September 29, 2008

Pro Musica Puts Handel in Historical Perspective

By Emily Van Cleve For the Journal

There's no doubt in the mind of Santa Fe Pro Musica's artistic director Thomas O'Connor that George Frideric Handel was the greatest English composer of the Baroque era. To put Handel's music in context from the perspective of where it came from and how it influenced subsequent composers, Santa Fe Pro Musica has put together two concerts that celebrate Handel's predecessors and his legacy.

"Handel Celebration: English Song" features music by late-16th- century British composer John Dowland and late-17thcentury British composer Henry Purcell that influenced Handel's style of writing. John Elwes, a tenor who has performed with Santa Fe Pro Musica every year since 1998, sings four songs by Purcell, who died in his mid- 30s when Handel was 10 years old. He also sings eight songs by Dowland that are accompanied by lutenist Nigel North and viola da gamba player Mary Springfels. North plays two lute solos by Dowland, who was a lutenist and singer.

"Dowland's music explores the complete range of human emotions with a unique blend of spirit, heart and intellect," North said via e-mail. "His lute music is always natural and idiomatic. All of these qualities can be found throughout Dowland's canon of works, which principally consists of about 100 solo lute pieces, almost the same quantity of lute songs, with some consort pieces for viols and lute."

To show Handel's effect on a 20th-century English composer, O'Connor programmed "Ten Blake Songs" by Ralph Vaughan Williams, which are sung by Elwes and accompanied by O'Connor playing the modern oboe.

"Blake's poetry is concise and to the point," O'Connor said. "It talks about fundamental situations that define what it is to be human. Although we're not performing any works by Handel in this concert, he is implied. He was such an important part of the British vocal tradition."

O'Connor modeled the "Handel Celebration: Ode to Music" concert after the kind of programs that Handel liked to put together during his lifetime. He often scheduled a few of his concerto grossi along with one of his organ concerti and a vocal work. Santa Fe Pro Musica's all-Handel concert includes two concerto grossi, Organ Concerto in F Major and An Ode for St. Cecilia's Day. Soprano Cyndia Sieden, who performed with Santa Fe Pro Musica last season, joins Elwes in the performance of Handel's cantata.

"St. Cecilia is the patron saint for music and musicians," O'Connor said about the ode for tenor, soprano, chorus and orchestra. "Handel took a poem written by English poet John Dryden and created an ode to Cecilia. The poem is about how music is the elemental force in the creation of the Earth."

Dolce Suono, a choir from the University of New Mexico that formed in 2006, sings in three parts of the cantata.

If you go

WHAT: Santa Fe Pro Musica Handel Celebration

WHEN and WHERE: "English Song," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1, and Thursday, Oct. 2, Loretto Chapel, 211 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe; "Ode to Music," 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 W. San Francisco, Santa Fe

HOW MUCH: Tickets: $15-$60. Call (505) 988-1234; (505) 988-4640, ext. 1000, or (800) 960-6680

(c) 2008 Albuquerque Journal. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.