The Oratorio Chorale begins its 45th season with Claudio Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers, featuring collaborations with award-winning soloists and early music specialists, in concerts Saturday, November 10, at 7 p.m. at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland, and Sunday, November 11, at 3 p.m. at St. John the Baptist Church in Brunswick.
Literally a set of “evening prayers” that have endured for 1,500 years, Monteverdi’s Vespers is widely believed to be the most ambitious work of religious music prior to Bach. “It’s perhaps the greatest musical résumé of all time,” says Oratorio Chorale Artistic Director Emily Isaacson, noting that after 20 years of faithful service in the Italian court of Mantua, Monteverdi found himself out of work.
“Long before LinkedIn or networking events, Monteverdi needed a method of demonstrating both his accomplishments and his desire for new employment,” Isaacson says. “The Vespers shows Monteverdi’s revolutionary compositional genius with a wide range of vocal and instrumental forces. Side-by-side are solos and duets in the Florentine fashion and grand instrumental writing in the Venetian style, as well as archaic formal techniques such as cantus firmus and plainchant made new with his operatic writing. Like his first opera, Orfeo, of 1607, Monteverdi’s Vespers has one foot in the Renaissance and the other in the Baroque.”
Isaacson herself has been recognized for her accomplishments; she was recently named the Maine Arts Commission’s 2018 Artist of the Year and is included in Maine Magazine’s list of “50 Mainers Balancing Heritage and Progress.” Isaacson also recently graced the cover of Maine Women Magazine.
Monteverdi’s Vespers, like other early Baroque music, is designed for flexibility in instrumentation and choral voicing. Isaacson has chosen a baroque ensemble of thirteen musicians who will perform on period instruments that are quite close to what Monteverdi might have had at his disposal in the sixteenth century. These include strings (violin, viola, violone, bass violin); woodwind and brass instruments (cornett, trombone, recorder); theorbo (a member of the lute family); and portatif organ.
The Oratorio Chorale is joined by soloists Lawrence Jones (tenor), Grammy-winner Jason McStoots (tenor), Eric Christopher Perry (tenor), Molly Quinn (soprano), Sumner Thompson (baritone) and Grammy-winner Virginia Warnken (mezzo-soprano), and by musicians including Scott Metcalfe, one of North America’s leading specialists in early music.
Tenor Lawrence Jones has established an active presence on the concert and operatic stages. He has received praise for his portrayals of Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at the Princeton and Aldeburgh Festivals. The New York Times wrote, “Tenor Lawrence Jones brought light, sweet voice and lyricism to Tom.” Opera News praised him for his “clean, ringing tenor,” while The Guardian described him as “a smooth-voiced Tom.” Jones has performed roles with companies such as New York City Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Opera Saratoga, and Amarillo Opera. On the concert stage, he has sung as a soloist with the Utah Symphony, Musica Sacra, Boston Baroque, Clarion Music Society, Boston Pops, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Charlotte Symphony, and the New Mexico Philharmonic.
Tenor Jason McStoots has been described as “the consummate artist, wielding not just a sweet tone but also incredible technique and impeccable pronunciation.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer) In 2015 he won a Grammy award in Opera with the Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF) for their recording of the music of Charpentier. A respected interpreter of medieval, renaissance and baroque music, his recent stage appearances in period-style baroque opera with BEMF include Le Jeu in Les plaisirs de Versailles by Charpentier, Apollo in Orfeo, Eumete and Giove in Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria both by Monteverdi.
Tenor Eric Christopher Perry has been lauded by The Boston Globe for “his sharp physicality and ringing tenor voice.” Perry, who is also artistic director and conductor of Renaissance Men, is gaining a national reputation for his passionate and imaginative chamber music performance, both as a singer and conductor. Perry currently serves as the Director of Choirs and Applied Associate of Music in Voice (area head) at Colby College. He previously taught at Phillips Academy Andover, New England Conservatory Preparatory Division, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, among others.
Soprano Molly Quinn, hailed for her “radiant sweetness” by The New York Times, has garnered praise for her thought-provoking and delightful interpretation of music from the medieval to the modern. She has collaborated with notable musicians and arts organizations around the globe including The Knights NYC, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Apollo’s Fire, The Folger Consort, The Bang on a Can All-Stars, TENET, Trinity Wall Street, Ascension Music, Clarion Music Society, Seraphic Fire, Saint Thomas Fifth Avenue and Concert Royale, Pacific Baroque Orchestra, North Carolina Baroque Orchestra, The San Francisco Girls Chorus, The Helicon Society, Quicksilver Ensemble, and Acronym.
Baritone Sumner Thompson has been hailed as “the real thing” (Cleveland Plain Dealer) and praised for his “elegant style” (Boston Globe). He has appeared on operatic stages from Boston to Copenhagen, including in the Boston Early Music Festival’s productions of Conradi’s Ariadne and Lully’s Psyché and in the title role of Mongeverdi’s L’Orfeo with Contemporary Opera Denmark. He has performed as a concert soloist with many leading ensembles, including the Handel and Haydn Socitey, Britten-Pears Orchstra, the National Symphony, the Boston Early Music Festival, Apollo’s Fire, Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Les Boréades de Montréal, Mercury Baroque, Les Voix Baroques, Boston Baroque, and Tafelmusik.
Mezzo-soprano Virginia Warnken has been hailed by The New York Times as an “elegant,” “rich-toned alto” with “riveting presence.” She mezz is known for her heartfelt interpretations of 17th and 18th opera and oratorio. In recent seasons, Virginia has appeared as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Philharmonia Baroque, Boston Early Music Festival, Spoleto Festival, Carmel Bach Festival, TENET, Trinity Wall Street Choir, Seraphic Fire, among many others. She is an original member of the Grammy award-winning alternative-classical vocal band Roomful of Teeth.
Baroque violinist Scott Metcalfe has gained wide recognition as one of North America’s leading specialists in music from the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries and beyond. Musical and artistic director of Blue Heron since its founding in 1999, he is also music director of New York City’s Green Mountain Project (Jolle Greenleaf, artistic director), whose performances of Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and other Vespers programs devised by Metcalfe have been hailed by The New York Times as “quite simply terrific” and by The Boston Globe as “stupendous.” He is a frequent guest director of TENET (New York) in repertoire ranging from Machaut and Du Fay through Charpentier, Purcell, and Bach, and he has been guest conductor of the Handel & Haydn Society (Boston), Emmanuel Music (Boston), The Tudor Choir and Seattle Baroque, Pacific Baroque Orchestra (Vancouver, BC), Quire Cleveland, and the Dryden Ensemble(Princeton, NJ).