Early Music Vancouver draws great performers from around the world

Early Music Vancouver’s series of summer courses and concerts at UBC is quickly becoming an acclaimed focus that’s drawing great performers, such as Sequentia, from the four corners of the world. Something we should pay attention to as a source of civic pride.

For some folks in Vancouver, even music lovers, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary at Richards and Dunsmuir is a bit of an unknown. But if you have a taste for great acoustics, this late 19th-century French Gothic revival church is a gem. And if you have a taste for early music, Early Music Vancouver is yet another gem. On January 22, I had the pleasure of hearing both together as EMV presented the Paris based Sequentia ensemble in a North America Premiere presentation of the mediaeval music of Hildegard von Bingen. The premiere part is the soon-to-be release boxed CD set, 'Celestial Hierarchy' (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi), the complete works of Hildegard von Bingen.

Ordinarily a church of this calibre would reduce many types of music to mud, but this music is designed to be heard in especially live halls. Von Bingen has enjoyed (dare I say it) a bit of a Renaissance as everyone from early music buffs to feminists claimed her as their own. She was a remarkable woman, living in the 12th Century in the Rhineland region of what is now Germany; she was a mystic, a healer, a scientist, an author, and a fighter for the rights of her convent in a male dominated religious hierarchy.

And perhaps that’s why I found her music, despite the sinuous serenity of the Sequentia women’s vocal ensemble (occasionally accompanied by Norbert Rodenkirchen, flute, and Benjamin Bagby, harp), to be in fact “hardworking music”. It’s a world apart from either art music or music as entertainment where, with quiet antiquity, Von Bingen probes the human soul deeply. The Sequentia ensemble is well aware of atmosphere and their sober attire and demeanour puts the deeper experience ahead of personal ambition (despite the packed church of early music lovers). Even soaring solo passages were more about spiritual ecstasy than vocal virtuosity.

For the last few years, Vancouver has been growing as a centre for early music. Early Music Vancouver’s summer musical festival, held at UBC, is quickly becoming an acclaimed focus that’s drawing great performers, such as Sequentia, from the four corners of the world. Something we should pay attention to as a source of civic pride.

If you missed hearing this concert, Early Music Vancouver has a full programme and will soon announce its summer festival line up. On February 2, EMV will host a matinee concert of Italian madrigals and Hebrew prayers by Salomone Rossi, a Renaissance violinist from the court of Mantua. The concert is at the Vancouver Playhouse (600 Hamilton Street) at 3:00 pm with a pre-concert chat by host Matthew White at 2:15 pm.

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