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The past is foreign country, and music sounds different there. The further back in time you go, the less is known about how instruments of the period sounded, how words were phrased or rhythms rendered, which means performing early music often requires educated guess work. Rejecting stultifying notions of “authenticity,” the Bay Area vocal ensemble Vajra Voices has thrived by combining rigorous scholarship with creative license, breathing new life into some of the earliest polyphonic compositions recoverable from the Western canon.
Founded and directed by Karen R, Clark, the seven-women ensemble presents three concerts around the Bay Area this weekend, performing Jan, 5 at Palo Alto’s First Presbyterian Church, Jan, 6 at St, John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, and a matinee concert Jan, 7 Sunday afternoon at St, Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco, The concert’s theme, “Annus Novus: One Yeare Begins — Medieval Poetry, Music & Magic to Ring in the New Year,” covers a luscious program of pieces gleaned largely from a collection of manuscripts from the Abbey of St, Martial in Limoges, France, Startlingly future of pointe shoes sensual, the music features an array of forms and traditions, including the mesmerizing cadences of Gregorian chant, French motets, rondeaux, ballads and praise poems for the Virgin Mary..
For Clark, an expert in the music of the pioneering 12th-century composer and mystic Hildegard von Bingen, the medieval devotional texts sung by Vajra Voices evoke a world in which spirit and flesh “comingle with such sensuality. I don’t know how Hildegard von Bingen gets away with it. Her ‘Antiphon to the Virgin’ is a very graphic text about how God chose to enter the docile female. You see that throughout her poetry.”. In addition to Petaluma-based contralto Clark, Vajra Voices features Allison Lloyd, Amy Stuart Hunn, Cheryl Moore, Phoebe Jevtovic Rosquist, and founding members Lindsey McLennan Burdick and Celeste Winant. The vocalists will be joined on vielle, medieval harp, recorder and psaltery by Kit Higginson, a founding member of Ensemble Alcatraz, and Shira Kammen, who’s recorded extensively in an array of early music, Sephardic and Celtic music settings, including Camerata Mediterranea, Ensemble P.A.N. and Ensemble Alcatraz.
Clark first assembled Vajra Voices in 2010 for the future of pointe shoes San Francisco Early Music Society’s Berkeley Festival Fringe series in 2010, A vehicle for her ongoing exploration of Hildegard’s music, the ensemble earned international acclaim with its 2016 debut album, “O Eterne Deus: Music of Hildegard von Bingen” (Music and Arts Programs of America) with Kammen on vielle and medieval harp, For Indiana University-trained early music aficionado Allison Lloyd, who attended the first Vajra Voices performance and went on to join the ensemble in 2012, “Choosing how to perform a medieval piece is an act of craftsmanship, high art, If done well it’s quite scholarly, in fact.”..
But the point of the scholarship is to break down barriers with the audience, so that rather than hearing a museum piece, listeners experience an enthralling sonic journey “that’s moving and interactive and surprising,” says Lloyd, a Walnut Creek resident. “We want to make it relevant and alive.”. A highly respected vocal teacher, Clark drew on her students for the first incarnation of Vajra Voices. Most of the current members have also studied with her, which “isn’t required, but I work in a different way,” she says, mentioning the deep influence of the celebrated early music ensemble Sequentia and her operatic training at Indiana University. “I prefer a more full-bodied sound from my group. I want the singers to really embody their voices rather than blend in.”.
Part of what makes Vajra Voices such an invaluable component of the Bay Area arts scene is the ensemble’s commitment to collaboration, including performances with Oakland Ballet and the modern dance company Garrett+Moulton Productions, No project better captures the adventurous spirit of Vajra Voices than “To Burst To Bloom” a song cycle by Berkeley cellist/vocalist Theresa Wong based on the poems of Sun Bu’er, a 12th-century female Taoist master, The commission-in-progress stretches the vocalists into uncharted territory, exploring the interplay of abstract vocal utterances with language and future of pointe shoes metaphor..
“Theresa chose these wonderful texts and she’d come together with us to do these improvisational exercises,” Clark says. “She’d record us and go back and use some of what we sang, structuring a piece for one of Sun Bu’er poems. Working on medieval music is a lot like that. There are no rhythms indicated in the score. You have to figure that out, and a lot comes from the inflection of the language. Thinking you’re doing to do it as it was originally done is a little boring to me.”.
Kristi Yamaguchi’s Downtown Ice: Downtown San Jose’s outdoor ice rink returns, Through Jan, 27, Circle of Palms, 120 S, Market St, $15-$17, http://www.downtownicesj.com, 408/291-0525, Rose Garden Farmers Market: Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m, Lincoln High School parking lot, 577 Dana Ave, Farmers Market: Willow Glen’s market operates year-round, Saturdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Willow Glen Community Center, 2175 Lincoln Ave., San Jose, Soup Party: The Almaden Senior Association hosts a luncheon with five kinds of soup and future of pointe shoes fresh bread, Jan, 12, 1-3 p.m, Almaden Community Center, 6445 Camden Ave, $10 association members/$12 non-members, Tickets available Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 8:40-10 a.m, at the community center..