Old instruments, new performers, timeless music at Early Music Series 

Ancient Cool

Among Piccolo Spoleto's perennial glories is its Early Music Series, paying homage to music written mostly before the end of the Baroque era.

The main Spoleto USA festival seldom offers such older material, but every year, Piccolo compensates with attractive daily mid-afternoon events at First (Scots) Presbyterian Church.

This year's headline ensemble is New Trinity Baroque: a world-class period-performance ensemble based in Atlanta. Under director Predrag Gosta, it cultivates a historically informed approach to its art, employing ancient styles and techniques. And they use antique tuning schemes that are quite different from modern ones.

The final period-performance ingredient is, of course, the use of (usually) replica instruments, the direct ancestors of what you hear in today's orchestras. Instead of the modern flute, you hear recorders or "transversos" (the first "sideways" flute). Likewise, you get (among others) the oboe d'amore, the basset horn (precursor of the clarinet), and the assorted ancient viols that pre-date today's stringed instruments.

You'll still hear modern-looking violins, cellos, etc., but here, they'll be equipped with gut strings plus original baroque bridges and bows, making for a very different sort of sound from what you're used to.

Back for its second year with Piccolo, New Trinity Baroque is offering five programs over the first five days. The menu features Baroque-era delights from Bach, Purcell, Telemann, and Corelli, plus several seldom-heard items from among his hundreds of concertos for various instruments. You'll also hear programs of mostly vocal works by Handel and classical-era creations of Haydn and Mozart. The final program revisits Vivaldi, treating us to fresh concertos as well as his famous trio sonata, La Follia.

After New Trinity, the College of Charleston's respected and versatile Charleston Pro Musica, specializing in pre-Baroque music, offers five performances of their own. Under the direction of CofC's ancient music guru Steve Rosenberg, Pro Musica has been Piccolo's steady early music workhorse for quite awhile.

It offers a variety of programs, beginning with a rare performance of G.G. Gastoldi's complete Balletti — in its day, a smash-hit collection of Italian madrigals for chorus and instruments. Robert Taylor's select CofC Madrigal Singers handle the vocal end. Then there are programs devoted to assorted Renaissance-era fare, including afternoons set aside for the songs and dances of England, France, and Spain.

Countertenor José Lemos — a rising opera star (and CofC grad) — presents three programs, two of them with Brio, the Pro Musica ensemble built around him. Brio features viol wizard Mary Anne Ballard and percussionist Danny Mallon.

Sprinkled amid New Trinity's and Pro Musica's concerts are other promising events from distinguished local artists. The Charleston Baroque, with soloist Amos Lawrence, will present two offerings of Vivaldi's immortal Four Seasons. Lawrence's fellow Charleston Symphony violin virtuoso Adda Kridler is on tap for a program of J.S. Bach's solo Partitas, including the stupefying Chaconne. Guitarists Marco Sartor, Christopher Teves, and Fernando Troche add an accomplished afternoon of Vivaldi guitar concertos. A distinct change of pace comes with a program of old-time gospel treasures from We Be Bretheren, an all-male vocal ensemble.

Remember, this series runs every day of the festival. It's an ancient music junkie's dream come true.

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