Springing out of Winter
by Stephen Stubbs
Back in Seattle after an epic trip to South Africa, including safaris in magnificent landscapes with myriad animal sightings – some at extremely close quarters – and then two weeks of recording Handel’s Almira in Bremen, we jumped into the middle of the action with our special concert with Reginald L. Mobley last Sunday. Some of you will also have seen and heard the duo outing from Reginald with Henry Lebedinsky on Wednesday at our Sanctuary in the City series at the Josephinum at 2nd and Stewart. On Sunday we added “the Band” with Tom Berghan on historical banjos and percussion, Brandon Vance and Tekla Cunningham violins, Henry on piano and me on two different period guitars (baroque and classical).
This week, we are recording our second PMW recording project featuring Tekla Cunningham in fantastic solo violin repertoire called “Stylus Phantasticus” and again are recording at the beautiful Bastyr venue with the masterful production of David Sabee and his team of GRAMMY® winning recording engineers.
After that, our attention turns to the preparation for Roman Holiday with celebrated soprano Amanda Forsythe. Amanda was last here performing at Trinity Episcopal, in the program of Steffani Duos (Songs of Love and Passion, the CD of which was recently awarded the Diapason D’Or in France!). The memory of that concert has been present in our minds (and in that of many in our audience) as we make the decision to bring that concert on Sunday afternoon, May 13th, back to that acoustically wonderful venue. We have struggled with this decision, because St. Mark’s has many positive qualities for our organization – but the acoustical deficits cannot be ignored. There is support in the congregation and staff there to install acoustical shells to focus the sound from the chancel, but until that is in place – even with the newly restored windows, the sound is just too diffuse for the purposes of most of our concert offerings. We will also take this concert to St. Stephen’s on Saturday night, May 12th, to add one further venue to our ongoing search for the perfect acoustic.
Back to the content of our program with Amanda: it features the brilliant music of the youthful Handel during his stay in Rome (from the age of 20-23), where besides writing his first Oratorios La Resurezzione (performed at BEMF 2017) and Il Trionfo del Tempo (performed on PMW’s 2nd season) and his first Italian operas Rodrigoand Agrippina, he wrote an astounding variety of chamber cantatas for the best singers in Rome (which at the time was like saying the best singers in the world). As Ellen Harris has pointed out in her book about this period of Handel’s life (Handel as Orpheus), the very best of these cantatas focus on the emotional fates of heroines in distress (Agrippina being led to her death, and the abandoned Armida). These magnificent pieces, both for soprano, two violins and basso continuo form the backbone of our program. Over the last ten years or so, I have been particularly occupied with the works of Handel in his youth (Almira, his first opera was written in Hamburg at the age of 19). As a result I have come to see him in an entirely new light. Not as the portly and well-fed gentleman which we know from the famous London portraits around the time of the Messiah, but rather the superbly gifted young lion arriving in Rome at the age of 20, ready to challenge the best of the established Italian composers and beat them at their own game. In other words, a musical figure much more akin to Mozart, our icon of youthful genius.