2011-2012 Concert Season: Featuring Renaissance and Jazz collaborations
Our three performances in 2011/12 were on the theme “Renaissance Meets Jazz!”
- While my lute gently weeps: John Dowland’s England
- The Saxophone and the Sacred
- Love Songs and Naughty Little Ditties
As a classically trained pianist who also plays jazz, our conductor, Jane Perry, had long been intrigued by the way improvisation is woven through the Western art music tradition. In Bach’s day, it was common practice for church organists to extemporize preludes, postludes and sometimes even fugues, all on the spot. By Mozart’s time, improvisation had found its way to the concert stage, where the great pianists and violinists created their own cadenzas in the midst of grand concertos, in front of hundreds of audience members. In modern art music, composers like John Cage allowed the performer of their music to choose the order of pre-written elements, or to create their own music within a loose structure as defined by the composer. Elsewhere in the twentieth century, improvisation found its natural match in the wonderful new world of jazz. As with some of their classical colleagues, jazz composers created a simple structure (a melody with suggestions of accompanying chords) which they handed off to performers, to fill out in whatever way made the most sense to them. Oftentimes, the jazz composer and jazz performer have been one in the same — an incredible testament to individual musicianship. Think of Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Marion McPartland, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Sonny Rollins… the list goes on and on.
Lest you think that improvisation skipped the Renaissance, think again! Lutenists, organists and harpsichordists alike were adept at not only playing the notes on the page but also at filling out chords with added notes and rolled flourishes, and adding counter-melodies. Vocal soloists learned how to ornament melodic lines so as to imbue lyrics with more emotion, or to draw the audience’s attention to a single important word. And, as with jazz, oftentimes the composer and performer were one in the same. This season, we shine the spotlight on this most creative musical language — improvisation — and the bridge it forms between the Renaissance and jazz worlds.
While my lute gently weeps: John Dowland’s England
Dowland was a prodigiously talented English lutenist who studied internationally and served for a time in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. His Song or Ayres for Lute and Voice were a seminal work of the era, and we will draw from that collection of music in this concert. To accompany us, we welcomed Calgary classical guitarist Brad Mahon. Brad will also perform solo music by John Dowland and William Byrd, and he talked about what improvisation means and sounds like in this Renaissance repertoire. Brad then took things one step further by inviting his colleague, jazz guitarist Greg Rumpel, to play the time-honoured old tune La Folia with him. Brad improvised in a Renaissance style, and Greg drew on his jazz vocabulary in his own improvisations. We presented duelling guitars, sparkling improvisation, and gorgeous choral music by Dowland, Byrd, and the young Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo, whose star is rising fast in the current choral scene.
Presented at the Arrata Opera Centre, 1315 – 7 Street SW.
The Saxophone and the Sacred
The dark days of winter inspire many of us to seek reflection, warmth, and the company of good friends.
We entered the season of Lent, which for Christians is an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of their lives and in stillness to feel awe in the face of transformative power. Renaissance composers, many of whom were church musicians, pondered these very same ideas and found in them the inspiration to write sacred masterworks that spoke of both the human condition and divine mystery. In this concert as we presented some of these works, we created a meditative space in which listeners of all faith and non-faith backgrounds could find stillness and a musical companion for the journey of contemplation.
In keeping with this season’s theme “Renaissance meets Jazz”, our second concert of the season was entitled “The Saxophone and the Sacred.” In our concert, we welcomed the wonderful Calgary jazz saxophonist Frank Rackow. Frank improvised his musical line in the moment, as he added to our performance of sacred music by Morales, Byrd, di Lasso, von Bingen, Victoria, and Duruflé.
The choir also presented the first three movements of the beautiful and seldom-performed Missa Assumpta Est Maria by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Many of the choristers have expressed that Palestrina is far and away their favourite Renaissance composer and that they were overjoyed to have this chance to sing his music. Many enjoyed their deeply-felt performance of this mass. They came out of the cold, and into the warmth of this music and a welcoming community of music lovers on Sunday, March 11 at 3pm, in the gorgeous sanctuary at Christ Church Elbow Park.
Love Songs and Naughty Little Ditties
with guest choir, EnChor, directed by Liz Paynter
Scarboro United Church,
134 Scarboro Ave SW, Calgary, AB
In “Love Songs and Naughty Little Ditties,” the Calgary Renaissance Singers and Players performed some of our favourite bawdy Renaissance songs. Several were written by composers also famous for their sacred music: Gesualdo, di Lasso, Gibbons. We also presented a drinking song (strong drink being another favourite subject of these hard-working composers), and still another song about what can happen when two amorous folks drink together, written by a Baroque-era pub regular named Henry Purcell.
Lest you become concerned that the content of our concert offended, please know that the lyricists of the Renaissance era were sly in the way they presented their thoughts, much in the same way that a certain twentieth-century composer expressed his intent with a wink and a broad smile. “Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it; let’s do it, let’s fall in love,” wrote Cole Porter, in a tune that leaves no doubt as to its amorous content. American jazz ballads and musical numbers of the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s have much in common with Renaissance popular song lyrics.
To bring those jazz tunes to life, we welcomed guest choir EnChor and conductor Elizabeth Paynter to our May concert. EnChor has a well-deserved reputation as an excellent musical ensemble whose members are as fun-loving as they are vocally talented.
We rounded out our “Love Songs and Naughty Little Ditties” show with a whirlwind fifteen-minute creative rendition of Shakespeare’s play “The Taming of the Shrew.” Written by CRSP alto Lorna Rowsell-Petti and performed by some of our thespian choristers, its comedy delighted and its message gave us all a little something extra to talk about at the post-concert reception!