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"This Cologne-based medieval-music ensemble adapts its performing forces to the repertoire at hand, which it performs with both scholarly insight and dramatic verve."
The New Yorker
Marvelous is the way Benjamin Bagby—the show's prime mover and principal narrator—delivers his material with such evident relish. Words of bargain and bloodshed slip from his mouth like polished jewels, he keeps a fresh smile at the wonder of it all. Norbert Rodenkirchen (on flute) and Elizabeth Gaver (on fiddle) are the expert instrumentalists.
New York Times
The Sequentia men's vocal ensemble Sons of Thunder, led by Benjamin Bagby, always goes to the heart of matters. Their concerts of medieval music regularly transport our jangled modern ears and minds to a contemplative state ... Bagby led ensemble and audience on an inner journey toward the mysteries of humanity's relationship with the infinite. These seven men sing with full voices and hearts. The sound of them in perfect unison in the sinuous traceries of chant is like cold water to a thirsty soul.
…and as is usual in Bagby’s work, all of the melodies which he realizes on his harp in unleashing haunting formulas of accompaniment or marked punctuations – bear witness to an exceptional art of the large form, which permits us to keep our attention focused during long stretches of recitation, the performance of which has become his specialty. And this, to the point where one is suprised to have put aside the translation and notes while listening to ten minutes of Old Saxon dialect from the 9th century, as if it were perfectly normal. All of this is as much from the 10th century as it is from today: beautiful, strange and intelligent.
The musicians had fun with the roguish lyrics, and the audience was held spellbound ... the concert demonstrated the timeless power of music to express the best and worst aspects of human nature.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
The result is as convincing as it is enchanting. Sequentia does not shy away from virtuosity ... This wasn't soulless chanting, this was singing, in clear, effortlessly resonant voices that sent an electric charge through the chapel's vast well of air. The words blossomed in the air as they rose from the mouths of the singers. As they did, time stood still and a thousand years of music melted away.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinal
These unfortunates who have never heard a concert by the medieval ensemble Sequentia might imagine some gloomy guys in hoods mumbling gloomy chants in dark cloisters. But Sequentia delivers the full compass of human expression, from contemplative quietude to virile chest-thumping, all served up with a startling intensity ... Benjamin Bagby ... has taught his singers what medieval people believed: that music ruled the stars, the planets and the soul of men ... The stark harmony hits you like a jolt of coffee, sounding absolutely symphonic. The return of unison in the Gregorian chant made you love the twining of pure melody again.
Sequentia ranks among the noblest and most active of the very-early-music performing groups. What I admire most about them is their willingness to apply a certain amount of contemporary imagination to the objects of their exhumations, their assumption of the license to fill in between the dots in ancient manuscripts when necessary. Their work trumpets the belief, in other words, that oldness doesn't have to mean dullness.
The female members of Sequentia prove themselves fully able to tackle the very real technical difficulties presented by the music ... their breath control is quite remarkable and enables them to give real shape and meaning to the music. Their vocal quality is very much what I would like to think Hildegard herself would have expected to hear from her own community of nuns firm, unwavering, exultant. ...Very highly recommended.
"As the two men pluck and bow ancient instruments casting sparse harmonies into the air, weaving elaborate melodies into a magic tapestry, the women sing in impeccable unison and bold, unblemished, unaffected tones musical lines that carry the meaning of the ancient poetry with such clarity that translation is superfluous ... that group's technical finesse, breath of expertise in the period, and communicative ability."
John Hinners, Kent Quarterly
"These people are profoundly imaginative musicians who achieve two goals that usually seem irreconcilable. They sing with the purity of sound and precision of tuning [that is the chief aim of some other ensembles]; at the same time, they believe in the Word, and deliver it. Identification with text suffuses their singing with feeling and humanity: listening to Sequentia is not an escapist phenomenon, an otherworld experience. Instead, Sequentia speaks to the heart."
Boston Early Music Festival & Exhibition
Excerpts from Early Music America (Summer 2009)
“The latest release from Sequentia…finds Benjamin Bagby continuing on the bardic path he first memorably struck with his performances of Beowulf more than 10 years ago. I heard part of Beowulf in London in 1999 and witnessed its power both to enthrall and disorient its listeners.”
“This new album…is in the same vein: sublime, if you can take it.”
“Bagby animates the texts’ rhetorical urgency with cries and sonorous exclamations, using every gradation of vocal delivery between speech and song.”
“…his [Rodenkirchen’s] flutes – including the piercing, breathy sound of the tiny swan-bone flute – shine like otherworldly beams of light.”
“Bagby’s bardic performance invokes a world more foreign to us today – or simply older – than probably any other early music repertoire. The historical performance endeavor rarely feels so raw and rich any more as it does at this frontier.”
Excerpts from reviews in France and Germany (winter 2008-2009)
Diapason (Paris) février 2009
Diapasons: 5/5, technique: 8/10
Benjamin Bagby poursuit son exploration des répertoires archaîques de la musique occidentale, quelque part autour de l’an mil, dans un espace ouvert entre épopée et répertoires liturgiques (ou ‚para-liturgiques’, comme les séquences présentées ici). Dans la lignée de son précédent volume de ‚chants d’un harpeur rhénan’, ce programme est centré sur la sphère germanique, proposant une sélection de pièces en (très) ancien allemand et en latin, ponctuée par quelques réalisations instrumentales de mélodies d’origine franque ou bavaroise, et par une vaste prophétie de la sibylle, originaire d’Aquitaine. Comme l’indique le titre du récital, sur un mode voisin des mémorables ‚Visions du Livre’ signées par le même ensemble, toutes ces pièces partagent des références communes à l’apocalypse, avec ses textes hautement dramatiques et puissamment imagés. Même dans une formation réduite à sa plus simple dimension: Bagby au chant (large et dramatique) et à la harpe, et son virtuose compagnon de jeu, Norbert Rodenkirchen, aux flûtes (dont une en os de cygne, s’il vous plait), Sequentia suscite toujours l’intérêt, puis l’étonnement, et finalement la fascination. Ainsi, on ne peut pas décrire autrement que comme une oeuvre originale pour flûte seule la belle et longue plage 5 de ce disque, fût-elle inspirée par des mélodies de séquences du IXe siècle et jouée sur un instrument ‚historique’. A l’instar de cette composition, et comme d’habitude chez Bagby, toutes les mélodies qu’il réalise sur sa harpe en égrenant de lancinantes formules d’accompagnement ou des ponctuations marquées témoignent d’un art exceptionnel de la grande forme, qui permet de maintenir l’attention sur les longues plages de récitation dont il s’est fait une spécialité. Au point qu’on se surprend à lâcher la notice pour écouter sans traduction dix minutes de dialecte veiux-saxon des années 800, comme si de rien n’était. Tou ceci est autant du Xe siècle que d’aujourd’hui; beau, étrange et intelligent. – David Fiala
Diapason (Paris), February 2009
Rating: 5/5 diapasons, technique: 8/10
Benjamin Bagby continues his exploration of archaic repertoires of Western music, situated sometime around the year 1000, in that open space between epic and liturgical music (or ‚para-liturgical’, such as the sequences presented here). Continuing in the line of his preceding release, Lost Songs of a Rhineland Harper [BMG Classics], this programme is centered in the Germanic sphere and proposes a selection of pieces in (very) Old German and in Latin, punctuated by several instrumental realisations based on original Frankish or Bavarian melodies, and by a vast Prophecy of the Sibyl from Aquitaine. As the title of this recital indicates – in a mode similar to that of the same ensemble’s memorable Visions from the Book – all of the pieces share a common reference to the apocalypse, with its highly dramatic texts and powerful images. Even with an ensemble reduced to the simplest dimension: Bagby as vocalist (expansive and dramatic) and harper, and his virtuosic companion, Norbert Rodenkirchen, playing flutes (including one made from a swan’s bone, if you please), Sequentia always arouses interest, then astonishment, and finally fascination. Thus, one cannot describe with any other words than an original work for solo flute the beautiful and long track 5 on this disc, even if it was inspired by sequence melodies of the 9th century and played on a ‚historical’ instrument. In line with this composition, and as is usual in Bagby’s work, all of the melodies which he realizes on his harp in unleashing haunting formulas of accompaniment or marked punctuations – bear witness to an exceptional art of the large form, which permits us to keep our attention focused during long stretches of recitation, the performance of which has become his specialty. And this, to the point where one is suprised to have put aside the translation and notes while listening to ten minutes of Old Saxon dialect from the 9th century, as if it were perfectly normal. All of this is as much from the 10th century as it is from today: beautiful, strange and intelligent. – David Fiala
François Segré / CODAEX / Paris
L’Apocalypse possède un étrange pouvoir de fascination. Elle peut nous remplir de peur mais aussi susciter des interrogations fondamentales sur le devenir et l’achèvement final du monde promis au Jugement Dernier. Sur ce thème, la musique du Moyen Age commençant trouve un terrain propice à l’épanouissement d’un langage bien singulier. Et nous retrouvons avec un vrai plaisir les membres de Sequentia. Avec une attente aussi. Ici, deux musiciens de ce merveilleux ensemble, spécialisé dans le défrichage savant de la musique du IXème siècle. L’Apocalypse est déclinée sur des textes aquitains et allemands ; la voix de Benjamin Bagby, se déploie dans des mélodies simples, exaltées, dramatiques, sans dissonances qui pourraient heurter notre écoute. Il joue aussi des harpes et du symphonia. La douceur mélodieuse de la flûte, nous ouvre les portes de cet univers musical envoûtant, bientôt rejoint par la richesse d’un instrumentarium reconstitué avec soin et compétence et utilisé avec un rare bonheur. Norbert Rodenkirchen est ce partenaire instrumentiste idéal, il joue la flûte et la harpe aux couleurs évocatrices, donnant élan et force à cette prose effroyable ou visionnaire, parfois d’une étrange douceur : résultat vivant d’un passionnant travail de reconstitution, tel est ce panorama sonore de l’Apocalypse ou Révélation. – J.M.
Excerpts from reviews of ‘Rheingold Curse’ performances in the USA (January-February 2010)
The Boston Globe (February 1, 2010)
…imaginative and harrowing…
Bagby has created vocal numbers of skin-peeling intensity…skillfully knit into a drama…
…the audience was on its feet at the end…
Wonderfully, Bagby and his colleagues sang in Old Icelandic, and one felt the pungent beauty of the language, with its rich vowels, strong accents, and the occasional tantalizing recognition of a root-related English word…
For anyone who thinks of early music performance as an archival exercise in “correctness,” here is proof of how much it can be - and must be - about fantasy and inspiration as well.
Sunday New York Times (January 31, 2010)
[concert preview]: Sequentia, the extraordinarily inventive early-music group directed by Benjamin Bagby, has made a specialty of bringing medieval epics to life. Mr. Bagby’s version of ‘Beowulf,’ heard several times in New York, was a powerful setting of sections from the 11th-century Anglo-Saxon manuscript, sung as it might have been by a bard of the time. That was a solo show, with Mr. Bagby’s quirky but evocative singing to his own lyre and harp accompaniment. Now he and Sequentia are back with ‘The Rheingold Curse’…
Crosscut (Seattle, January 24, 2010)
For over three decades Sequentia has been an innovative force in the world of early music: very early music, that is — …The Paris-based ensemble brought its signature blend of scholarship, speculation, and performance to Town Hall…
…they kept the audience spellbound with this "Germanic Saga of Greed and Revenge."
Bagby and colleagues succeeded in bringing these Eddic characters out of suspended animation, calling them to life with a spare but pliant vocabulary of declamation and instrumental accompaniment.
Christensen was superb as a radiantly reawakened Brynhilde… With her stoic demeanor, Norin captured Gudrun's profound grief at the betrayal of her husband…
Accompanying himself with a six-string lyre, Bagby made more vivid use of gestures to add texture. He shaded his protean baritone for an impressive range of characterizations. …His harping similarly made for evocative scene painting…
Rodenkirchen (who also doubled on lyre) intensified the eerie atmosphere of the two prophecies with the shrill piping of a tiny flute made from a swan’s bone. He also conjured a sense of changing scenery with his imaginative accompaniments on wooden flutes.
The use of English supertitles made it possible to enjoy the musical play of sounds and rhythms of the ancient Icelandic along with its imagery — weirdly beautiful but also flavored by dark, earthy humor…
The early-music world in general has defined itself by attempting to unearth performance practices of past eras. Bagby's efforts represent the extreme end of the spectrum. His speculative recreations of how ancient poetry might have been sung and acted in pre-literate cultures represent a boldly imaginative convergence of artistry and scholarship.
Washingtoin Post (Washington, DC, January 30, 2010)
…the live performance they brought to the Library of Congress on Thursday was spellbinding.
…the five musicians assumed various roles and moved ritualistically to tell their stories. Bagby narrated, sometimes in song and sometimes in recitation but always sonorously and with supreme dignity.
Agnethe Christensen and Lena Susanne Norin as Brynhild and Gudrun sang with a straight vibratoless chest-tone power that conveyed astonishing subtleties of emotion, and Elizabeth Gaver’s fiddle and Norbert Rodenkirchen’s flute (made from a swan’s bone) were ideal partners.
Excerpts from reviews in France (May, 2004)
(Special distinction ‘10 de Repertoire’)
‘One could plunge into the excellent booklet to follow the tracks of his [Bagby’s] musical reconstructions, and yet the essential thing is to sense how the musical solutions truly support the texts. One is as easily carried away by the vehemence of the storyteller… as one is by the sweetness of the nightingale’s song, or even by the vividness of an erotic song rescued from a monk’s censure.’
[in comparison with the ensemble Diabolus in Musica’s recent CD of 12th century Latin song]:
‘But if Diabolus in Musica gave a reading of this repertoire, new to our ears, at times with a certain harshness, Sequentia…in its choice of texts, but also in its research and its musical reconstructions, installs itself in a universe much more refined, and also much more jubilant.’
Le Monde de la Musique (* * * *)
‘In the supple interpretations given to these [10th and 11th century] songs, we hear already the charm which will later be embodied by the 12th-century Carmina Burana: whether in songs borrowing from mythology or in the sung rounds with their explicitly erotic allusions, we encounter a range of medieval Latin song much more open than we might suspect.’
‘Each of the three singers provides a different key of access [to these songs]: the playful theatricality of Bagby is contrasted with the at times almost exclusively abstract vocal timbre of Eric Mentzel; it is the soprano Agnethe Christensen who succeeds with the most moving depiction, in her sober and poignant embodiment of the singer’s persona in Foebus abierat, a poem telling of the ghostly nighttime appearance of the beloved.’
(Diapasons: 5/5; technique: 7/10)
‘This is an improbable subject, and yet: voila! After all, this isn’t Bagby’s first effort. Having ‘invented’ the musical declamation of the epic texts of the Edda and Beowulf, he now turns his attention to Latin poems which are a bit later and on a smaller scale.’
‘One would have to be a very big specialist indeed to dare make the slightest philological or historical objection to these lost songs…’
‘There remains the musical pleasure itself: this recital is magnificently varied, at times warlike and fierce…at times dreamy and nostalgic. To sum up: Bagby makes the best possible use of the interpretive liberty which such a project offers, situated as it is in the interstices of historical knowledge. For this, one can only be thankful to him.’
"Chewing the words with animalistic force and throwing his [Benjamin Bagby] intense persona into the drama, he drew the enthralled audience into a terrifying world of greed, betrayal and murder ... . So vivid was the evocation of cruel death that the performance had a visceral effect ... Poems relating to the romance and mystery of the dawn were imaginatively interpreted with a variety of timbres ... The musicians had fun with the roguish lyrics, and the audience was held spellbound ... . the concert demonstrated the timeless power of music to express the best and worst aspects of human nature."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 24 October, 2000
"The result is as convincing as it is enchanting. Sequentia does not shy away from virtuosity ... This wasn't soulless chanting, this was singing, in clear, effortlessly resonant voices that sent an electric charge through the chapel's vast well of air. The words blossomed in the air as they rose from the mouths of the singers. As they did, time stood still and a thousand years of music melted away."
Journal Sentinel, 21 October, 2000
"Listen. This is how the story begins: 'Listen.' And the audience–at the Lincoln Center Festival show 'Edda,' which opened on Tuesday night at John Jay College Theater–can do no less, as the story unfolds. . .[M]arvelous is the way Benjamin Bagby–the show's prime mover and principal narrator–delivers his material with such evident relish. Words of bargain and bloodshed slip from his mouth like polished jewels, he keeps a fresh smile at the wonder of it all. Norbert Rodenkirchen (on flute) and Elizabeth Gaver (on fiddle) are the expert instrumentalists."
"Ms. Norin and Ms. Christensen are, very suitably, all the while more grave, conveying the wisdom and sadness that are also there in the story. Norbert Rodenkirchen (on a skirling flute and a second lyre) and Elizabeth Gaver (on fiddle) are the expert instrumentalists. Christopher Caines mimes the part of a creature–six-breasted, blue, conical-hatted, goatskin-kilted–whose appearance at the start takes one into a world where the weird is normal."
Excerpted from: Dark-Age Obscurities Pulled Into the Light by Paul Griffiths, The New York Times, 12 July, 2001
"Although reminiscent of other medieval music, the reconstructed ancient Icelandic songs are stark and mathematical, with linear harmonies carrying every voice and instrument on a different lyric plane that mirrors each similarity and variation. The sounds and dramatic intonations of this grim saga are accentuated by Chong's gestural direction of Sequentia, through the use of sporadic hand and arm gesticulations pulled straight out of German expressionist woodcut ... Together, Sequentia's re-created music and Chong's staging for Edda tend to give each element its own space like the platforms they sit on, they each have their time and attention, effecting an intensely intimate, yet alien performance about familiar and eternal desires."
Metrotimes, 25 April – 1 May, 2001
"What the visionary director of Ping Chong and Company and the visionary musician who heads and performs with Sequentia share is a reputation for being pioneers. For the last quarter-century they have been frontiersmen in their theatrical and musical explorations ... You won't find horned helmets or massive Brunhildes on stage next week at Mendelssohn Theatre. You will, however, find a magical girl called Brynhild, and a familiar story of a golden treasure created by dwarves, stolen by gods, kept by a dragon named Fafnir, and causing no end of mortal trouble among the humans who attempt to claim it ... Look no further than the themes of the story to discover why it still grips 21st-centruy imaginations."
The Ann Arbor News, 22 April, 2001
"The most fiercely dramatic piece of the evening was also the only one that deviated from the Latin tongue. In a pre-Wagnerian Rhinegold curse story, Bagby spoke, sang and growled the fierce Old Norse narrative of this Icelandic saga, in which Attila the Hun murders his brother-in-law and his wife takes Medea-like vengeance. It was bloody, violent, hateful and brilliant."
The Seattle Sun Times
"...The Rhine Gold Curse come down in writing only in Iceland. Bagby sang this last, accompanying himself on the lyre, with Rodenkirchen and Metnzel on flute and drum and Norin singing female roles. Bagby raised the hair on this listener's neck with his thrilling, dramatically expressive performance (reminiscent of his Beowulf performance some years ago)."
"The highlight of the extraordinary concert, however, was a dramatic excerpt from the Edda, the national epic of Iceland. Sung and spoken in Old Norse, the shocking piece recounted the bloody tale of the Rhinegold curse, the inspiration for Wagner's Ring cycle. Bagby performed the story in the gripping narrative style he has developed for his remarkable recreation of Beowulf. Chewing the words with animalistic force and throwing his intense persona into the drama, he drew the enthralled audience into a terrifying world of greed, betrayal and murder. Norin, a Scandinavian singer who looked the part of the Rhineland queen, played the role of the avenging sister in the chilling speech-song. Rodenkirchen added ice melodies on a tiny white flute, Mentzel beat an ominous-sounding drum. So vivid was the evocation of cruel death that the performance had a visceral effect."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Sequentia ranks among the noblest and most active of the very-early-music performing groups. What I admire most about them is their willingness to apply a certain amount of contemporary imagination to the objects of their exhumations, their assumption of the license to fill in between the dots in ancient manuscripts when necessary. Their work trumpets the belief, in other words, that oldness doesn't have to mean dullness ... Four members of Sequentia showed up at Schoenberg Hall this time, including Bagby as a congenial host, in a program of secular music from the 10th and 11th centuries: love songs, philosophical songs, a bit of ribaldry now and then, their passions laid bare in the elegance of their melodic lines and the pungency of the parallel fourths and fifths of their harmonies. Strangest and, in many ways, most provocative was an 11th-century Icelandic recitative detailing an episode from the Nibelung saga that would later find its way across time to Wagner and, more specifically, to the great Fritz Lang silent cycle. A splendid evening, all told, of music to revel in ‹ and to think about."
"This enthralling disc is their only document. Bagby and his colleagues have shaped their singing and playing from folklorists' tapes, and from elements of still live oral cultures, and their own performances are memorised, never notated. True to the tradition of the professional minstrels who traveled from farm to farm, they recreate and pass on this repertoire, meticulously researching its unique modal language with in the context of their own experience of other medieval traditions, such as that of Hildegard von Bingen. The result is an ongoing Nordic project of witch this disc gives an irresistible first taste."
Times (London), 10 March 1999
"We have no original melodies for theses poems, but the performers have explored surviving folk traditions and fused together an evocative series of musical 'gestures and sings' to bring them to life ... There is nothing else quite like this on disc.
BBC Music Magazine, July 1999
"These stories are violent, colorful, heroic variants of some of them were sources for Wagner's 'Ring' cycle, and the manner of singing Bagby and Thornton have found for them is vividly theatrical the singers grab you by the throat and won't let you go which medieval bards must have done."
The Boston Globe, 3 June, 1999
"Without a doubt, major contributors to the success of this enterprise are the members of Sequentia Benjamin Bagby, Barbara Thornton, Lena Susanne Norin and Elizabeth Gaver who have in their vocal and instrumental interpretation given the idea of storytelling orality highly expressive sound."
Lenzeburger Land, Kulturspiegel, 5 January, 1996
"While the musical material spellbinding harmonies of fiddle melodies, realized by Elizabeth Gaver, immediately create a unique lyric and meditative atmosphere, the sonorous and communicative voices of Barbara Thornton, Lena-Susanne Norin and Benjamin Bagby in no need of additional symbolizing gestures transport he listener directly to Iceland, land of fire and ice ... "
Luxemburger Wort, 29 December, 1995
"The performances by American singers Barbara Thornton and Benjamin Bagby were so communicative that the audience sighed, laughed and applauded in all the right places ... Powerful gods and omnipotent goddesses were conjured up with laser like vocalization, dramatic facial expression and minimal gesture. When Thornton gave her incredible voice to the role of sorceress, she was frightening. And when Bagby told the comic tale of Prym, he was authoritative ... "
The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 26 January, 1996
"Together, they created a fascinating texture of plucked and bowed sounds quite unlike anything found in a modern symphony ... Sequentia succeeds marvelously at bringing the musty old manuscripts of medieval music to life. Their haunting renditions of ancient myths and miracles reverberate long in the memories of modern listeners."
Burlington Free Press, 31 January, 1996
"All theses songs were rendered so clear and with such animation that the language barrier seemed to melt away ... primarily, it was their artistic focus and sense of commitment taht made theses songs live anew."
San Francisco Chronicle, 1 February, 1994
"The medieval mystic and composer has been often records in the past decade, but never so ravishingly as here, a standout nominee [for the Grammy award] for choral performance. The all-women's chorus and small instrumental ensemble represent the German-based organization Sequentia at its finest."
San Francisco Examiner, February 1996
"The marvelous performances are abetted by gorgeous engineering. I have no choice but to turn to the disc first if someone asks "What do you have by Hildegard?"
J.F. Weber, Fanfare, May/June 1995 CD review
"The female members of Sequentia prove themselves fully able to tackle the very real technical difficulties presented by the music ... their breath control is quite remarkable and enables them to give real shape and meaning to the music. Their vocal quality is very much what I would like to think Hildegard herself would have expected to hear from her own community of nuns firm, unwavering, exultant . ... Very highly recommended."
Gramophone, May 1995 (Editor's choice)
"The performances are indeed highly ecstatic, bringing out the intensity and joy of hymns intended to express, verbally and emotionally, feminine principles of creation and faith."
Stereo Review, April 1995
"The beauty of the pure melody was exquisitely expressed by Ensemble Sequentia Vox Feminae ... Their vocal production was intensely focused, colored with nasal resonance and filled out with the bloom of head tone. Expressive phrases were smoothly unfolded, intricate embellishments clearly etched ... the singers shaped mystical melodies with plasticity of rhythm and unity of tone."
The Plain Dealer, Friday, 7 May, 1993
"Sequentia's recent performance transported the audience to Hildegard's vibrant inner world, resonant with soaring voices, visions and flashes of sunlight slicing through tiny abbey windows."
The Washington Post, 17 May, 1993
"It was, besides being moving, a triumph of acoustics, a demonstration of how a small number of 'small' voices perfectly focused and perfectly pitched, can expand and fill ... heavenly singing."
The Boston Globe, May 1993
"It is excellent. The program is the continuation of Sequentia's project to record the complete works on this extraordinary poet, musician and abbess ... As with all Sequentia recordings, the documentation is first-rate ... Very highly recommended."
C. Moore, American Record Guide
"It's an interesting aural study of chant in its pure and later developed adaptations. It also features some excellent performances, technically fine, well-balanced, qualitatively appealing voices who know the music well and have taken great care to record ... An unobscured sense of mystery ... heavenly."
Music Buyer's Guide
"This disc magnificently captures the haunting, mystical nature of Hildegard, making us feel the spiritual guidance that urged the musical settings of her powerful revelations."
The Philadelphia Daily News
"Sequentia's concert ... was moving, beautiful and memorable a religious experience in the sense that all great music-making communicates to the hearer's spirit, in messages that surpass matters of time, place and fidelity to the composer."
L. A. Weekly, 21-27 May, 1993
"Medieval verse bypasses what we call a dogma and makes things more palpable; it arouses visionary responses. It gives you things to see, smell, touch; it makes things more real ... A modern audience member often wonders. How am I going to enjoy a concert in a language I don't understand from a period so long ago? I understood that because it sounded very new and fresh, a if it were being created on the spot. Because it was."
The Columbia Flier, Columbia, Maryland, 18 January, 1996
"The beauty of Sequentia's singing of the unaccompanied chants so varied in expressive shaping and inflection and the colors provided by four musicians made the event an unforgettable experience."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 26 June, 1998
"The musical approach, honed over 20 years by American expatriate musical directors Barbara Thornton and Benjamin Bagby, manages to be faithful to the letter while sticking the spirit of its timeless musicality. But the singers easily compensated for these slips by sensitivity to the performing space, both physically and acoustically. Much of the action static as it is takes place in the aisle, where the spatial element adds a musical dimension."
The Star-Ledger, 9 July, 1998
"Bagby is now delving into sung poems from the sixth and seventh centuries. 'I'm interested in finding the myths and songs from when we paleface people, who ended up taking North America away from other people, were once ourselves a tribal culture,' he says. 'It's still alive and it needs to be dusted off.'"
Saint Paul Pioneer Press, 30 March, 2000
"Sons of Thunder is a highly detailed unit, boasting a common, collective sonority ... Among the most refined exemplars of early music currently active, Sons of Thunder produce a sound that both transports listeners and invites them to get lost within a glorious, ancient musical edifice."
Los Angeles Times, 4 April, 2000
"But the performances were so intensely and lovingly rendered that the large audience was enthralled. Sequentia comes by its international reputation honestly. The seven massed voices sounded like many more ... The singers were particularly sensitive to the sensuousness of the writing."
Pioneer Press, 5 April, 2000
[Pilgrims to the Apocalypse:]
"The Sequentia men's vocal ensemble Sons of Thunder, led by Benjamin Bagby, always goes to the heart of matters. Their concerts of medieval music regularly transport our jangled modern ears and minds to a contemplative state ... Bagby ... led ensemble and audience on an inner journey toward the mysteries of humanity's relationship with the infinite. Theses seven men sing with full voices and hearts. The sound of them in perfect unison in the sinuous traceries of chant is like cold water to a thirsty soul."
The Boston Globe, 12 April, 2000
"Led by Sequentia's cofounder Benjamin Bagby, the seven singers comprising the Sons of Thunder vocal ensemble projected a collective sound that was nearly articulated and hauntingly sonorous. The ensemble alone is reward enough to hear ... Cliché though it might seem, this music when performed this correctly and under such pristine circumstances has a luster that is both timeless and timely."
Los Angeles Times, 8 November, 1994
"These unfortunates who have never heard a concert by the medieval ensemble Sequentia might imagine some gloomy guys in hoods mumbling gloomy chants in dark cloisters. But Sequentia delivers the full compass of human expression, from contemplative quietude to virile chest-thumping, all served up with a startling intensity ... Benjamin Bagby ... has taught his singers what medieval people believed: that music ruled the stars, the planets and the soul of men ... The stark harmony hits you like a jolt of coffee, sounding absolutely symphonic. The return of unison in the Gregorian chant made you love the twining of pure melody again."
The Boston Globe, 15 November, 1994
"The men together sung as with one voice."
The Boston Herald, 14 November, 1994
"The men's ensemble ... is one of the finest of its kinds and brings a very quality to their numbers. Sequentia's vision here is gorgeous."
American Record Guide, October 1993
"The ... disc under this collective name (Sons of Thunder) is impressive, however, and raises hopes for sequels ... Much of the singing is in rich polyphony, but now and then it breaks into rich polyphony, following the manuscript sources. The effect is like a burst of candlelight on old, richly carved stones."
Times Union, 22 August, 1996
"... tastefully controlled fashion. Sons of Thunder really win the prize. Their unison singing is superbly disciplined, sonorous, and robust. For anyone interested in a neglected but fascinating byway of medieval music, this program is a true illumination and one of the fine things Sequentia an Bagby have done. Splendid sound, fine notes, texts with translation. Wonderful!"
American Record Guide, November/December 1996
"Sequentia interpret this varied collection of chant and early polyphony with rhythmic verve and vigour. The straightforwardness of their performance is refreshing, with a timbre that bright and slightly nasal, as one could well imagine it might have sounded in medieval Spain."
Gramophone, December 1992
"Sequentia's interpretation is gripping, its beauties are strange and thought-provoking."
The Arts, Canada, 7 September, 1992
"The monophonic pieces and here carry an unearthly beauty ... This is a welcome release by one of the most persuasive early music groups."
American Record Guide, September/October 1993
[Concert review:] "These performances by Sequentia ... are at so high a level of professional eloquence ... Showy, outgoing, sometimes hortatory, the Sequentia performances are in every way the product of the concert, not the devotional tradition. The performers are there, we are here. They woo our ears. Their behavior is worldly. With the monks we are eavesdroppers on a occasion of which the music is but a byproduct. We catch a whiff of their transcendental mood and are transfixed."
New York Times, August 7, 1994
"... it is performed here most admirably and with great restraint ... These highly-charged pieces are sung simply, unhurriedly and with much musical insight an feeling ... "
Gramophone, December 1992
"... the selections in shining light are of a transcendent beauty. Here is a "Christmas record" with something to say all year long."
Dayton Daily News, January 3, 1997
"The tunes are haunting and the singing and playing possess a serenity happily contradictory to the noise of a modern Christmas."
Saturday Star, Toronto, 21 December, 1996
"The music is affecting, if plagued by a consistently slow tempo and frequent stops. The singers presented the work in strong voice: There was much difficult music, and they only occasionally veered out of tune. The simplicity of the tempos was balanced by subtle and alert rhythms, well marked. The instrumental pieces and accompaniment were ... extremely musical. An instrumental duet ... was a delight."
Salem Evening News, 19 December, 1996
"... the performances are lovely without being precious. Fans of Hildegard von Bingen's ornate chant will dig this one."
The Dallas Morning News, 15 December, 1996
"Sequentia's new 'Shining Light' CD on BMG Classics may be the most beautiful new Christmas CD ... "
Boston Globe, 12 December, 1996
"Christmas doesn't have to be a season of thoughtless exuberance. Some of its themes are introspective, and thus more durable. As we rush forward into holiday frenzy and excess, it's a pleasure to know that order, more balanced, traditions are being kept alive with fine performances like these."
The North Shore Magazine, 19 December, 1996
"The women's and men's contributions to this literature, along with instrumentalists, are superlative."
Scranton Times, 1 December, 1996
On this Page
17 March 2017
Basel (CH) Predigerkirche, Freunde Alte Musik
Monks Singing Pagans
25 March – 2 April 2017
Lafayette College, Vassar College, Princeton University, Yale University
Benjamin Bagby Beowulf tour USA
1 April 2017
New York City, Symphony Space
Book release event for ‘The Inquisitor’s Tale’
11 May 2017
Paris, Université de Paris – Sorbonne, Amphithéâtre Richelieu
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.
Teaching in Basel and Milano
Benjamin Bagby will be teaching performance courses on medieval song at two music academies this year:
Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (Basel, Switzerland): 31 October to 1 November 2016 and 13-14 March 2017
Scuola Civica di Musica Claudio Abbado (Milano, Italy): 2-3 December 2016 and 16-18 February 2017