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A Final Flourish with Cappella Clausura

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by Cappella Clausura Board members Lawson Daves and Martha Hatch Bancroft

As Amelia LeClair’s tenure with Capella Clausura draws to a poignant close, the ensemble prepares for a grand finale this weekend: an ethereal rendition of Vespers by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani Accompanied by the celestial harmonies of the H+H Youth Choruses’ Chorus of Sopranos + Altos, this magnum opus promises to enrapture audiences with its resplendent melodies and transcendent beauty. With an ensemble comprised of an organ, gambas, theorbos, and choruses of men and women, the concert is poised to be an unforgettable performance—a fitting crescendo to LeClair’s illustrious legacy. Tickets HERE.

Beyond the music, this concert serves as a heartfelt farewell to a trailblazer whose passion and perseverance have reshaped the contours of classical music. It is a tribute to a luminary who dared to defy convention, carving a path for future generations of female musicians to follow. As attendees gather to witness the culmination of LeClair’s tenure, they are not merely spectators but participants in a historic moment. This concert is an ode to the enduring power of artistry and the boundless possibilities of the human spirit.

Cappella Clausura is the creation of Amelia LeClair. She was inspired by the disturbing lack of attention given to the music of women composers and formed an ensemble and an organization to fill this need. I have been a part of it since 2006.

I (Martha Hatch Bancroft) met Amelia when she came to my church, Parish of the Messiah, in Newton, in 2006, seeking residency for her new group. She had just formed Cappella Clausura, and invited me as Warden of my church, to come hear them in Forsyth Chapel at Forest Hills Cemetery. When I experienced the sound of 12 women singing music from the early Baroque and of Hildegard von Bingen, I was speechless. I had never heard anything like it before. That was the beginning of a very long, rich and deep friendship, which included my joining the board of directors, and being one of their most fervent champions. In addition to making music, Amelia created theatrical performances where her singers and players acted and even sometimes dressed as the nuns whose music they sang. She often utilized the incredible acoustics in the church by filling the space while surrounding the audience with her singers.Amelia stood in the middle aisle, turning her music stand to conduct the singers in every corner:  the audience could see her expressions, gestures, and music – it was ingenious. Who gets to experience that?

At one of these concerts- which we called an “installation, “because we couldn’t figure out how to sell it or price it, the singers dressed as the women in the Salzinnes Manuscript, an antiphonal discovered in 2003 in Halifax. The remarkable thing about that antiphonal is that each nun is in fact portrayed and named, a rarity for cloistered women. One of my fondest memories is of seeing the singers fully costumed (in replicas of the habits shown in the manuscript), on break outside on Newbury Street. As I am an artist and former art teacher, Amelia asked me if I would like to portray a scribe, and work on an illumination during the performance.  I was thrilled to be able to add my skills as an artist. I studied the manuscript and roughed in a large, illuminated letter from one of the pages prior to the performance so that I could paint it during the performance.  This was just one type of many performances that Cappella Clausura gave over the years that delighted, inspired and educated our audiences. My largest contribution was the huge backdrop of 4’x8’ foam board panels painted to represent pages from Hildegard von Bingen’s “Ordo Virtutum”, a concert that ran for several performances, the last being at Wellesley College in 2020.    

At Emmanuel Church Amelia used the seats and singers in the Lindsey Chapel in many different configurations depending on the repertoire. By 2008 Clausura included the voices of both women and men and it was large enough to sing antiphonally expanding the musical experience for the audience. I was delighted to be able to see her music and watch her expressions as she conducted. But I will always remember the poor guy in the audience, totally unprepared for what was about to happen, whose eyes flew open when a soprano sang right behind him. That’s up close and personal.

In each space she has used, Amelia has attempted to recreate the space in which her composer would have worked: a medieval dinner party, table with fruit and wine glasses, troubadour music with lutes and viols and drums; a salon with harpsichord and gamba and theorbos and the music of Elisabeth de la Guerre, or for the piano music of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, with her quartets.  I sat in the front row of that concert close enough to watch the pianist’s fingers and pages flying, and thinking, I’m really in a salon. The experience of being so close to the musicians, even hearing the singers breathe, or watching two pages turned by mistake and then fixed immediately – how lucky was I to be there?

Amelia’s creative thinking has included so many novel collaborations: a particularly notable one was the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Boston Women’s Memorial along with Meredith Bergmann, the sculptor, and the Boston Women’s Heritage Society, and Suffrage100MA. Amelia created a unique celebration with commissions to young BIPOC composers setting the texts of Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley, and Lucy Stone.  Each young composer was asked to utilize early music instruments, therefore educating themselves and the audiences about these beautiful old sounds. 

As a friend of living composers, Amelia has both commissioned and performed 21st -century music written by such luminaries as Elena Ruehr, Hilary Tann, Augusta Thomas Read, Patrician van Ness, Gabriela Lena Frank, Joan Tower, and more.  In her constant search for music by women from every century that has gone unheard, she has performed music by Barbara Strozzi, Raffaella Aleotti, Sulpitia Cesis, Rebecca Clarke, Florence Price, and Lili Boulanger. To name a few!

In her final year, Amelia has expressed to us that she feels so proud to be able to title each concert by the composers’ names alone: Hilary Tann, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Ethel Smyth, and finally Chiara Cozzolani.  It is really gratifying that for Amelia’s final concert we are collaborating with H&H’s educational program, Chorus of Sopranos and Altos.  With them we’ll return to Cozzolani, the very first composer we ever performed. I love the idea of young women today being educated to the music of a 17th-century woman.

Amelia LeClair’s Cappella Clausura has spent the last 20 years educating all of us about high-level, complex and frankly gorgeous music, music for groups large and small, written by women.  Now, everyone is doing it.

As the final notes of this weekend’s concert linger in the air, singing an ode to the enduring power of artistry and the boundless possibilities of the human spirit, they will also resonate with gratitude, admiration, and the promise of new beginnings. While LeClair’s baton may lower for the last time as ArtisticDirector, her legacy will endure—an everlasting testament to the transformative power of music and the remarkable journey of a woman who dared to dream.

The organization invites participation in its celebrating of a musical matriarch’s extraordinary legacy. Secure your tickets now for an unforgettable evening of melody and memory—a tribute to the one and only, Amelia LeClair.

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