Tacoma’s early music scene is slowly but surely gaining traction, and some of it is thanks to vocal groups like Canonici. This weekend the a cappella vocal quartet collaborates with the Illumni Men’s Chorale and the University of Puget Sound’s Dorian Singers, as well as organist Mark Brombaugh, to present a multimedia concert of sacred 16th century music in the evocative acoustics of Christ Episcopal Church, Tacoma.
The Tacoma Early Music Project: Savonarola and the North Wind centers on Girolamo Savonarola, the gaunt Italian priest famously burned at the stake in 1498 for making controversial prophecies against the Medici and inciting followers to burn all luxuries.
Music will include the “Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae” and “Miserere Mei Deus” by Josquin des Prez, the most famous composer of the era. Both pieces stem partly from Savonarola: The “Miserere” uses his text (a very daring move by Josquin, as most composers were afraid to be that controversial) and the “Missa” based on a musical version of the name of the Duke of Ferrara, who had close ties with Savonarola and whom Josquin was petitioning for a job. (He didn’t get it – the Duke died soon afterwards.) The “North Wind” of the concert’s title refers to the Duke’s nickname.
“All the music is very passionate, very controversial,” says Canonici director Anne Lyman, who’s organizing the concert.
The concert is presented as a seamless flow of music that would have been heard in a typical day at the court of Ferrara: Marian chant by the men’s chorale, lighter madrigals by the Dorian Singers women, organ music and finally the mass and “Miserere.” While the music is sung from the back of the church for surround-sound acoustics, a media slideshow will be projected in front of images from famous music manuscripts of the time, from opulent display pieces to what Lyman calls “chicken-scratch” that the monks would have sung from in daily worship.
Formed two years ago, Canonici – made up of singers Anne Lyman, James Brown, Joshua Haberman, and Thomas Thompson – has been gaining an audience for its pure sound and intelligent musicality in Tacoma, Seattle and Bremerton. Joining them will be the UPS Dorian Singers and Illumni Men’s Chorale, as well as Christ Episcopal organist and early music expert Mark Brombaugh.