Concert Review: "Echoes of the Middle Ages" at Memorial Art Gallery

A lovely collaboration between MAG and Eastman School of Music

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A sustained -- and deserved -- applause rang through the Fountain Court of the Memorial Art Gallery following Thursday night's concert, "Echoes of the Middle Ages," presented by the Schola Cantorum of Christ Church and organist Naomi Gregory.

The program, centered on the music and art of the 14th through the 16th centuries, was beautifully conceived and executed. The audience program listed the 11 musical selections with lyrics in their original languages and with English translation, along with a corresponding piece of fine art on display at the museum. After the performance in the Fountain Court, the audience wandered through adjoining galleries, locating the paired works of art. The one-hour concert extended into another hour enjoying the museum before it closed.

The musical selections were diverse and yet flowed naturally. Schola Cantorum began with three male voices in a "Kyrie" from "Mass of Tournai" (1349), performed a cappella. Every tone was pure and clear. The acoustics of the gallery provided a monastery-like effect.

From songs of the liturgy to songs to honor saints in the second section of the program, Schola Cantorum (singers included Michael Anderson, Adelaide Boedecker, David Chin, Mark Helms, Aaron James, Lydia Kirkpatrick, Thatcher Lyman, Reagan McNamee-King, Sarah McConnell, Prince Nyatanga, Derek RemeŇ°, and Michael E. Ruhling) sang a lovely motet for St. Sebastian, "O beateSebastiane" (by Gaspar van Weerbeke, c.1445-c.1516). That opened into a free-flowing counterpoint. The third section, works for private devotion, included an intoned gospel reading of John 1:1-14 (the creation). Thatcher Lyman, the organ soloist in the Fountain Court, delivered a moving and well-articulated performance, and the responsive singers (who were unseen and in adjoining galleries) achieved the desired effect.

Another element of the concert was an organ piece for the Court of Philip the Bold (also known as Philip II, Duke of Burgundy), written in the modern day, but inspired by three motets of his day (1342-1404). Eastman DMA organ student Naomi Gregory spoke of her composition and of the tuning adjustments made to the Baroque organ to more closely mimic the sound of the late 14th century. Gregory's composition was at once witty and authentic.

Michael Alan Anderson, assistant professor of musicology at ESM, also spoke before each piece. Typically, I cringe at spoken interruptions during musical performances - my preference is to allow the music to speak for itself. But, for this program and in this setting, the remarks were historically and musically interesting, and also well delivered. The audience left with much to think about, considering that the evening started with remarks from Nancy Norwood, curator of European art at the MAG, and continued with Anderson's research, and included Gregory's composer's insights.

This was a truly inspired concert program in a perfect setting. I look forward to announcements of future collaborative concerts between ESM and the MAG. I will only give you the advance warning that already last night there wasn't a seat left in the house. Whatever program is next, get there early and plan to stay late. In the meantime, if you haven't already been to the Sunday afternoon Italian Baroque organ recitals, the 25-minute performances are at 1 and 3 p.m., and are included in MAG admission.

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