Nowell Sing We! a Twelfth Night Medieval Celebration
performed by Alkemie
January 8, 2016
Amherst Presbyterian Church
163 Second Street, Amherst VA 24521
Amherst Glebe Arts Response, Inc. (AGAR) will present "Nowell Sing We!" a Twelfth Night Medieval Celebration performed by "Alkemie," a group of well-known young early music artists. The performers are Tracy Cowart, mezzo-soprano and harp, Elena Mullins, soprano & percussion, Sian Ricketts, soprano & recorders, David McCormick, vielle, and Niccolo Seligmann, vielle & percussion. The performance will take place at (NOTE LOCATION CHANGE DUE TO SNOW) Amherst Presbyterian Church, 163 Second Street, Amherst, VA 24521. Tickets are $15/adults, $2/students K-12 and $5/college students. Tickets are available from LynchburgTickets.com in advance and remaining tickets will be sold at the door one hour before the concert. For the past three years, AGAR’s Twelfth Night programs have been extremely popular for families with young children, so this year AGAR is making available a family ticket (up to six people for $24) by calling AGAR and telling them how many tickets are needed at 434-989-3215 or by purchasing online at www.lynchburgtickets.com/alkemie.
According to ALKEMIE’s Sian Ricketts, their “Noel Sing We!” program takes its inspiration from the celebrations of Twelfth Night and Epiphany, celebrations that have officially marked the end of the Christmas season since the sixth-century Council of Tours. She says, “In many Christian traditions, these days observe the culmination of the journey of the three wise men or magi, august personages who travelled to bring gifts to the newborn baby Jesus. Our program presents festive and contemplative medieval repertoire from across the Western Christian world that tells the story of the conception, birth, veneration, and celebration of Christ.” The highly eclectic music on the program ranges from early English carols still sung today, to little known Czech monastery works from the Codex Spécialník collection of the medieval and early Renaissance periods; fourteenth century Spanish Llibre vermel, sacred works written for one, two, and three voices, with texts in Latin, Occitan, and Catalan; and fifteenth and sixteenth Spanish villancios with dance-like rhythms, rhyming texts, and closed musical structures.
Formed in 2013 by five friends with a shared love for early music, Alkemie specializes in medieval music for voices and instruments. The group especially enjoys exploring the porous boundaries between the “high” and “low” music of the period. Nowell Sing We! is Alkemie’s first religious program for Twelfth Night and Epiphany. “
“Two of their performers, David McCormick and Elena Mullins, have been featured in other AGAR Twelfth Night performances by Three Notch’d Road, and AGAR is very pleased that they have introduced us to their talented early-music-loving friends from Alkemie,” says AGAR producer Lynn Kable.
Notes on the Program from ALKEMIE and BIOS of PERFORMERS
Spanish composers and writers composed a vast body of sacred repertoire throughout the medieval and Renaissance periods. Although only containing ten extant works, the fourteenth-century Llibre vermel is nonetheless considered to be one of the most important repositories of medieval Spanish polyphony. It includes works written for one, two, and three voices, with texts in Latin, Occitan, and Catalan. The simple but beautiful canon “O virgo splendens” depicts the miraculous splendor of the Virgin Mary. The dance-like tune “Cuncti simus concanentes” tells the story of the Annunciation. The earlier collection of works about the Virgin Mary known as the Cantigas de Santa Maria were composed and compiled during the thirteenth century at the behest of King Alfonso X. Many of these beautiful melodies laud the Virgin Mary in general terms; others describe specific events, such as the story of the travels of the three wise men told in “Pois que dos Reys Nostro Sennor” or the miracles performed by a statue of the Virgin at the Las Huelgas convent in “Null’ome per ren non deve.”
Large collection of villancicos were published in both the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries—one of the most well-known sixteenth-century collections, the Cançionero del Upsala, contains several Christmas-themed villancicos, including the famous “Riu riu chiu” and “E la don don verges Maria.” “Gozate Virgen sagrada,” set to a gentle text honoring the Virgin Mary, exemplifies the sixteenth-century fashion of assigning equal importance to all four, texted voices.
The little-known Codex Spécialník is a Czech collection of works from the medieval and early Renaissance periods. Originating at a monastery near Prague, this collection contains a wide variety of repertoire, ranging from obscure, unknown composers to recognized masters such as Agricola and Josquin; it is one of the oldest collections of Czech polyphony. “Sophia nasci fertur/O quam pulchra/Magi videntes stellam” is a polytextual motet which tells the story of the three kings. “Nobix est natus hodie” is a joyful work in a somewhat later style, praising the birth of Jesus and the triumph of God.
Far better known are the medieval English carols “Nowell Syng We,” “Ther is no rose of swych vertu,” and “Edi beo thu hevene quene.” Beloved since their composition, these carols have formed a part of Christmastide celebrations for hundreds of years.
Praised by the New York Times as “the real attraction” with a voice that is “light and lithe,”
Tracy Cowart (mezzo-soprano & harp) has performed with a number of period ensembles, including the American Classical Orchestra, Apollo’s Fire, La Donna Musicale, Exsultemus, Musica Pacifica, Opera Lafayette, the Newberry Consort, Newton Baroque, Seven Times Salt, Three Notch’d Road, and the Washington Bach Consort. Also known for her interpretations of music from the 20th and 21st centuries, she performs with Great Noise Ensemble and has appeared at the Richmond Festival of Music. Tracy received her M.M. in Early Music from the Longy School of Music and her D.M.A. in Historical Performance Practice from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU). Tracy is also a teacher and performer of baroque dance, with appearances at the Charlottesville Music Teachers Association, Pegasus Early Music, and El Fuego. She is an enthusiastic forager, with a particular interest in mycology.
David McCormick (vielle) performs regularly on both violin and vielle (medieval fiddle), and is in demand as an educator and arts leader. He is Artistic Director of Charlottesville-based baroque ensemble Three Notch’d Road, and founding member of Alkemie. This season, he begins his role as Executive Director of the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival, where he will also appear as featured violin soloist for the opening concert of the 25th Anniversary Season. David also maintains an active private violin and viola studio and serves as President of the Charlottesville Music Teachers Association. His degrees in music education and performance from Shenandoah University and CWRU include specialized training in chamber music and historical performance.
Elena Mullins (soprano & percussion) has wide-ranging interests in the field of early music. Elena has sung with The Newberry Consort, Apollo's Fire, Three Notch'd Road, Generation Harmonique, and Quire Cleveland. She is currently the director of the Case Western Reserve University Early Music Singers. Elena takes a scholarly interest in the performance practices of early repertoires, reaching back as far as the twelfth century. She holds a DMA in Historical Performance Practice from CWRU and a BA in Musical Arts from the Eastman School of Music. In addition to singing and conducting, Elena is an avid performer and teacher of baroque dance, and served on the faculty of the Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute last summer.
Sian Ricketts (soprano & recorders) enjoys a multi-faceted career as a singer and period woodwinds specialist. This season she performs with the choir of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church (NY), the Bard Festival Chorale (NY), New Vintage Baroque (NY), Bach Collegium Fort Wayne (IN), Burlington Choral Society (VT), Three Notch'd Road (VA), Bourbon Baroque (NY), and the Kinnara Ensemble (NJ), among others. Sian will be playing recorders in Juilliard’s innovative staging of Jonathan Dawe’s recently-composed opera Cracked Orlando in the spring of 2017. Sian holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in historical performance practice from Case Western Reserve University with concentrations in voice and baroque oboe.
Multi-instrumentalist Niccolo Seligmann (vielle & percussions) is an improviser, composer, arranger, producer, and educator. He plays over twenty acoustic instruments from around the world, and also designs his own software instruments. You can hear him play four instruments on the soundtrack of the PC game Civilization VI. He received a degree in viol performance and early music from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University in 2015. Seligmann is a member of the medieval ensemble Alkemie, The Broken Consort, Hesperus, and many others. He has performed across North America and Europe, fondly recalling concerts at the Kennedy Center, in a bustling plaza in Nogales, Mexico, and inside a 2,000-year-old redwood tree in northern California.
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