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What’s Old Is New Again


janus1bAll week long at First Lutheran Church in Boston, a group of early musicians has been wrestling with a number of techniques that don’t necessarily come to mind when you think old style: artificial harmonics, overpressure, sul ponticello, putting paperclips on violin strings, you name it. The sounds that emerge are ghostly, gritty, and completely fresh—neither old nor new—and thus, completely new. It’s a sonic snapshot of what Antico Moderno loves to do.

This week, the group has been conducting its second annual composers’ workshop, the results of which will be presented in a concert on Friday at 7:00 at FLC. The workshop has been organized around a theme—contemporary cantatas on secular texts—and has attracted three internationally based composers: Jose Manuel Serrano from Argentina, Gianluca Verlingieri from Italy, and Marina Ungurenau from France/Romania, a professor at the Conservatoire de Paris. Along with detailed work on each of the cantatas, there are daily roundtable discussions and explorations of various early string, vocal, and keyboard techniques and tuning systems, plus the infinitely fertile questions of style, authenticity and rhetoric that are never far from an early musician’s mind. 

“The most exciting thing about these workshops” says Bálint Karosi, one of the group’s directors, “is to have these international composers and see how they approach this ensemble. As a composer, I also like the different sounds and sonorities they are able to get out of us. One of our participating composers is Italian, and it’s amazing how you can hear the Italian tradition of vocal writing in his piece, which still doesn’t sound like the work of anyone else, it still sounds brand new.” Combining international traditions with the tradition of early music can add potentially yet another layer to this music-making process.

The three works for voice and ensemble couldn’t be more different from each other, and the rehearsal process has made that aspect of the week even more clear. Gianluca’s piece, Reflections on Mandragola is a recitative and aria, with text taken from a contemporary libretto inspired by Machiavelli’s play Mandragola, written, as Gianluca says, “in a sort of ancient Italian, so even the text is a “reflection” as well as the language!” A cascade of feelings, or affetti run through the work; rage, love, and a sense of loss. In the instrumental parts, ponticello, snap pizzicati, and harmonic glissandi create a rich emotional texture.

Marina’s work, An infinite firmament is centered on the text used in the last movement of Mahler’s fourth symphony; a childlike vision of heaven that centers in on all the good things that can be found there to eat and drink (plus a graphic depiction of the animal slaughter necessary to produce it.) A complex work harmonically, rhythmically, and sonically, the musical world Ungurenau creates belies the simplicity of the text, invoking another dimension for our minds to explore. Scordatura, sprechgesang, a wild harpsichord part, and the use of metallic clips all contribute to the angelic vision.

Jose Manuel Serrano’s Bilis Negra delves deep into the potential resonant sonorities of the early instruments, creating a dark and magnetic acoustic. Fragments of text by Rilke and Heine float through the dreamlike work, along with quotations from Berlioz, Feldman, Schumann, and the Argentinian composer Mariano Etkin. The work moves dynamically from pianississississimo to an almost impossibly present mezzo-piano near the end. Octave doublings with voice, viola, recorder, and bass open up new worlds of intimate sound. “When I am writing for an ensemble” says Jose, I am looking for a baroque sonority and I try to achieve it with mutes, with sul tasto… But with these early instruments, I can simply write for the ensemble and the sonority will already be there.”

surveys his domain.
Bálint Karosi surveys his domain.

Antico Moderno Presents:

First Lutheran Church, Boston Friday at 7:00
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
3, West 65th Street, NYC on Saturday at 4:00

Nicola Vicentino: L’aura che’l verde Lauro e l’aureo crine
Tarquinio Merula: Su la cetra amoroso

José Manuel Serrano: Bilis Negra
Mariana Ungureanu: An infinite firmament
Gianluca Verlingieri: Reflections on Mandragola


Mariana Ungurenau, France/ Romania, professor at the Conservatoire de Paris /
Gianluca Verlingieri, Italy
José Manuel Serrano, Argentina


Molly Netter,  soprano
BálintKarosi,  harpsichord, clavichord and organ
Heloise Degrugillier,  recorders
Jesse Irons,  violin
Megumi Lewis,  violin
Sarah Darling,  viola
Michael Unterman,  cello
Samuel Suggs, bass

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