Seicento presents music from a lavish 16th-century wedding

Musical interludes from La Pellegrina were unmatched for splendor

By Peter Alexander Nov. 1 at 3:30 p.m.

It was the wedding of the century.

The marriage of Fernando I de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, with Christina of Lorraine was celebrated in Florence, Italy, in 1589 with all the pomp and splendor of which only the Medici were capable. And they made sure everyone knew it, too.

Fernando I de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Christina of Lorraine

One of the grandest events of the month-long celebration was La Pellegrina (The pilgrim woman), a five-act play that was embellished by six elaborate intermedii—musical interludes—with music by by six different composers. Placed before, after, and between the acts of the  play, these interludes featured extravagant sets and costumes and virtuosic music, all designed to demonstrate the wealth and power of the Medici family.

The musical interludes have been recorded but are rarely performed live—and as far as research can tell, never in Boulder until now. Selections from five of the six intermedii will form the next program by Seicento Baroque Ensemble, with performances Friday through Sunday in Boulder, Arvada and Longmont (times and locations below), under the direction of Seicento’s artistic director, Amanda Balestrieri.

Bernardo Buontalenti, costume design for La Pellegrina

For this performance, Seicento will only have 12 singers rather than the usual 25, due to COVID, but this core group will be supplemented by an additional paid singer and a solo octet, plus two violins, two violas da gamba, a theorbo/lute/Baroque guitar player and harpsichord. Proof of vaccination and masks will be required of all audience members. Both in-person and virtual tickets are available through the Seicento Web page.

It would be hard to exaggerate the impact of the wedding celebration, which was more than a year in planning, and especially the intermedii. While La Pellegrina the play made no great impression then or since, the musical interludes were clearly the most brilliant star of the event, which included banquets, balls, and even a mock naval battle. 

For the play and its attendant interludes an entire new theater was constructed, offering the latest in theatrical capabilities. The elaborate settings were designed by Bernardo Buontalenti, who set the standards for late renaissance stage spectacles. Music was commissioned from the best known Italian composers of the time, including the Florentine court composer Luca Marenzio, plus the early pioneers of Baroque opera Giulio Caccini, Jacopo Peri and Emilio de Cavalieri—names all prominent in music history if not in most listeners’ experience. 

Bernardo Buontalenti, costume design for La Pellegrina

So successful was the theatrical spectacle of La Pellegrina that it became the model in both musical and theatrical style for early Baroque opera, which for many years excelled as a means for courts and kings to display their wealth. The splendor of the intermedii remains unsurpassed by any stage music of the era, and they represent one original source of the entire artform of opera.

Balestrieri chose these pieces specifically for Seicento’s post-Covid return to the stage. Not only is the resumption of live performances a cause for celebration, the year also marks the ensemble’s tenth anniversary season. “I wanted a grand piece of great beauty that is less well-known,” she wrote in a description of the program. “[I wanted the concert] to stand out and offer some relief from the funereal music performances emerging in late pandemic programming.”

In an intriguing coincidence, Seicento’s founding 10 years ago grew from another Colorado premiere, of music written only a few years after La Pellegrina. That performance of the Vespers composed in 1610 by Monteverdi led directly to the current Seicento ensemble.

Balestrieri explains how she arrived at the singers who will perform the music from La Pellegrina. “Our chorus is a volunteer chorus,” she writes. “Many singers decided to wait until the spring to sing with us again because of COVID, either for their own health or their children’s, since some have young children not yet eligible for the vaccine.

“Anticipating this, I hired one additional chorus tenor, making 13 total singers (for) the full chorus, plus eight chorister/soloists to make up the solo octet that will sing everything. A few of the full chorus will join the octet for a few numbers, the full chorus sings about four choruses, and the octet sings the rest of the numbers.”

She decided not to attempt the entire musical score, which runs more than 90 minutes, both because one venue asked Seicento to limit its performance to 60 minutes as a COVID precaution, and also because of limited rehearsal time for the singers. With a total time of about 50 minutes for the music, Balestrieri expects the entire performance to finish in about an hour, with no intermission.

Both the subjects and the social milieu of the intermedii are likely unfamiliar to most modern listeners, but Balestrieri has taken that fact into account. “The intermedii were originally elaborately costumed and staged tableaux representing both mythological stories well-known to the original audience and homage to the royal couple,” she writes in her notes to the performance. 

Bernardo Buontalenti, design for the final scene of La Pellegrina

 “The context will be explained in the program, and the texts and translations should do the rest.”

And so for the Seicento performance, there will be no royal couple. And no elaborate costumes, much less the lavish stage machinery of the original. But much of the splendor resides in the music, and that will be very much present.

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La Pellegrina: “An Italian Intermezzo” 
Music performed at the wedding of the Grand Duke of Tuscany in Florence in 1589
Seicento Baroque Ensemble and guests
Amanda Balestrieri, conductor

7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5, First United Methodist Church, Boulder
7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6, United Methodist Church, 6750 Carr St., Arvada
3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 7, Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum

In person and virtual tickets available here.

Seicento will stream concert that was canceled in March

“Song and Dance in the French Baroque” available online Friday

By Peter Alexander Nov. 18 at 10:45 p.m.

Amanda Balestrieri wanted to bring French Baroque music and dance together to Boulder audiences.

Seicento Baroque Ensemble preparing a program of French music and dance

“I absolutely love this repertoire,” the artistic director of Boulder’s Seicento Baroque Ensemble says. She is speaking of music that came out of France in the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly opera and other forms that mixed song and dance.

To that end, she created a program titled “Airs and Graces: Song & Dance in the French Baroque,” featuring the Seicento chorus as well as guest singers, instrumentalists and Elena Mullins, a guest artist trained in both the singing and the dance of the French Baroque period.

Dancer Elena Mullins

The artists were all assembled in Boulder last March, and rehearsals were well under way at Boulder’s First United Methodist Church. And then COVID happened, and the performance was cancelled at the last minute. “We just finished preparing to do the concert, so we decided to record it without an audience,” Balestrieri says. “I felt if we could at least record it, we could present it at a later time.” 

That recording will be available online for the first time Friday (Nov. 20) at 6 p.m. It will be accessible through the Seicento Facebook page, in return for a donation of any amount.

Amanda Balestrieri

Including dance in the program was crucial because it was such an important part of French music at the time. “I wanted to present the concept of having visual representation of the gesture and the meaning in the dance, because it’s really an integral part of the music,” Balestrieri says.

Most Baroque music derives from dance to some extent, but that was especially so in France, where dance was a cherished courtly activity. King Louis XIV, famed as “The Sun King” and the builder of Versailles, was an accomplished dancer, as was the court composer Jean-Baptiste Lully. French Baroque dance is also important historically as the source of classical ballet.

“We have to understand this music in its complete form,” Balestrieri says. “If you have the body involved in the music, it becomes human and it becomes something that is related to us. That’s a very important thing. It’s part of the genre.

Louis XIV costumed for dance

“At the time the whole point of the music was to reach the passions. So the dance is very much in relation to the audience. It is supposed to relate not to [something] abstract but to real human dilemmas and fears and love and grief.”

Her interest in the art of French music and dance came from her own experience as a performer. “I have been on stage with French Baroque dancers and admired their expertise,” she says. “I know the music very well.”

To bring the music and dance to life, Balestrieri picked a program that included scenes from operas by Lully (1632–1687) and Marc Antoine Charpentier (1643–1704). Other works are an anthology of the most popular dance types of the times by Jean-Féry Rebel (1666–1747), the cantata Le triomphe de l’Amour by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667–1737), and courtly songs of love. 

Balestrieri wanted the performance to be a learning experience for the audience, so that they could see the dance movements that underlay the music that they would hear, but also for the singers in the chorus. “I wanted the choir to have the experience of the music enough to get it,” she says. “I wanted the dancer to give that element and for people to understand the visual side that was combined with the music.”

She admits that the program and its presentation are well outside the mainstream, even of Baroque music, but that was the point. “This is an esoteric corner of an esoteric art,” she says. “Our whole mission with Seicento is perform lesser-known music, to present things that you wouldn’t otherwise see.”

Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Lully by Paul Mignard

When the decision was made to record the final rehearsal for later streaming, Seicento hired Michael Quam as their video engineer. Quam has recorded videos for the Boulder Philharmonic, the Colorado Music Festival and other organizations in the area. Several cameras were set up to record the performers from different angles. 

Because viewers won’t have access to the texts in a printed program, Balestrieri herself added titles with French and English texts. “I learned how to use Adobe Premiere Pro and I beat my head against the wall for about a week,” she says. She also added the names of the individual dances as well. “You can watch and say ‘So that’s a bourrée! I never knew that!’”

The performances are all straight takes, with no corrections added afterwards. The absence of an audience was a challenge for the amateur singers in the chorus. “Feeling like you are connecting with live performance electricity—you have to imagine it,” Balestrieri says.

Nevertheless, she says she is happy with the final result. “It’s going to be very lovely to watch,” she says.

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Seicento Baroque Ensemble

“Airs and Graces: Song & Dance in the French Baroque”
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Amanda Balestrieri, artistic director
With Elena Mullins, soprano and dancer
Guest vocalists and instrumentalists

Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Excerpt from Les arts florissants
Jean-Féry Rebel: Les caractères de la danse: Fantasie
Jean-Baptiste Lully: Excerpts from Bellérophon
Michel Lambert: and Christophe Ballard: Two airs de cour
Jean-Paul Égide Martini: Plaisir d’Amour
Michel Pignolet de Montéclair: Le triomphe de l’Amour

Available at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20 through the Seicento Facebook page
Stream will include a live post-concert conversation with guest artist

Director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble feels lucky in spite of the pandemic

But Amanda Balestrieri is eager to be “in the music” again

By Peter Alexander July 20 at 1:15 p.m.

“My main interest is to be in the music,” Amanda Balestrieri says.

Seicento in happier days when they could congregate and perform. Amanda Balestrieri (in blue) and associate conductor Gerald W. Holbrook

The director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble misses her colleagues, and the Seicento choir, and the other musicians that she worked with before the pandemic hit. “For me that’s the hardest thing, not working with other musicians,” she says. “I think this is very hard, because I have been re-examining how I want to do music. How do you practice your art?

“We’re all trying to reconfigure and problem solve, but we don’t really know what the parameters are going to be. Do you carry on, and how much of a mission do you have to teach, or perform in smaller venues?”

Those of course are the more abstract, broader questions that all musicians are facing in the time of COVID-19. Balestrieri tends to be philosophical about the big issues, partly because she has faced difficulties before. “I’ve been through some trials in my life; this is not the first,” she says. And the advice that she offers from her life experiences?

“When you know you’re in for a long haul, with challenges, you have to decide if you’re going to turn off and stop, or if you’re going to get up the next day and see what happens. It makes time slow down because there’s a lot things we can’t fix. I’m a fixer, so I’m frustrated right now. But it’s a good lesson to learn to back off  and let things get there.”

Balestrieri, Zooming in from her kitchen

She remains optimistic for the long term. “Most of the musicians that I know, and all of the audience members, will not let live performance not come back,” she says. “The subtlety of the musical conversation in person, even with a large group—it’s going to come back.”

In the meantime, there are the nitty gritty details of taking care of Seicento—working with the board and coming up with plans B, C and D for the future in the face of all the uncertainty. “They’re keeping me on as artistic director for a reduced fee” Balestrieri says. 

“We’re in the process of brainstorming about how we can accomplish keeping the choir cohesive. There’s a lot of things that we’re thinking through. Now it’s a question of figuring out how we can pull people in, use the technology that we have in the works. We know that we can’t have an online rehearsal where everybody can hear everybody, because we don’t have those programs.”

Educational programming that Balestrieri could offer to the singers, small group performances, Zoom meetings with rotating groups from the choir are all being considered. “Our mission is to promote the understanding and practice of the Baroque performance practice,” Balestrieri says. “I’m thinking of doing that with the choir.”

Like most of us, Balestrieri has activities for her free time as well. “I have relatives in England, and it seems to me that everybody’s gardening their heads off,” she says. “I’ve been gardening my head off! I’m on the warpath against the weeds that grow into my air-conditioning units.

“I have made a rockscape, so I have been moving flagstones from the patio, buying pea gravel—with my mask on!—and going back for another bag, since I never quite have enough. And then I’ve had all of these other things; right after the (March) concert got canceled, my fridge died. So after a $400 replacement, now my dishwasher has died and my jacuzzi has started to leak. I fixed that myself, so actually I’m like Rosie the riveter! I’ve been doing things like that.”

Every interview with people isolated during the pandemic eventually gets around to books, which are a source of both entertainment and solace. As it turns out, Balestrieri didn’t go into the period of isolation with a reading list in mind. “We’ve been raiding the local little free libraries, so it’s kind of random what we get,” she says. 

“I started reading this very odd book of short stories about Lord Peter Wimsey by Dorothy Sayers. I haven’t read any of this kind of stuff for eons. Charley [Samson, classical music host and producer at Colorado Public Radio] read it and he said, you know, these are really fun, but they’re kind of gruesome.

“I have to agree, they’re kind of gruesome. It’s like some guy copper plates his beautiful wife! So I told him I don’t want to read anything quite that grizzly.”

Balestrieri wants you to know that she has much to be grateful for. “I don’t mind being home. I need alone time. I love doing practical stuff, like rockscapes and baking, making bread and pizza. I’m a good cook so I enjoy that.

“I’m really lucky because I’m safe, I have a place to live, I have food, I have projects, I have a brain, as far as I know I’m not sick. I’m like everybody else trying to work out where everything comes down, and at the same time being extremely patient.”

The patience comes in part from having a goal to work for: getting back to live performances. “The first day that you’re able to either go and attend a concert like that, or be in it,” she says, “the joy of that will be very intense!”

Seicento Baroque Ensemble cancels 2020–21 season

Boulder’s latest COVID-19 casualty

By Peter Alexander

Boulder’s Seicento Baroque Ensemble, a choral performance group specializing in the music of the 17th century (“Seicento” in Italian) has announced that they will suspend all performances for the coming year.

The release from the organization states:

Because of the risk to our audience, singers, and guest artists, the Board has unanimously voted not to perform our normal fall concert this year, nor our normal spring concert in 2021. Members of the choir who are on the Board of Directors have expressed relief that they won’t be asked to rehearse and perform at a time that their health could be at risk, disappointment that they won’t be able to perform the music that they love, support for prudent planning, and hope for being able to resume singing when the pandemic passes.

Locally, Seicento is the first performing organization to definitely suspend all of next year’s concerts. Most other groups have delayed announcing their 20–21 season, anticipating the possibility of late starts in the fall. There is also widespread uncertainty about when and under what conditions groups will be allowed to bring audiences together, and to what extent audiences will be willing to gather.

Nationally, Broadway theaters in New York have suspended all performances until the start of 2021 at the earliest, and there is widespread uncertainty among performing groups about what will be possible.

Seicento Baroque ensemble

Coming later: a follow-up interview with Seicento artistic director Amanda Balestrieri about the group’s plan for restarting in the fall of 2021, and also life under quarantine.

Seicento presents music and dance of the French Baroque NOW CANCELED

This performance has now been canceled

By Peter Alexander March 11 at 12 noon

Would you want to see West Side Story without the dancing?

Amanda Balestrieri, director of the Seicento Baroque Ensemble in Boulder, says that’s the effect of hearing French Baroque music without dance. “If you have the music without the dance, it’s not complete,” she says. “It would be like going to see musical theater without the dance and chorus numbers.”

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Seicento Baroque Ensemble

To illustrate that point, Seicento has brought in a French Baroque singer/dancer, Elena Mullins, for their next concert. “Airs and Graces” will be performed in Denver Friday and in Longmont Sunday (March 13 and 15). The program will include numbers for Mullins as well as solo vocal pieces and full choral numbers with orchestra.

Several local singers will perform as soloists. Tenor Alex King and bass Allen Adair will take roles in scenes from French opera and a cantata. Soprano Kendall Baldwin, a senior at Fairview High School in Boulder, will perform alongside 5th-grade students from Escuale Bilingüe Pioneer in Lafayette.

Ballet_de_la_nuit_1653

Costume design for King Louis XIV as the Sun

Dance and music were closely related throughout the Baroque era, but especially so in France. Entertainment at the French court, including opera, featured extensive dance as well as singing, performed by professionals as well as members of the court, including the king. The dances were highly refined, with many moves and gestures that conveyed coded meanings to the audiences, and eventually led to the development of classical ballet.

Today Baroque music from Germany and Italy has eclipsed French music of the period, which has become more and more of a specialized field. Even less well known than French Baroque music is the dance that went with it.. “This is an esoteric corner of an esoteric art,” Balestrieri says.

As far as Balestrieri knows, this will be first time in the Boulder area that French Baroque music has been performed together with authentic dances. She wanted to showcase the two together, for both Seicento members and the audience. “I wanted this to be an encompassing concert,” she says.

“I wanted the choir to have the experience of the music. I wanted the dancer to give that element for people to understand the visual side, and also the fact that it was combined with singing and music.”

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Elena Mullins

Like performers at the French court, Mullins is both a singer and a dancer. She will appear in the first piece on the program, singing La Musique (the allegorical character of music) in an excerpt from Les arts flourissants (The flourishing arts), a chamber opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

She will then appear as a dancer, performing a series of standardized Baroque dances, in Les caractères de la dance by Jean-Féry Rebel. “‘The Characters of the dance’ was a famous piece from the time that was supposed to show you all the different dance styles,” Balestrieri says. It includes a courante, menuet, bourrée, sarabande and gavotte, among other courtly dances that also found their way into the instrumental music of the period.

Paul_Mignard_-_Jean-Baptiste_Lully

Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Lully by Paul Mignard

The rest of the program will feature examples of French Baroque music, performed without choreography. There will be several excerpts from the opera Bellérophon by Jean-Baptiste Lully, who was composer and music director to the court of King Louis XIV, as we’ll as a dancer. One particularly entertaining scene features a trio of sorcerers with a chorus of sorcerers and sorceresses. “It’s really clever, very hard for the chorus,” Balestrieri says.

To open the second half of the program, Balestrieri will sing two airs de cours (courtly airs) about the pain and pleasure of love. Baldwin and the 5th-grade students will sing Plaisir d’amour by Jean-Paul Égide Martini, a song that has been popular for more than two centuries, and that became the basis of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t help falling in love with you.”

“The other piece I’m excited about is the cantata by Montéclair called The Triumph of Love,” Balestrieri says. The cantata features three singers—a narrator with Bacchus and Cupid, the gods of wine and of love.

“The scene is a hillside where Bacchus commands his grape pickers,” Balestrieri explains. “He’s in control, and then Cupid flies in and interferes by making everybody fall in love and languish. He has a fight with Bacchus, [until] Bacchus falls in love and accepts love in his court. They agree to cooperate, and then we sing, ‘Just grab a bottle of wine and rekindle the fires of love.’ I love it—it’s so fantastically French!”

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Amanda Balestrieri

Balestrieri wanted to include the children in the performance as a way of spreading knowledge of the French Baroque as well as enriching their education. “The kids who do this don’t yet know how fabulous this is,” she says. “But when they come in and they see this dancer in costume and they hear this music, they will never, ever forget it. And that is important, because you never know who is going to be smitten with this art.”

But the combination of music and dance is not an easy thing pull off. It requires not only specialists in the French Baroque style, it requires dedicated performers who can learn complex music, and it requires a specialist in both the singing and the dance of the French court. Even in major cities, opportunities to see and hear an authentic music and dance performance of this repertoire are rare.

“We have something that will not appear here again anytime soon,” Balestrieri says. “If people want to see it, now’s the time to come!”

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Airs and Graces: Song & Dance in the French Baroque
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Amanda Balestrieri conductor
With guest artists Elena Mullins, Baroque dancer and soprano; Alex King, tenor; Allen Adair, bass; Kendall Baldwin, soprano; students from Escuela Bilingüe Pioneer; and instrumental ensemble

7:30 p.m. Friday, March 13, Claver Recital Hall, Regis University, Denver
3 p.m. Sunday, March 15, Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum, Longmont

Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Excerpts from Les arts florissants
Jean-Féry Rebel: Lex caractères de la danse: Fantasie
Jean-Baptiste Lully: Excerpts from Bellérophon
Jean-Paul Égide Martini: Plaisir d’amous
Michel Pignolet de Montéclair: Le triomphe de l’Amour

Tickets

Seicento Baroque Ensemble presents “Praise and Lamentations” Nov. 8 & 10

‘Beautiful, inspired’ choral music from the 17th century

By Peter Alexander Nov. 6 at 11:15 p.m.

Amanda Balestrieri’s family just got a lot larger.

The conductor of the Seicento Baroque Ensemble thinks of the choir as family, and they just added 20 new members for their 2019–20 season. “We had just over 20 [singers] last time, and we’ve got over 30 this time,” she says.

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Amanda Balestrieri with Seicento from a past season

“It’s like having a third of your family new family members. It’s been really exciting to greet this new group of people and the atmosphere is great and everyone is very devoted and I think it’s wonderful!”

The expanded “family” will have its debut with a concert titled “Praise & Lamentation: Sacred Music of the Early Baroque,” to be performed in Boulder Friday and Denver Sunday (Nov. 8 and 10). Seicento will be accompanied on the concert by an ensemble of two violins, two violas da gamba and organ. Members of Seicento will play recorder to supplement the ensemble for some pieces.

The program is divided into two sections: “The Croatians,” featuring music by little known composers Vinko Jelić and Ivan Lukačić; and after intermission, music by Franz Tunder, Heinrich Biber and Salamone Rossi, all of whom are well known to scholars of the Baroque, if not to general audiences.

All of the composers on the program were active in the 17th century, the early years of the Baroque style, which is Balestrieri’s performance specialty and the focus of Seicento (the name means 17th-century).

Musical programs get created in many ways. Sometimes, as in the case of some selections on “Praise & Lamentation,” the conductor selects some favorite pieces and arranges compatible pieces around them.

And sometimes the conductor gets a random email from a distant country.

balestrieri

Amanda Balestrieri

That is exactly what happened with Balestrieri while she was planning the concert. “I received an email from someone in Croatia,” she explains. “It just said, ‘would your ensemble be interested in performing these works by Croatian Baroque composers?’ So I wrote, ‘Tell me more!’”

It turned out that the email came from a retired Croatian architect who has copies of music that is known in Croatia, but largely unknown elsewhere. “Radio choirs in Croatia have done recordings [of their works] that you can find on YouTube, but there’s not a lot of information about these composers,” Balestrieri says

Both composers travelled around Europe, and particularly to Italy, which was a center for the development of the Baroque musical style. “They heard this music and a lot of what was happening in Italy was also happening elsewhere,” Balestrieri says. “So when you listen to this music you would think you were listening to Monteverdi”—the leading Italian composer of the time. “It’s that style of writing.”

The main difference from Monteverdi and others of the time, she says, is that “there are a few unusual harmonies in there. And the other thing you should listen for is the use of female voices” for the phrases of chant that are included in some of the pieces. It was more common for phrases of chant to be assigned to the men’s voices.

The second half of the program came from Balestrieri’s interest in separate settings of Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon.” She knew of the two settings, one in German by Tunder (An Wasserflüssen Babylon) and one in Hebrew by Rossi (Al naharot bavel), and thought it would be fascinating to juxtapose the two on the same program.

“I wanted to do the two settings that contrast so beautifully, one very guttural setting and one beautiful setting,” she said.

But the two settings contrast in other ways than their language and musical style. Tunder sets the first part of the Psalm, which is entirely a lamentation: “We sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. . . How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Rossi’s setting adds the final lines of the Psalm, which are a violent call for revenge: “O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed. . . Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”

The inclusion of those texts then led Balestrieri to add the “praise” part of the program, to provide balance for the audience. “I always try to make sure that there’s some kind of flow in the emotions,” she says. “If you’re going to go into the depths, you also want to have something uplifting, so that people have a more balanced experience.”

The rest of the program then consists of music by Tunder, by Heinrich Biber, and by Rossi. “It’s almost like a catharsis in the middle of the program,” Balestrieri says.

Salamone Rossi

Salamone Rossi

All three composers have attracted Balestrieri’s attention in the past. Of the three, Rossi is a particularly interesting figure in the history of Baroque music. An Italian Jewish musician, he was employed by the Catholic court of Mantua as concertmaster of the court orchestra, where he heard and played the music of the leading composers of the time.

Rossi’s own works include instrumental pieces and choral settings of Jewish liturgical music in the original Hebrew language—an entirely novel development in his time, and one for which he had to have the permission of the Rabbi. Seicento has sung his music before, and Balestrieri loved it. “The music itself is so beautiful, I wanted to program more of it,” she says.

The concert as a whole mostly comprises music that will be unfamiliar to anyone who has not studied the music of the 17th century, but Balestrieri wants you to know that she doesn’t chose pieces just because the are unknown. “My main criterion is the music has to be really good,” she says. “It’s not a question of just finding any old music that people haven’t heard.”

On this concert, she says, the music she found “is really solid and beautiful and inspired.”

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Seicento Baroque Ensemble

“Praise & Lamentation: Sacred Music of the Early Baroque”
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Amanda Balestrieri, conductor
Music by Vinko Jelić, Ivan Lukačić, Franz Tunder, Heinrich Biber and Salamone Rossi

7:30 p.m. Friday, Mov 8, First United Methodic Church, Boulder
3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10, Our Merciful Savior Episcopal Church, Denver

Tickets

Amanda Balestrieri wants to ‘see you in court’

Seicento Baroque Ensemble will present ‘A Royal Tour’ of music from the courts of Europe

By Peter Alexander March 21 at 11:30 a.m.

When Amanda Balestrieri says “see you in court,” it’s an offer, not a threat.

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Seicento Baroque Ensemble

As director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble, she knows just how much music originated in the royal courts of the 17th and 18th centuries. And for the group’s final concert of the 2018–19 season, she is pulling music from the courts of England, France and other European countries into a single program. “In Your Court: A Royal Tour” will be performed March 22-24 in Boulder, Denver and Longmont.

In addition to the singers of Seicento, the concert features guest vocal soloists and local freelance instrumentalists who make up a small orchestra. The vocalists are students or recent graduates who wanted more experience with the Baroque style.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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“In Your Court: A Royal Tour”
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Amanda Balestrieri, conductor
With guest soloists and instrumentalists

7:30 p.m. Friday, March 22, First United Methodist Church, Boulder
7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23, Julian Pavilion, Highland Center, 2945 Julian St., Denver
2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 24, Stewart Auditorium, Longmont

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Seicento focuses on the texts of music for voices and violins

“Baroque Pairings” will be performed in Longmont, Boulder and Denver

By Peter Alexander Nov. 7 at 2:30 p.m.

Amanda Balestrieri, artistic director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble, hopes you will pay attention to the words.

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Amanda Balestrieri, artistic director, and Gerald W. Holbrook, associate conductor and accompanist, with members of Seicento Baroque Ensemble

Seicento’s next concert program, titled “Baroque Pairings: Violins and Voice,” includes several different types of texts, sacred and secular, all set with care and expression. The music comes mostly from the 17thcentury—“Seicento” means 1600s—divided among pieces by German composers and pieces by Venetian and northern Italian composers, including two works from convents in Milan and Novara, Italy.

Performances will be Friday in Longmont, Saturday in Boulder, and in a particularly informal setting Sunday in Denver. The Denver performance will be preceded by a social event with wine available for sale (see details below).

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Amanda Balestrieri

As a singer with a degree in languages, Balestrieri always takes deep interest in the words she sings or directs. For her, what she calls “the marriage of the text” with the music is paramount. “The poet wrote the text, then a composer chooses a text. How do they set this text, and what does this text mean?

“I feel that the text is integral. I’m always involved in the translations, and I am completely on the choir’s case constantly, not only about what the words are, but (the context)—are we in religious fervor, are we in the throes of passion?”

To help direct the listener’s attention to the text, Balestrieri and Seicento came up with an unusual way of laying out the program. The cover lists all the pieces in order—titles and composers—but not the performers. That makes it easy to get an overview of the concert.

Inside the program, every piece is listed again in order, with all the details, including soloists, the text and translation for each piece. “I felt that if we could incorporate the text within the program it would make a lot more sense to people rather than flipping backward and forward all the time through the performance,” she says.

The concert’s theme was suggested by the standard Baroque-era texture of two treble parts and bass. “Around (the 1600s) the violin was becoming a very prominent instrument, and two violins with continuo (bass) was becoming more popular,” Balestrieri says. “It seemed to make sense that first we have the pairing of two violins, and then we have the violins with voices.”

Balestrieri started with music that she knew, and expanded to some new pieces that she found to fit the program. To provide variety, there will be pieces that are instrumental, vocal solos, and choral pieces. Guest performers will be Stacey Brady and Brune Macary, on Baroque violin; Sandra Miller on Baroque cello; and Gerald Holbrook on harpsichord and organ. Vocal soloists will be guests and members of Seicento.

Heinrich Schütz

Heinrich Schütz

The program will be presented in three parts,: “The Germans,” featuring music by Heinrich Schütz, Franz Tunder and Dietrich Buxtehude; “The Nuns of Milan and Novara,” with one piece each by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani and Isabella Leonarda; and “The Venetian School,” with music by Biagio Marini, Claudio Monteverdi, Salamone Rossi and Tarquinio Rossi.

“In the German set, what you hear is the solid faith of the Lutheran church set to music, along with a much more human style,” Balestrieri says. “For example, the Tunder is a solo piece (for voice), ‘Awake Wise Virgins,’ and it’s got the giddy excitement of the bride. You really hear this in the music.

Cozzolani“For the nuns, what’s interesting to listen for is how it might have been sung by all women. This music is quite theatrical, but it’s also very much close harmony. It’s very beautiful in that way.”

In the 17thcentury Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe and was known for its brilliant art and music. It was a center for great experimentation in secular musical styles including the madrigal, as well as brilliant sacred music.

“It’s the sacred and secular cross-over,” Balestrieri says. “You have this beautiful writing, going from violin solo (at the beginning of the set) that’s very experimental and fluid, into the madrigals by Monteverdi—he’s going to be a little more out there.”

Salamone Rossi

Salmon Rossi

The set includes music by Rossi, one of the most remarkable figures of the era. A Jewish violinist/composer who served as concertmaster at the Catholic court in Mantua, Rossi wrote in the style of the period, very much like Monteverdi. “One of the things that is really interesting is that (Rossi) was writing music on a par with all of these other composers,” Balestrieri says.

“He lived through a period of cultural exchange where you have someone who’s forced to live in a ghetto who’s also out doing music and was inducted into court society.”

One of Rossi’s great accomplishments was an extensive set of Jewish liturgical music, Ha-shirim asher li-Shlomo (The Songs of Solomon, after his name and not based on the Biblical Song of Solomon), published in 1623. Three pieces of that collection will close the concert.

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Baroque Pairings: Voices and Violins
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Amanda Balestrieri, artistic director
Music of The Germans, The Nuns of Milan and Novara, and The Venetian School

7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, First Evangelical Church, 805 Third Ave., Longmont
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruces St., Boulder
3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11, The Studios at Overland Crossing, 2201 Delaware St., Denver (preceded by 2 p.m. pre-concert mixer and wine bar)

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Seicento appoints Amanda Balestrieri artistic director

A frequent soloist with Seicento, Balestrieri served as assistant director for the past year

By Peter Alexander May 7 at 1:40 p.m.

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Amanda Balestrieri. Photo courtesy of Seicento Baroque Ensemble

Seicento Baroque Ensemble has appointed Amanda Balestrieri as artistic director for the coming season.

No official announcement has been released, but the news appeared in the form of “A Note from our Artistic Director” on Seicento’s Web page that was signed by Balestrieri.

A soprano who is known for her skill performing early music, Balestrieri succeeds Kevin T. Padworksi, who was appointed director one year ago. Balestrieri has been a frequent soloist with Seicento, and has served as the group’s assistant director for the past year. She will be the group’s third artistic director.

Nancy Lillie, president of Seicento’s Board of Directors, said via email that Padworksi “resigned because unforeseen personal obligations arose and he needed to free up time to attend to them. The Seicento board understood his dilemma and we had an amicable parting.”

Balestrieri is currently out of the country and unavailable for comment. She wrote on the Seicento Web page, “I am delighted to accept the role of artistic director for Seicento Baroque Ensemble and an looking forward to a fabulous eighth season.”

In the same message, Balestrieri announced the topics for two concerts next season: “Baroque Pairings: Voices and Violins” in November and “In Your Court: A Royal Tour” in March. Both programs will be performed in Denver, Boulder and Longmont.

A native of England, Balestrieri received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in modern languages from Oxford University and studied voice in London and Milan. She sang with the Academy Chorus of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner and was a soloist in contemporary music with James Wood’s New London Chamber Choir. After moving to the U.S., Balestrieri appeared with the National Symphony under Leonard Slatkin and Sir Christopher Hogwood. She has also performed with the American Bach Soloists, Smithsonian Chamber Players, Washington Bach Consort, and the New York Collegium.

She has appeared with the Colorado Symphony and most of the early music organizations in Colorado. She is currently affiliate professor of voice at Regis University in Denver, where she has directed the Regis University Collegium Musicum.

Seicento was founded by Evanne Browne, who remains with the organization as artistic director emeritus. She returned to Boulder in March to conduct a program titled “Mad Madrigals.”

Exploring a new realm, Seicento offers “silly entertainment” March 16–18

Artistic director emeritus Evanne Browne returns to lead “Mad Madrigals

By Peter Alexander March 16 at 2:48 p.m.

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Evanne Browne

Evanne Browne, the artistic director emeritus of Seicento Baroque Ensemble, has returned to Colorado to conduct performances by Seicento Baroque Ensemble, the group she founded in 2011.

The program, titled “Mad Madrigals,” is one Browne had partially planned last year, before she left Seicento. After Browne moved from Boulder at the end of last season, Kevin Padworski was appointed to succeed her as artistic director.

When Padworksi was unable to conduct the concert scheduled for this weekend (March 16–18), Brown came to the rescue, flying from the east coast to take over leadership of performances scheduled in Denver, Boulder and Longmont. She will share the conducting duties with Amanda Balestrieri, Seicento’s associate artistic director.

In addition to the full Seicento chorus, members of the ensemble will be featured as soloists and in smaller groups. Additional musicians will be Paul Holmes Morton, theorbo; Sandra Miller, Baroque cello; Gerald W. Holbrook, harpsichord; Linda Lubeck, recorder; and Steve Winograd, recorder, pipe and tabor, and Morris bells.

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Seicento Baroque Ensemble

The program is well outside the usual repertoire of Seicento in the past, which has focused on major choral works of the Baroque period. The anchor work on the program, filling most of the second half, will be Festino nella sera del giovedì grasso avanti cena (Fête for the evening of Carnival Thursday before supper), a “madrigal comedy” by Adriano Banchieri.

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Adriano Banchieri

This is the most famous of the many madrigal comedies written around the year 1600, including several by Banchieri. Like all madrigals, they were written to be sung by amateurs as informal entertainment, often after dinner, and they are generally filled with comic vignettes poking fun at social conventions and stereotypes.

“This is definitely silly entertainment,” Browne says. “I had come across Il Festino a number of years ago. To come across a set of things that are just plain silly, like the madrigal comedies are, was a way to balance what Seicento usually does. It’s very funny.”

For example. Brown mentioned one of Banchieri’s madrigals that has become popular among fans of Renaissance music: Contrapunto bestiale alla mente, or “The Animals sing in counterpoint.” Browne explains: “There is counterpoint for animal sounds. The (text) is ‘bau, bau,’ which is what the dogs say in Italy, and ‘miau, miau,’ and ‘chiu’ and ‘cucu, cucu,’ and the madrigal part is that it has a ‘fa-la-la’ chorus.”

It is the second half of the program that is filled with the silly madrigal comedies. The first half is a survey of madrigal and other informal vocal styles from around the 16th century. “There are some very, very beautiful pieces in the first half,” Browne says. “It will be musically sophisticated on the first half, very comic the second half.”

Musica TrasnsalpinaThe madrigal started as in-home entertainment in Italy but it was spread to England in 1588. In that year an important book, Musica Transalpina (Music from across the alps), was published in London containing Italian madrigals with their texts translated into English. This started a craze for madrigals in England.

“The first half of the program is a view of madrigals starting out with Thomas Morley’s “Sing we and Chant It,” and the Italian version of that (from) Musica Transalpina, which got everybody intrigued and enamored by what was happening in Italy. We’re also doing some music by Monteverdi and Barbara Strozzi, who has become much more well known recently because she’s a female composer.”

Other works on the first half of the program include Gagliarda XI and a Prelude-Passacaglia pair by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger for Chitarone (a bass lute also known as theorbo), which will be performed by Morton; a 15th-century French drinking song; and madrigals by Giles Farnaby, Jacques Arcadelt, and Luca Marenzio.

Browne stresses that the program touches only a tiny part of the madrigal repertoire. “In one account I read, there were 40,000 madrigals published before 1630!” she says.

“This will be entertainment, in a way we don’t know how to do any more—where you’re at home and pull out your madrigal books and sing one of the 40,000 madrigals! So the audience should be prepared for a completely different concert than we have done before.

“It’s going to be lots and lots of fun”

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“Mad Madrigals”
Seicento Baroque Ensemble
Evanne Browne, artistic director emeritus and conductor
Amanda Balestrieri, associate conductor

7:30 p.m. Friday, March 16, Montview Presbyterian Church, 1980 Dahlia St, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 17, First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder
3 p.m. Sunday, March 18, First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 805 3rd Ave., Longmont

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