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Muses, Modes and Moments of Magic


The Broken Consort’s invitation to its opening concert of its fourth season begins, “Come and join us in discovering the magic of old and new music performed by TBC, a professional early and new music ensemble.” Friday evening at the The Dance Complex’s Julie Ince Thompson Theater in Cambridge, TBC celebrated the recent renovation of that space and “a new year of exciting artistic collaborations between the two organizations.

Last September, I wrote about their concert in the chapel of St. Clement’s Eucharistic Shrine, “it was early music turned early magic.” Having been thrilled by their enchantment I was looking forward to “The Three M’s: Muses, Modes, and Magic!” If muses and modes were abundantly in evidence, magic was more momentary. The extraordinary soundings of last year’s concert gave way to realities of music-making. For one, the exquisite tuning and precision The Broken Consort attained in their third season opener, again present last night, acted, though, as a double-edged sword. Nicks that came along with the polish were all the more pronounced. Slight uncertainties, small details with vibrato and the like, which might otherwise have gone unnoticed, would ultimately break the trance state of magic throughout much of the evening.

There are other realities. To some extent the Julie Ince Thompson Theater demystified the quadrupling pattern of the show. Magic needs distance. Here, the audience, it might be said, becomes the performers’ neighbors.   Lighting effects for the show were on the minimal side. Mass. Ave. noises also became distractions. That being said, Terpsichore (Dance), Hypolydian (Venus), Melpomene (Tragedy), Dorian (Sun), and the other six such quadruplings—each pertaining to one of the 11 pieces performed—did intrigue. Finally, the very choices of music, mainly secular pieces of Landini, Monteverdi, Busnois, and others, are not always the stuff of magic.

Imagination is something The Broken Consort does not come up short on, at least not in the two season openers I have witnessed. Three dancers and seven musicians, all barefoot, took advantage of the relatively large audience-level stage.  In the penultimate muse-mode quadrupling, Calliope (Epic Poetry), Hypophrygian (Mercury), selections from the 13th-century epic poem, “Nibelungenlid,” found touching portrayal through sight and sound. Dancers Ashley Sabisch and Katerine Gagnon from 1000 Virtues Dance Company formed intimate and tragic huddles in slow motion to our left. Center stage, Christopher Preston Thompson with harp in hand, delivered 14 stanzas in Medieval German with great outward passion, the words themselves made biting, piercing. Niccolo Seligmann’s stringed accompaniment added just the right touches.

Brian Kay’s lead singing and lute playing in “If I were a blackbird” created more moments of emotional connection. His was a natural, heartfelt take on an old Scottish—or was it American? —folk tune. The program offered the fomer and the texts, the latter. Emily Lau’s composition, “Ayúdame” showed conviction, good sound, and passion as well. Another “new” work, “Angelus sum Thronorum” from “The Nine Orders of the Angels,” by Boston composer Patricia Van Ness opened the program. The Broken Consort’s acuity for those magically pointed intervals was fulfilled here.

Emily Lau, Clare McNamara, Camila Parias, and Jessica Petrus were TBC’s singers; Chien-Hwe Carol Hong danced.

The third piece on the program, Landini’s, “Ecco la Primavera,” returned as an encore. Perhaps it was the promptings of the small, supportive audience that charged TBC. The second time for the evergreen was completely spirited and joyful—and with appropriate and very welcome looseness.

The program will be repeated Saturday, September 7 at 8 pm.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.

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  1. Oh, I beg to differ. I was there. And I am so sorry this reviewer had a more earthbound evening than I did. It was enchanting and visionary work by young musicians of extraordinary commitment and talent. I just wonder how anyone — professional listener or otherwise — could have failed to be grateful and transported. As a music lover who was there at the beginning for many ensembles (Primavera en Salonika, Ensemble Gilles Binchois, En Chordais, Ensemble Constantinople, to name a few) that now have the attention of the world, I am quite certain The Broken Consort is here to stay. Alas, there will not be another home town concert for quite some time.

    Comment by Elatia Harris — September 8, 2013 at 2:55 pm

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