Our creative energies in the fall of 2011 were focused on preparation for our residency November 15–17 at Western Michigan University, sponsored by the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music. You can find our repertoire for the week here.
The focus of our programs was a subset of Heinrich Biber’s partitas on the Mysteries of the Rosary (better known as the “Mystery Sonatas”). These works are best known for their use of scordatura, or alternative tuning of the violin’s strings. Composers like Marco Uccellini, Giovanni Bononcini, and Giovanni Battista Vitali had all used this technique earlier, but in these partitas Biber fully exploited its capacity to enhance the resonance of the violin and make possible many fingerings that would be prohibitively difficult or impossible on a normally tuned violin. This fascinating aspect, however, was only one step in the process of learning the pieces. Composers in the seventeenth century were interested in moving the emotions of the listeners, so we were constantly working to convey the appropriate character of a given passage. But we realized that the partitas do not necessarily depict the events of Christ’s life in their historical context; sometimes they seem instead to be stylized meditations that reflect Biber’s cultural milieu. We often discussed how each partita reflected Biber’s own view of the events of Christ’s life.
One of our performances during the residency included J. S. Bach’s fifth Brandenburg Concerto with the WMU Collegium Musicum under the direction of Professor Matthew Steel. The third soloist for the concerto—Christopher Kantner, principal flute of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra, but here playing flauto traverso—was a delightful partner with his natural phrasing and creative ornamentation.
This spring we are making plans for the 2012–13 season. Since we have been curious for a while about the violinist Johann Georg Pisendel (1687–1755), whose playing was renowned across Europe and who was a friend and musical colleague of Bach’s, we have begun to explore the music of his home institution, the Dresden Hofkapelle of the early eighteenth century. We are also acquainting ourselves with sacred music of seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century France. More to come on next year soon!