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Voices of Music: Venetian Vespers

Voices of Music

Dec 21 and 22

When we at SFCV write about Voices of Music, it’s usually about their series of videos of 17th and 18th-century music, which have so far racked up more than 14 million hits on YouTube and Vimeo. But, of course, they do give concerts. And here’s the one thing that co-founder and lutenist David Tayler wants you to know about the group’s upcoming “Venetian Vespers” concert: It’s going to be fun. Geeky fun, to be sure, and very unusual, because it spotlights the music of Monteverdi’s much younger contemporary, Alessandro Grandi, who succeeded the great man as director of music at St. Mark’s Cathedral. But that’s exactly what you want this time of year, in addition to all the cookie-cutter carols concerts.

“There’s going to be some improvisation, there’s going to be some ciaconnas [dances based on a repeating bass line]. You know, if you look at that early 17th century, they often were experimenting with forms and trying out new things. And they would also take a popular song and write sacred words to it. So it’s going to be serious, sacred music, but it’s going to be a fun concert.”

And audience involvement is encouraged: Asked about the big symphony orchestra concert bugaboo of clapping between movements, Tayler responded animatedly, “I don’t care at all. I think this idea that the church was a quiet place is kind of a 20th-century idea. You know churches [in the 17th Century] were gathering places. And I think they were not quiet; I mean they brought their dogs in. How quiet could they have been?”

“For those that had their own, private chapels,” Tayler continued, “I can’t see that there was that much difference between the opera and the sacred services on some level. You know, they wanted big stars to perform amazing music. And they wanted their music to be sacred sometimes and sometimes secular. But either way, they wanted a virtuoso component in their music.”

Tayler, recorder and keyboard player Hanneke van Proosdij (with whom he co-founded VoM), and the musicians they play with have played together for decades. But beyond the core musicians, the group brings in many virtuosi to play with them. In this case, they’re bringing in a scholar for pre-concert lectures — John Kurtzman of Washington University, St. Louis — who, Tayler says, “has written more books on Monteverdi than I’ve read.” Lectures begin 45 minutes before the concert.

The music itself is an imaginative reconstruction of a Christmas vespers service, with much of the music taken from one of Grandi’s last publications. His music may prove to be a revelation to lovers of Monteverdi: clear, filled with direct melody and a simplicity of style. He’s another of the undeservedly ignored composers of the 17th century. Discovering this music, together with the musicians (who are playing this music for the first time, from all-new editions) should be a beautiful Christmas break, but also plenty of “fun.”

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.