The long and lofty barrel vault of St. Paul’s Church in Cambridge will resonate with music of Monteverdi and his contemporaries on January 7, when Green Mountain Project presents as a free concert, Scott Metcalfe’s reconstruction of a vespers service from 1640. The New York Times called GMP’s performance in that city of the 1610 Vespers “quite simply terrific,” and New York Magazine named it one of the Top Ten Classical Music Events of 2010.
Unlike Monteverdi’s earlier Vespro della Beata Vergine of 1610, the 1640 version is incomplete, Metcalfe explained, so he “fashioned a Marian Vespers, based on the 1610 model, featuring psalms and motets from later Monteverdi sacred works, using the 1610 setting of the hymn, Ave maris stella, along with music by the great Venetian, Giovanni Gabrieli and the Milanese composer-nun, Chiara Margarita Cozzolani.”
“The specific contents are entirely my own choosing, but the manner in which I put the elements together is exactly the way a 17th-century Italian chapel-master would have assembled the music for a festive Vespers. The service, whose main ingredients are five psalms, a hymn, and the canticle Magnificat, became, at large institutions in early 17-century Italy, a sort of sacred concert. We have various contemporary accounts of these concerts/services, some of which I quote in the notes. Monteverdi’s collections of 1640/41 (Selva morale) and 1650 (the posthumous Messa…et salmi) are largely anthologies of Vespers music from which a chapel-master might choose.”
Metcalfe added that although the Vespers, which begins at 7:30 pm, is not a religious service “per se,” he expects it to be a deeply spiritual occasion. Co-director Jolle Greenleaf chose St. Paul’s Church as a performance space because she finds it “a beautiful sacred space perfectly appropriate to the baroque esthetic of the music — flamboyant, varied, sumptuous, and colorful.”
Metcalfe further explained that there will be a great variety of moods and textures, with forces ranging from a solo tenor accompanied by organ and theorbos (singing an intensely emotional text from the Song of Songs), through ensembles of solo voices, instrumental canzonas by Gabrieli, and voices plus instruments, all the way up to the concluding Magnificat by Gabrieli, in 14 parts plus basso continuo, mixing voices and instruments. Some of the music is playful and madrigal-like; some rich and sonorous; some virtuosic in the sense people usually mean (i.e. lots of notes), and some virtuosic in that it requires virtuosity of expression. There will be moments of profound stillness and others of dance and rejoicing. There will even be plainchant. This is what the baroque aesthetic means: variety of all kinds.
Jolle Greenleaf founded the Green Mountain Project in 2010 with the precise aim of presenting the 1610 Vespers in New York City on its 400th anniversary. She invited Metcalfe to join as music director, conductor, and player. That concert was such a success that TENET, a vocal ensemble and non-profit organization directed by Jolle, administratively took Green Mountain under its wing, and she immediately began to dream of more concerts, including performing in Boston, where nearly half of the musicians involved live. She is a Californian who’s lived in NYC for a long time, and Metcalfe, although actually a Vermonter from the Green Mountains, has lived in Boston for a long time. (There is no direct connection to Metcalfe’s Boston-based Blue Heron, except the overlap of music director and some personnel.)
The twenty-seven performers represent the musical communities of these two cities and more, including people from Ann Arbor, San Francisco, LA, as well as many familiar to Boston audiences. Among the singers are sopranos Jolle Greenleaf and Molly Quinn; tenors Zachary Wilder, Jason McStoots, Scott Mello, Marc Molomot, and Sumner Thompson; baritone Jesse Blumberg; bass David McFerrin; with chants provided by altos Virginia Warnken and Luthien Brackett, tenor Jason Rylander, baritone Thomas McCargar, and bass Steve Hrycelak. Instrumentalists include Scott Metcalfe and Julie Andrijeski, violins; Emily Walhout, bass violin; Kiri Tollaksen and Alexandra Opsahl, cornetto; Greg Ingles (NY), Brian Kay (MA), Erik Schmalz, Mack Ramsey, and Liza Malamut, trombone; Hank Heijink and Dan Swenberg, theorbos; and Avi Stein, organ.