Thursday afternoon and evening we went to two fantastic concerts, beginning with the Newberry Consort, a medieval instrumental and vocal group which presented Rosa das Rosas, ten vignettes on medieval miracles supposedly composed by Alfonso X, king of Castile, Leon, and Galicia.
What was unique about this group’s presentation was the projection of medieval art and translations of the texts to help tell the story, in addition to mystical, enchanting music. As the program suggested, “in addition to entertainment for the ear we’ll give you a feast for the eyes ” which depict the stories episode by episode. Particularly amusing were stories about a man who put his fiancée’s ring on a statue of the Virgin Mary, and the statue’s fingers closed around them; and a pregnant abbess whose baby was “removed” by the Virgin Mary before the abbess was reprimanded by an unforgiving bishop.
After a brief break for dinner in which we met former organ student Joey Fala, and Early Music Hawaii President Ian Capps and his wife, Jeannette Johnson, we heard the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra in a program called The Birth of the Orchestra; The Extravagant and Sonorous Music of Paris and Rome, ca. 1700. It was another over-the-top musical feast. I was telling Joey what set the period orchestra apart from modern orchestras were several things:
a. The violins, violas, oboes and bassoon players all stand throughout the concert — and he noticed that many of the women wore high heels! The only people who sat were the cellists and the harpsichordists. One of the harpsichordists crossed his legs while he was playing!
b. The tuning of this orchestra was A=392. That means that when the tuning pitch was given, I told Joey “that sounds like ‘G’ — a whole tone down from ‘A’!”
c. There is no conductor outside of the first violinist, Robert Mealy. Yet their entrances were extremely precise and the group’s ensemble was impeccable.
d. The players use a lot of “body English,” and move their bodies in time with the music.
At one point in the program, the orchestra reconfigured themselves, and we thought it was for acoustical purposes. But then four dancers came out dressed in period costume, and delighted us with their Baroque dance movements, almost like a ballet.