You are sitting in Brunton Auditorium. There is a palpable buzz and the soft murmurs of an audience delighted to finally watch an in-person concert. The lights dim, and the artistic director, Dr. Linda Pearse, takes the stage to excited, sorely missed applause.
The Sackville Festival of Early Music ran this past weekend from September 17 to September 19, offering both virtual and in-person concert experiences at Brunton Auditorium. The festival was organized by President Andrew Wilson, Artistic Director and music history professor at Mt. A, Linda Pearse, Administrative Director Shawn Bostick, and J.E.A. Crake Intern—and Mt. A student—Annika Williams.
The first concert of the weekend was Listen to how I dance, a collaborative piece between musicians and dancers specially recorded and live-streamed for the festival. The audience had the chance to speak with musical director, lute, and vihuela player Esteban La Rotta on Zoom before the concert, where he spoke about the process behind Listen to how I dance. La Rotta emphasized his personal connection to movement, and the way that he chose music for the concert—specifically, staying away from music written for Renaissance dances in order to give the choreographer, Stéphanie Brochard, more freedom of movement.
La Rotta spoke about the way that the mesh of interdisciplinary art follows the structure of dance itself. The leading and following, changing in accordance with each other, was mimicked in the concert as well as the concert’s methodology. La Rotta, viola d’arco player Elinor Frey, and lute player Anthony Harvey formed tableaux during their pieces. Brochard became a moving piece of the puzzle, sometimes completing the tableaux and sometimes winding around the musicians to create a new visual. Brochard’s dance echoed the presentation of the concert, combining Renaissance influence and modern interpretive dance in a truly unique performance.
Saturday marked the second recorded and live-streamed performance, Music in Praise of the Virgin Mary, presented by the choir Stile Antico. The performance was recorded in the Temple Church in London, showcasing the resonance and polyphonic nature of the music in its circular architecture. The program focused on the titular theme of Marian devotion, and also paid honour to Josquin des Prez, “Father of the Renaissance”, on the quincentenary of his death in 1521 by featuring four pieces by the composer. The concert also featured pieces by Clemens non Papa, Peter Philips, William Byrd, and John Taverner. The blend of the choir was ethereal, and the layering of melodic lines were gorgeous.
The final concert of the weekend was Concerto delle donne, an in-person chamber concert celebrating women composers who created music in their roles as nuns, aristocrats, singers, and possibly courtesans. According to organizer Linda Pearse, “women’s music-making was viewed variously as a threat, a provocation, and even a sacrilegious act.”
The program included music by Hildegard von Bingen, Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, Isabella Leonarda, Francesca Caccini, Bianca Maria Meda, Barbara Strozzi, and Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre. The chamber group was composed of a wide variety of singers and instrumentalists. Soprano singer and music professor at Mt. A, Erin Bardua, and contralto singer, Dean of Arts, and voice professor at Mt. A, Vicki St. Pierre, showcased stunning and beautiful vocal solos and duets. Violin players Celeste Jankowski and Kirsty Money, cello player Hilary Brown, theorbo and guitar player Madeleine Owen, and organ and harpsichord player Marie Bouchard were exuberant in exciting instrumental sonatas. Bouchard was especially highlighted in a technically incredible solo chaconne on harpsichord, and when all of the players had the opportunity to perform together, it was, in a word, divine.
After a year of solely virtual concerts, the Sackville Festival of Early Music was able to show the flexibility and creativity of virtual concerts. The return of in-person concerts truly welcomed concert programming back to the music conservatory at Mt. A.