by Michael Caruso
Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, will celebrate the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare with a concert woven around the musical moments in his plays. The world-acclaimed period instruments ensemble will give two performances of the program, the second one taking place in Chestnut Hill. That concert is set for 8 p.m. Saturday, March 29, in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The band will also play 8 p.m. Friday, March 28, in the Trinity Center for Urban Life in center city.
Shakespeare’s plays abound in music. Many of the characters in all of them — tragedies, comedies and histories – either sing ballads or dance to tunes played on the instruments of the mid-15th and early 16th centuries.
England’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), was a patron of all the arts and was considered the archetypical Renaissance ruler — well versed in literature, the sciences and arts. Her death in 1603 is often cited as the end of the Renaissance, the movement in Europe that revived the classical cultures of ancient Greece and imperial Rome. All had been lost during the Middle Ages following the collapse of the western provinces of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D.
England was at the zenith of Renaissance culture during Elizabeth’s reign from 1558 until 1603, and Shakespeare’s plays were the crowning glory of that zenith. To this day, his plays are considered the greatest ever written, even beyond the English-speaking world where they are known in translations. Each work abounds in music, the peculiar sound of which was lost to modern audiences because the instruments upon which the music was played had apparently gone extinct. That is, however, until the period instruments revival — another rebirth! — of recent decades. Philadelphia’s own Piffaro has been at the forefront of the movement to research and recreate the instruments of the Renaissance, enabling modern listeners to hear the music that enhanced Shakespeare’s plays just as it sounded to Shakespeare’s audiences.
Thirty minutes prior to every performance, Piffaro members Priscilla and Grant Herreid will share their recent experiences performing in Shakespeare’s historic Globe Theatre period productions of “Twelfth Night” and “Richard III” on Broadway. For ticket information, call 215-235-8469 or visit www.piffaro.org.
Chestnut Hill tenor William Lin will take part in “Rejoice, Jerusalem!” 4 p.m. Sunday, March 30, in Old St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, 4th and Walnut Streets. The program of prayer, sacred choral music and reflections on “Laetare Sunday” in Lent features the musical establishments of three of Philadelphia’s oldest churches: Old St. Joseph’s, Old Christ and Old St. Peter’s.
The music to be performed will include works by John Ireland, Leo Nestor, William Byrd and Kitterman. For more information, call 215-923-1733 or visit www.oldstjoseph.org.
The Philadelphia Orchestra performed an oddly stitched together program March 13-15 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. Originally conceived by music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin with the intention of conducting it himself, the young maestro was forced to withdraw on doctor’s orders. In his place, Alain Altinoglu made his orchestra debut to lead Gabrieli’s “Canzon, septimi toni,” No. 2, Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas brasileiras” No. 5, Four Motets on Gregorian Themes by Durufle, Dukas’ Fanfare from “La Peri,” and Faure’s “Missa da Requiem.” Altinoglu and the orchestra were partnered by soprano Susanna Phillips, baritone Philippe Sly and the Philadelphia Singers Chorale.
Ideally, Faure’s “Requiem” should be performed by a choir of men and boys numbering no more than 20 accompanied by a small chamber orchestra and heard in a reverberant Gothic chapel rather than in the sterile expanses of Verizon Hall, sung by a choir numbering more than 100 accompanied by a full symphony orchestra. And yet, considering how much of the deck was stacked against Saturday’s performance, it turned out surprisingly well. Altinoglu conducted with affecting sensitivity, highlighting the delicate shifts in harmony while maintaining a sense of ongoing development throughout the score.