What’s called “early music,” generally music from the Middle Ages through the early 1700s, has long been part of the Piccolo Festival in a series organized by Steven Rosenberg. We were intrigued by the final concert in the series featuring music of Spain and its American colonies and the Canary Islands.
When Charleston and the other “old” cities in what would become the United States were being hacked out of the wilderness the Spanish were 100 years into building cities in Mexico, Central, and South America (and enslaving or wiping out the natives who’d had their own cities). Colonial Spanish Americans developed very distinctive art forms including the music played at this concert by the Chatham Baroque on period instruments (Baroque guitar and violins, theorbo) with the able assistance of superb countertenor Jose Lemos. The players were not identified on the program, nor was there biographical info on the composers, when they lived and when the works were written, but members of the group gave excellent brief explanations.
Most of these pieces were from the 1700s and what set several of them apart from more central European music of the time was the African influences, especially percussion — one culminated with the entire group supplying the beat. Judging from the huge crowd at First (Scots) Presbyterian Church, early music has developed a fan base at Piccolo.
Chamber Music IV likewise started in the early 1700s with the better-known Baroque composer Bach. (Keep in mind that in music, unlike visual art, Baroque refers to the time period, not the style.)
St. Lawrence String Quartet cellist Christopher Costanza took to the stage alone and under moody lighting gave a moving and appropriately moody performance of Bach’s Suite No. 1.
This concert’s focus wasn’t the Baroque, but technical brilliance with three more extraordinarily demanding works. Violinist Livia Sohn and pianist Pedja Muzijevic tackled Schubert’s early 19th century Fantasy in C major, successfully it must be said. “The reason you don’t hear this often is it’s really hard,” said Geoff Nuttall, series organizer.
The concert jumped ahead 150 years for another solo work, Luciano Berio’s Sequenza VII for solo oboe from 1969. This is a rather crazy work calling for the player, in this case the young and usually smiling (rare for an oboist) James Austin Smith, to use extended techniques and perform along with a recorded “B” coming through speakers. This has been a year for a lot of new and unusual music for the series and this so far has been the most edgy and exciting.
Exciting is the best way to describe what series vet Muzijevic and newcomer Pavel Kolesnikov did with Ravel’s La Valse on two 9-foot Steinway concert grand pianos I’ve heard it several times before but have never heard it better.