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Go For Baroque

Tenor Alexander Hurd

If it ain’t Baroque, it’s not on the Buffalo Chamber Players program

On Wednesday, May 26 at 7pm, the Buffalo Chamber Players will end their 2009-2010 season with a program billed as “If it ain’t Baroque,” at their home in the Buffalo Seminary on Bidwell Parkway. For their final concert, the BCP, under the leadership of artistic director Janz Castelo, continue their admirable tradition of innovative programming, presenting works by Monteverdi and Heinrich Biber that have been rarely, if ever, performed in Western New York, as well as an old favorite by J.S. Bach.

While the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) did not write the first musical drama that we now recognize as an opera—that honor goes to Jacopo Peri for his 1597 work Dafne—he composed L’Orfeo, the earliest opera to still be regularly performed, for the court at Mantua in 1607, and he is considered to be one of the fathers of the genre. Monteverdi was already well known as a composer when he moved to Venice in 1613 to escape the overwork and poor pay of the Mantuan court, and take up the well paid position of maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s Basilica, the principal church in Venice. While still in Mantua, Monteverdi had already published five books of madrigals, and he continued composing madrigals during his 30-year tenure at San Marco.

The tradition of opera was not yet established at Venice when in 1624 Monteverdi composed his dramatic scene Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, to be inserted as a semi-staged performance, in the middle of a madrigal concert, at the palazzo of his patron, the Venetian patrician Girolamo Mozzenigo. The story is taken from Jerusalem Liberated, a 1581 epic poem by Torquato Tasso, about the 1099 capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade. The Christian knight Tancredi (Jeffrey Porter, tenor) is in love with the Saracen warrior maiden Clorinda (Colleen Marcello, soprano), but he does not recognize her when they encounter each other at night, dressed in armor, and they fight to the death. The lengthiest role in the work is that of Testo, the narrator, written for tenor voice; UB voice faculty member Alexander Hurd, best known to local audiences for his fine lieder performances, will sing the part.

The work showcases Monteverdi’s innovative stile concitato (agitated style), which uses rapidly articulated tremolos to bring the sounds of battle to life, while also demonstrating the composer’s sensitivity in the setting of Clorinda’s dying words. Adding authenticity to the string accompaniment, Deborah Fox, artistic director of the Rochester-based group Pegasus Early Music, will perform on the theorbo, a plucked lute-like instrument popular in the Baroque era.

Jerusalem Liberated inspired dramatists and composers for over 250 years; a critically acclaimed new translation by UB English faculty member emeritus Max Wickert, the first since the 17th century, which faithfully reflects the verse form of the original Italian, was published last year by the Oxford University Press.

Bohemian-Austrian composer Heinrich von Biber (1644-1704) was Salzburg’s leading composer before Mozart, and one of the most important innovators in the history of the violin. He developed both polyphonic, multiple-stop techniques and scordatura, or “mistuning” techniques that permitted otherwise impossible note combinations or sequences. BPO associate principal second violinist Jacqueline Galluzzo performs Biber’s Sonata Representativa for Violin and Continuo, which features the violin imitating the sounds of birds such as the cuckoo and the nightingale, and animals like frogs and cats. Biber’s Battalia à 10, for strings and continuo, makes use of techniques that still sound modern: inserting paper under the strings of the bass to imitate a snare drum and hitting the strings with the wood of the bow, as well as playing eight folk songs, in different time signatures and different keys, to imitate drunken singing.

Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B-flat major, BWV 1051, will be performed in its original, rarely used instrumentation, for two violas, two violas da gamba, cello, bass and harpsichord, with Buffalo gambists Nancy Nuzzo and David Abbott joining the ensemble for the performance.

Tickets are $15 general admission, $5 for students. For more information, call 462-5659 or visit

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