A Changing of the Guard at Seicento
A preview by Marc Shulgold
Every organization must eventually come to terms with a transfer of leadership. That applies to political bodies, corporations, sports teams and performing arts groups. So it is with the Baroque chamber choir Seicento (pronounced Say-CHEN-toe).
This past May, founding artistic director Evanne Browne (now emeritus) moved out of state and turned over the reins to Amanda Balestrieri. For an ensemble of 20 singers (give or take) which offers a season of only two programs, this might seem like no big deal.
But it is.
“ For us, this is a re-building year,” says Balestrieri. “Right now, my job is to steer the ship.” Like any arts organization, Seicento has a board of directors and plentiful administrative chores, such as working out budgets, securing performing venues, writing grants, auditioning singers, printing programs, scheduling rehearsals, assigning jobs to volunteers, creating advertising, etc., etc., etc.
And so, as its eighth season begins, Seicento’s ball continues to roll. On three dates at three venues in November, the ensemble will kick off 2018-19 with an intriguing concert, which Balestrieri explains, will present the (semi)familiar with the pretty-much-unknown.
Just as she has bigger plans for the group – including a possible expansion to a three-program season down the road – Balestrieri sees these first concerts as an opportunity to expand the repertory of her singers. Not to mention the listening experiences of her audience.
How new are the offerings? “Actually, there’s nothing on the program that I’d heard (live) or sung before,” she said. That’s saying something, considering her impressive career. The English-born soprano has made numerous commercial recordings and sung in concerts led by such illustrious conductors as Sir Neville Marriner, Sir Christopher Hogwood and Leonard Slatkin. Though she carried a major in languages at Oxford University, she longed to become a singer. “It was a secret desire,” she confesses. After marrying an American, she came to the U.S. In 1983, settling in Washington, D.C.,where she stayed for 17 years, eventually moving to Denver in 2009.
In 2010, she began working with Browne, serving as artistic adviser when Seicento was launched the following year. “So, I was involved right from the beginning,” Balestrieri notes. “Early music was something I knew about, although I was singing all kinds of music. For me, it was all simply music. ” But there was a certain connection with the works of composers from the 16th- to 18th Centuries. “I just had a knack for that repertory.”
Explaining that “knack” is hard to do, she adds. “It’s not the voice type. You have to understand the inflection and make it your own.” The challenge, of course, is transferring that concept to her singers. This became a process of compromise. “I guess we’re stuck between being correct and being practical.”
Which brings us to the group’s November concerts. “Each piece has to speak to me,” she says, adding, “I really didn’t want to become straight-jacketed with a theme.” That said, the program’s loose concept of pairing voices with one or two violins weaves through the offerings. “Back in the 1600s, the violin became very popular in Italy and elsewhere.” she notes. “And the combining of voices and violins was very common.” Adding to this novel approach is the presence of music by rarely heard composers – works that are new to just about everyone. And rare treats for audiences to experience.
Instrumentalists performing on the November program are Stacey Brady and Brune Macary, Baroque Violins; Sandra Miller, Baroque Cello; Gerald W. Holbrook, Continuo; Linda Lunbeck and Madeline Zanetti, Recorders.
Vocal choral soloists and guest artists will be Ashley Hoffman and Elizabeth Plender, Sopranos; Kathleen
Schmidt, Alto; Joseph Gaines and Bob Reynolds, Tenors; and Maxwell McKee, bass.
Two Italian nuns will be represented: Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704), who lived out her life in a Parma, Italy convent, and Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-1676), based in one of Milan’s 41 convents. As Deborah Kauffman explains in her detailed program notes, women composers at that time were rare, though quite common in convents.
Equally inviting is the chance to hear music by the talented Jewish violinist/composer Salomone Rossi (ca. 1570-1630), who served as concertmaster in the Mantua court for more than 40 years. As a sign of respect for his musical talents, Rossi was excused from wearing an orange striped badge, required of all Mantua Jews in that period. There are familiar names on the concert agenda,
among them Buxtehude, Schütz and Monteverdi.
Such a challenging program stretches the skills of Seicento’s singers – a necessary move that Balestrieri describes as “a process of augmenting.” Guiding the chorus and the organization into new territory is at the top of her to-do list. “It’s important for the group to look forward, not back,” she insists.
Seicento will perform Friday, November 9, at 7:30 p.m. in First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 803 3rd Ave, Longmont, CO 80501 (303) 776-2800;
Saturday, November 10, at 7:30 p.m. in First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St, Boulder, CO 80302 (303) 442-3770, pre-concert talk at 6:30 pm.
Sunday, November 11, at 3 p.m. in The Studios at Overland Crossing, 2205 S Delaware St, Denver, CO 80223 (720) 206-7657, pre-concert mixer at 2:00 pm.
Or visit seicentobaroque.org