The Italian Baroque Lives!
A preview by Marc Shulgold
Before we begin, let’s start with a pronunciation guide. The choral ensemble performing Monteverdi’s glorious Vespers of 1610 later this month is called Seicento.
Just say: Say-ee-CHEN-toe.
It’s an Italian word meaning 600, but it refers to the cultural world of the Italian Baroque of the 17th Century, a fabulous era for all of the arts, but particularly music. Above all the great music-makers of the day, it was the time of Claudio Monteverdi, a composer whose long life straddled the end of the Renaissance and the start of the Baroque.
OK, now let’s turn to the founder and conductor of Seicento: Evanne Browne.
Repeat after me: Eve-Anne Brown.
She founded her Baroque-era chorus in 2010, the 400th anniversary of Monteverdi’s Vespers – an obvious opportunity to perform the work, which, not surprisingly, was being sung everywhere that year. “I’d been soloist in it that year, and a dozen times before that. I decided we need to do it here,” she said. So, she put out a call.
“That piece drew some of the city’s better singers. The first time for us was really more of a community thing,” Browne recalled. “Afterward, some of the singers said, ‘We want to do more.’ So, that was the start.”
Since then, Browne has grown her choir to 42 auditioned voices. These days, she’s also gotten down to the serious business of nurturing an arts organization whose narrow focus may not be instantly appealing to a big-city population. “We made the leap out of our passion for the music,” she said, transferring that commitment to a search for sponsors, marketing expertise and a board. Today, all of the elements are in place to assure a future for Seicento, now guided by “a kick-ass board,” according to Browne.
Performing the Monteverdi, as the group will on Oct. 24 and 25th, requires serious planning, since the score calls for eight top-notch vocal soloists and an orchestra of period instruments, including sackbutts (a pre-cursor to the trombone) and cornetts (a curved, wood and brass flute-like thing). Browne rattled of the instrumentation, then listed some of the respected players imported for these concerts.
“There will be three cornettos, three sackbuts, two violins, one cello, one harpsichord, one portative organ and a theorbo. We’ll have players coming in from Boston, and violinist Mimi Mitchell is flying in from Amsterdam. There’s one sackbutt player living in these parts, who’ll be paired with the Washington (D.C.) Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble.”
In addition to the locally based sackbutt player, Browne has enlisted violinist Stacy Brady of the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado.
Assembling a large contingent to tackle this 90-minute masterpiece is no small accomplishment – nor is making sure that the performance is true to the composer’s intentions all those centuries ago. Browne acknowledged that she is “a data junkie” – she had worked in the IT department at the Smithsonian for 14 years – and is fond of researching in libraries and listening to recordings of the Baroque Era.
These Vespers, she promised, will be “historically informed performances.” That includes placing an “echo tenor” up in the balcony of Boulder’s First United Methodist Church (where she serves as Director of Music) and Denver’s St. Paul Lutheran Church. In each case, the hidden singer creates an effect that should delight her audiences.
Also part of Siecento’s weekend is a prelude to the Vespers concerts, presented on Oct. 23 in St. Paul Lutheran, featuring shorter works by Monteverdi, Salamone Rossi and Dario Castello. In March, Siecento will honor the Scarlattis, father and son – Alessandro and Domenico – at concerts in Denver, Boulder and Longmont. Included is Alessandro’s rarely heard Stabat Mater.
“We’d love to be able to do four programs in a season,” Browne said, adding that the group is probably one year away from joining SCFD’s Tier III program. “Meanwhile, we’ve been so fortunate in receiving generous donations,” she noted, adding that the budget for the Monteverdi concerts is a whopping $20,000.
Currently, Siecento serves as ensemble-in-residence at Boulder’s First United Methodist, which cuts down the cost of rehearsal space rentals. Browne said that her group is currently looking for an executive director. One qualification, we assume, is the ability to correctly pronounce Seicento.
Evanne Browne will conduct Seicento in three programs Oct. 23-25: A mix of shorter works from the Italian Baroque at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 23 in st. Paul Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St.; Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 at 7:30 Saturday, Oct. 24 in First United Methodist church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder, and again Sunday, Oct. 25 at 2:30 p.m. in St. Paul Lutheran. Information on these and future concerts: http://www.seicentobaroque.org/Tickets-Donate.html