her eye. Murray Forbes Somerville just announced he was leaving his position as Harvard University’s University Organist and Choirmaster to take up a post in, of all places, Nashville. …

“Nashville’s classical-music scene was, at that moment, on the cusp of its golden age. Kenneth Schermerhorn, then music director of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, had already established a partnership with Naxos Records to record for its American Classics series. This arrangement would soon turn the Nashville Symphony into a Grammy Award juggernaut. Martha Ingram, a Nashville billionaire benefactor, was meanwhile dispensing funds to her favorite performing-arts groups with unprecedented largesse. This culminated with the 2006 opening of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, modeled after Vienna’s Musikverein.

“The city, moreover, had plenty of choristers who knew their way around Handel’s Messiah, and a growing number of classical musicians who had at least some training in historically informed performance. This was fertile ground for the right maestro to plow.

“Not long after Somerville moved to Nashville, Riordan connected with a phone call. ‘I invited Murray out to MTSU for an early music jam session,’ Riordan recalls. ‘We played that first session, and Murray declared that we needed to put on a show.’ “

Be sure to read the part about finding similarities with Appalachian musical traditions at Early Music America, here. No firewall.

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