Piffaro explores the Austrian court and countryside

by Michael Caruso
Posted 3/16/23

Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, will perform a concert of music from the Austrian court and countryside Saturday. March 25, at 7:30 p.m. in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.

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Piffaro explores the Austrian court and countryside


Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, will perform a concert of music from the Austrian court and countryside Saturday. March 25, at 7:30 p.m. in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. Matthew Glandorf, artistic director of Choral Arts Philadelphia and music director of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, will be the guest organist for the performance.

 Austria’s homes, courts and cathedrals were alive with music in the 16th century. Piffaro’s program, arranged for its bevy of Renaissance instruments, will capture the range of musical life in Austria, the center of a sprawling empire and the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor.

The concert has been put together under the leadership of Piffaro’s new artistic director, Priscilla Herreid. When I asked her about the beginnings of her interest in music, she said, “I suppose my first visceral memory of music is listening to a tape of Hindemith’s Symphony in E-flat in the car when I was four or five.”

When I asked what instruments attracted her, she replied, “It was probably the buzzier instruments, like krumhorns and bagpipes. The late, great Bob Gallagher (who worked at the Chestnut Hill Library and was an expert juggler, palindromist, and other wild things) gave me a cassette of the 1960s/70s ensemble Joculatores Upsalienses. I knew exactly how long to fast forward to get to the Passe et Medio, which started with a solo cornamuse (or maybe it was a krumhorn), and gradually added more instruments until it was this huge wall of sound. I wore that tape out. 

“It was the immediacy of tone, the bite, that most interested me,” she continued. “There is still no sound as exciting to me as an in-tune consort of krumhorns.”

 Many local music lovers of the older instruments share Herreid’s passion for hearing an ensemble of Renaissance wind instruments perform an entire concert in the bright and resonant acoustics of Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church. For ticket information, visit

Other Future Concerts

 The music program of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill will present its own concert Sunday, March 19, at 3 p.m. The church’s music director, Daniel Spratlan, will lead the Drexel University Chamber Singers and Orchestra and the soloists of the church’s Gallery Choir in a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Dona Nobis Pacem” (“Grant Us Peace”).  No tickets or registration are required.

The First Presbyterian Church in Germantown will also be performing Vaughan Williams’ “Dona Nobis Pacem,” along with his “Five Mystical Songs,” also Sunday, March 19, at 3 p.m., in the version for piano and strings. The church’s music director, John Walthausen, will conduct.

Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra, will perform “The Fasch Files,” a program of modern premieres, Saturday, March 18, at 7:30 p.m., in the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Savior, 38th and Ludlow Streets in the University City section of West Philadelphia.  For ticket information, visit


Concert wrap-up

 Choral Arts Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Orchestra presented concerts the weekend of March 3-5.

 With Herbert Blomstedt on the podium and Emanuel Ax as its soloist, the Philadelphia Orchestra performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto in B-flat major, K. 456. After intermission, the 95-year-old Blomstedt led the Philadelphians in Bruckner’s “Romantic” Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major in its 1878-80 version. Both renditions were memorable for their strength and beauty.

Ax captured both the superficial sparkle and profound lyricism of the concerto with playing of sublime beauty of tone and eloquence of phrasing. His digital technique was immaculate and his colorful projection of timbre from his glorious Steinway & Sons concert grand piano was unforced.

Matthew Glandorf conducted Choral Arts Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Bach Collegium in concert Saturday afternoon, March 4, in the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square in Center City. The program boasted the commissioned world premiere of Chelsea Komschlies’ “If Thou but Suffer God to Guide Thee” as well as Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantata: “Who Knows How Near My End Is to Me?” and his motet: “O Jesus, Light of My Life.”

The concert was entitled “Re-imagining Bach,” and the Komschlies score was commissioned by Anthony Corvaia, a longtime supporter of Choral Arts. The work’s concept was to surround short works by Bach with newly composed choral settings of sacred texts. Not altogether surprisingly, the score faltered due to a convincing lack of an unbroken musical arch of a single, unified compositional voice capable of turning the whole into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Some sections were marked by exceptional beauty. Others seemed to struggle to find an organic musical idiom that related to that which had gone before and to that which came after.

 The afternoon’s finest performance was that given one of the two Bach scores: the motet: “O Jesus, Light of My Life.” All of Bach’s motets were composed for funeral services at St. Thomas Lutheran Church in the German city of Leipzig. Paying homage to the ancient polyphonic traditions of the form more so than to the simpler style now common in the baroque era, Bach composed a score whose multitude of contrapuntal lines envelop the listener in the reassurance of faith in life eternal.

In all the years I’ve heard Glandorf conduct, this was his most maturely beautiful effort. Choral Arts’ singing glowed with an inner beauty that filled Holy Trinity’s Victorian expanses.

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