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Season 2016-2017 with:
Aaron Concert Artists
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From the archives: excerpts from Sequentia's first demo recordings (1978-79)
By Benjamim Bagby
For the ensemble's 40th anniversary in 2017, my colleague Norbert Rodenkirchen encouraged me to rummage in the Sequentia tape archive in Cologne and see what old recordings were lying around. I found two of our oldest demos, on reel-to-reel tapes. Norbert took the fragile tapes to the renowned Topaz Studio in Cologne, where sound engineer Reinhard Kobialka was able to save most of the deteriorated sounds. Still, one hears the hand of time in these old recordings. Norbert had the idea to use the old label of the demo as an image. The list was written on our old mechanical typewriter, and the lettering done by hand, with Letraset (considered very hightech in pre-computer times).
Non e gran causa
This is from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, compiled by King Alfonso 'el Sabio' of Castile and Leon (1221-1284): 'This is how holy Mary decreed that the soul of the pilgrim, who killed himself on the way to Santiago because the devil tricked him, should return to the body, and he should do penance.' (CSM 26). Refrain text: 'It is not surprising that the mother of him who will judge the whole world should demonstrate good judgment.'
This is from a demo which we made in May 1978 in Cologne, with pieces from our 'Pilgrimage to Santiago' program (which was only ever performed once, in Limoges). The recording has all the hallmarks of a young ensemble almost losing control in a high-energy performance using men's and women's voices, with fiddle (Margriet Tindemans) and lute (the virtuosic Paul Shigihara Haltod). Barbara Thornton, singing here with Candace Smith, was interested in a wide-open, female chest-voice performance, something she later rarely tried. For the performance of this concert program, we all wore red monks' robes made especially by a tailor in Cologne, and wore coquilles Saint Jacques shells around our necks. Well, it was the 70's and seemed like a cool idea at the time. The robes are still in a box somewhere, never worn again since 1978.
Ja nus hons pris
The piece is a Trouvère chanson attributed to Richard I (Lionheart), King of England (1157-1199), who was imprisoned by Leopold V, Duke of Austria in 1192 on his way home from the Crusades, and held for an enormous ransom. He supposedly wrote this song, addressed to his sister Marie de Champagne, from captivity. He sings of the unfairness of his situation, and urges his many friends to pay the ransom to gain his release.
This is taken from a 1979 demo for a projected LP with music from the world of Richard the Lionheart. We submitted this privately-recorded project to Archiv Produktion (DGG), hoping for a recording contract, but they turned us down—the producer said they were looking for something which 'sounded more like David Munrow.' And so the recording was forgotten until today.
In this short excerpt, which includes the final strophes of the song, we hear one of my first attempts at self-accompaniment, on a harp which I had just acquired from the builder (Alan Crumpler). One can hear my tentative elaboration of harp-playing ideas which would later become much more convinced and natural. Still in my late twenties at that time, I worried that my voice would not have sufficient 'gravitas' to do justice to King Richard; I also hear today how I was not yet able to fully inhabit the text of this famous song.
28 April 2017
Chicago, IL, University of Chicago, Logan Center
Monks Singing Pagans
30 April 2017
New York City, NY, Music Before 1800, Corpus Christi Church
Monks Singing Pagans
11 May 2017
Paris, Université de Paris – Sorbonne, Amphithéâtre Richelieu
Classes at Princeton and Yale
While on tour in the USA performing ‘Beowulf’ in March and April 2017, Benjamin Bagby taught classes and lectured at Princeton University (speaking about the music of Hildegard von Bingen) and at Yale University (a lecture-demonstration on his performance of Beowulf), and participation in the Yale School of Music’s weekly meeting called ‘Medieval Song Lab’, hosted by musicologists Anna Zayaruznaya and Ardis Butterfield.
Benjamin Bagby has recorded the only surviving Old High German epic fragment, the Hildebrandslied (The Song of Hildebrand), for inclusion in an audiobook version of Adam Gidwitz’s new book for children and young adults, The Inquisitor’s Tale, just released by Penguin/Random House. He also recorded harp accompaniments to go with portions of the reading of the story. A release event is being schedule for New York City in early April, 2017.
New program given birth at Cambridge University
Following working sessions in 2014-15 with University of Cambridge musicologist Sam Barrett in the USA (Harvard University and Ohio State University) and in Cambridge (Pembroke College), Sequentia was in residence at Cambridge in April for the final rehearsals of the new program 'Monks Singing Pagans'. An informal video of a rehearsal made by the university became a YouTube sensation, with over 500,000 views. In addition to their rehearsals and working sessions on the songs of Boethius, Sequentia gave a masterclass and the premiere performance of 'Monks Singing Pagans', immediately followed by the US premiere during a residency at Dartmouth College (USA). The week spent at Dartmouth included teaching activities in music history, performance practice, Latin poetry and manuscript studies. Sequentia returned to Cambridge in late June to prepare a special program of the Boethian songs, which was given as part of a symposium on medieval Latin song, with a special concert on 2 July in Pembroke College Chapel.