Musica Pacifica has, since its founding in 1990, become widely recognized as one of America’s premier baroque ensembles, lauded for both the dazzling virtuosity and the warm expressiveness of its performances. Called "some of the finest baroque musicians in America" (American Record Guide) and "among the best in the world" (Alte Musik Aktuell, Regensburg), these four highly accomplished musicians – Judith Linsenberg (recorder), Elizabeth Blumenstock (baroque violin), David Morris (baroque 'cello and viola da gamba), and Charles Sherman (harpsichord) – are genuine friends, who clearly relish the music and the time they spend together with their audiences. At home in the San Francisco Bay Area, these artists are masters of their repertoire who regularly perform with Philharmonia Baroque, the American Bach Soloists, and other prominent early music ensembles across the country and around the world. Musica Pacifica combines this world-class musicianship with imaginative programming and a spirited performing style, bringing electricity, brilliance, and exuberant vitality to its performances of the intimate chamber music of the Baroque. The Washington Post noted: “the effect was transporting¬––a small miracle of precision and musical electricity.”
Such enthusiasm – from both the press and the public – has marked two decades of Musica Pacifica performances, and has won the ensemble an international reputation as early music specialists. Its programs are carefully crafted to showcase the charm, elegance, and diversity of 17th and 18th Century music, with the core group frequently joined by world renowned guest artists in varying combinations of recorder, oboe, violin, ‘cello/gamba, harpsichord, and percussion. Over the years, Musica Pacifica has brought one inventive, beautifully performed program after another to some of the most prestigious concert series in the U.S., including Music Before 1800 and the Frick Collection (NY), the Getty Museum (Los Angeles), the Cleveland Art Museum, the Pittsburgh Renaissance and Baroque Society, the Seattle Early Music Guild, Early Music Now in Milwaukee, the Houston Early Music Society, the Los Angeles County Museum, the San Diego Early Music Society, and the Cambridge Early Music Society, among many others. The ensemble has been featured at the Berkeley Early Music Festival three times, and their first appearance there was cited in Early Music (UK) as "perhaps the standout of the entire festival." Musica Pacifica has also received international acclaim for its performances in Austria and Germany. Broadcast audiences have heard the ensemble on German National Radio, as well as on National Public Radio’s "Performance Today" and "Harmonia," and Minnesota Public Radio.
Musica Pacifica’s eight recordings–including repertoire by J.S. Bach, Vivaldi, Alessandro Scarlatti, Marin Marais, Telemann, Francesco Mancini, as well as Baroque and traditional music from the British Isles––are marked by what Goldberg Magazine (Spain) called “elegant, stylish, and thankfully unmannered performances.” They have been lauded in the classical music press, garnering the highest ratings in classical CD magazines and repeatedly being chosen as “CD of the Month” by the early music journal Alte Musik Aktuell." Musica Pacifica’s 2007 release, Fire Beneath My Fingers, was a featured recording on Minnesota Public Radio, and called “one of the most exciting Baroque recordings I’ve heard” by a reviewer in Audiophile Audition. The Telemann CD was described by Early Music America Magazine as "superbly elegant…exemplifying the finest in historical performance today," and went on to win the Chamber Music America/WQXR Record Award for 2003, honoring the best chamber music recordings of the year. Musica Pacifica’s CDs have also won international recognition; the Mancini recording was cited in 2000 as a "Noteworthy Disc" at the International Antonio Vivaldi Awards for Italian Early Music in Venice. To have earned such honors, truly, in the words of Fanfare Magazine, “this is playing to ravish the senses.”
Online, Musica Pacifica may be heard on radio station 1.fm, and on Last.fm; and seen on youtube.com/MusicaPacificaSF. Please visit their website: www.musicapacifica.org.
PROGRAM NOTES BY ROBERT MEALY
“And now Buckingham having the Chancellor, swels in the height of his pride; summons up all his Countrey kindred… but because they could not learne the French dances so soone as to be in gay Clothes, Countrey Dances must be the garb of the Court, and none else must be used.”
(Sir Anthony Weldon, “The Court and Character of King James,” writing about c.1619)
During the 17th and 18th centuries, a vivid range of musical styles co-existed in the British Isles. At the same time that the most fashionable continental musicians were transforming the cultural life of London, centuries-old Irish and Scottish culture was being preserved in the rural villages of the rugged hinterlands, where Celtic languages are spoken to this day. The rhythmic vigor and melodic liveliness of so many Scots and Irish tunes appealed to the sophisticated London audiences as an emblem of their native culture; the collision of this rich repertoire with the new Italian and French fashions in art music made for a fascinating mix of high and low, exotic and local. Composers and audiences began to grow accustomed to a blending of musical styles and idioms from across the British Isles and throughout the European continent. The music on our CD reflects the variety of crosscurrents that made the musical culture of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Great Britain such a rich and diverse one.
We begin our choreography with a set of English country dance tunes, first published in John Playford’s "The English Dancing Master." This great anthology appeared in 1651, and continued through many editions in the decades to follow, incorporating all the most popular tunes of the day. This was a practical collection for dancing; indeed, some of these tunes remained standards at country-house balls well into the twentieth century. But many of Playford’s catchy melodies were also seized upon by the virtuosi of the day as the subject for virtuosic variations. Here we offer our own more-or-less spontaneous improvisations upon these tunes, gratefully incorporating a two-part setting by master Renaissance violinist David Douglass into our reading of Newcastle.
The evocative names of these dances sometimes have associations we can guess at: “rufty tufty,” for example, is soldier’s slang for battered equipment and dirty uniforms, gear that is worn by hard use. The Irish Lamentation is related to a tune known as “Limerick’s Lamentation,” commemorating the seige and fall of Limerick to English forces in 1691; it appears, in various versions, in several 18th-century collections of Irish and Scottish airs. Some have suggested that Scotch Cap refers to a nightcap or a last drink, rather than a bonnet; the tune turns up in the earliest editions of Playford. The vividly-named Jack’s Maggot takes its name from the 17th-century term for a whimsical or fantastical idea.
Where Playford's country dances were meant for participatory dancing, the tradition of the Jacobean masque was far more complex and elaborate. The dances of the main masque (here represented by the Lord Zouches Masque and Cuperaree) were theatrical dances by the nobility, using choreography that celebrated order and hierarchy. In the present suite, Cuperaree is a tune that also turns up as The Lords’ Masque and (in a German collection) as Der Rothschencken Tanz; it is probably from The Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray’s Inn from 1613, whose music was composed by to the court musician John Coperario (“who by the way was plain Cooper but affected an Itallian termination," according to Roger North). Lord Zouches Masque, a set of variations on the popular tune All in a Garden Green, is a tribute to one of the great Elizabethan and Jacobean courtiers, the Baron Zouche; he was a sponsor of masques, and enough of a bon vivant to ask to be buried next to his wine-cellar. Ben Jonson gave him the epitaph:
Wherever I die, oh here let me lie,
Along by my good Lord Zouche:
That when I am dry, to the tap I may hie,
And so back again to my couch.
The other side of the masque was that of disorder and cheerful, burlesque chaos: the world of the antimasque. These choreographies were marked by abrupt and "antic" changes of mood and tempo; one can well imagine the highly theatrical choreography that accompanied these dances. Besides the noble dances and the antic antimasque, there were also social dances featured in the masque, when the noble stars of the spectacle would take partners from the audience. One daring couple’s dance was the Volta, a species of galliard, in which the woman is boosted by her partner in a particularly extravagant leap – one of the few moments in which a lady’s leg would be seen by polite company. Byrd’s La Volta is dedicated to his patrons, the Morleys. Ottorino Respighi was to use the same tune three centuries later in his Ancient Airs and Dances.
During the intense and long-lasting period of infatuation with all things Scottish that swept the Continent in the eighteenth century, many composers and poets fell under the sway of evocative Celtic tunes. James Oswald's compositions "in the Scotch Taste" were especially appealing to genteel audiences. Oswald was a composer, concert promoter and music publisher who began his career as a dancing instructor in the Scottish lowlands. He moved to Edinburgh at the age of 35, and published a hugely popular ”Curious Collection of Scots Tunes” there around 1740; among this collection was his Sonata of Scots Tunes. He later moved to London, where he ended his career as court composer to the young George III, whom he had tutored as a child. His Sonata is a characteristic hybrid in which Scots folk tunes are provided with a fashionably Corellian bass line, and pieces of different character are juxtaposed to form a delightful entertainment, more for the salon than for the dance-hall.
With Matthew Locke, we turn from the urbane drawing-room of the eighteenth century town-house to the sort of pieces enjoyed in great houses during the years of the English civil war, when (to quote Roger North again) many preferred to "fiddle at home than be knock'd on the head abroad." Locke flourished with the return of the Stuart monarchy and the renewal of the arts that followed. After composing incidental music for the coronation of Charles II in 1661, he was appointed to the positions of Organist and Composer in Ordinary to the King. Contemporaries describe him as an extremely cantankerous and difficult individual. Nevertheless, he became close friends with the young Henry Purcell, who learned a great deal from him and eventually succeeded Locke to his positions at court.
Locke was a fervent believer in upholding the indigenous English musical character and resisting the fashionable influences that were then sweeping in from Italy and France. The little Suite in C Major, from his “Broken Consort,” is a fine example of Locke's bracing and original style. The opening Fantazie is distinguished by mercurial shifts in mood and dramatic harmonic contrasts, while the Courante makes use of clever imitative techniques. The melancholy Ayre keeps us off balance with its irregular and unpredictable phrase lengths, and the final Saraband (a quick dance during this period) startles with its rhythmic games—only the most confident could possibly dance to this music!
The boundaries between folk and classical music from Scotland and Ireland in the 17th and 18th century are blurry, to say the least. There may be some influence both ways: many Scottish and Irish dance tunes reflect the two-part structure and continuous driving rhythms of baroque dances, while (as we heard with Oswald) many Baroque composers tried their hand at “domesticating” these popular tunes in the musical language that was currently fashionable. These dances have proved wonderfully durable and adaptable to many circumstances, with an enormous resurgence in popularity in the last few decades, as folk, rock, crossover, and “fusion” performers all add their own spin to this highly evocative repertoire. Our own Elizabeth Blumenstock has arranged two suites for Musica Pacifica in this spirit, using all the possibilities of vivid instrumentation a baroque ensemble with varied continuo offers. Here we hear a selection of choice Scots airs, with Ms. Blumenstock’s own evocative countermelodies and harmonies added to the original single-line melodies.
Johnny Faa was a prominent title among the Scottish Gypsies, and as early as 1540 was recognized by James V of Scotland as the “lord and earl of Egypt.” One of these Gypsy Kings is said to have run away with the wife of the Earl of Cassillis in 1643. Lady Casslilles Lilt, or Johnny Faa, the Gypsiey Laddie turns up in a 17th-century manuscript in the Skene collection. The Gordon also appears in several early Scottish lute collections; It is my lame leg I left behind is also known as The Old Woman of the Milldust. Tullymet Hall is a reel composed originally by Niel Gow’s son John in the late 18th century, while Lord Saltoun’s Reel is named after a member of the large Fraser clan. Although the counter-melody Ms. Linsenberg introduces at the end of Lord Saltoun is best known for its associations with a contemporary cartoon sailor, the “Popeye” theme is actually an eighteenth-century hornpipe.
With Nicola Matteis, we turn to one of the more exotic musical visitors in 17th-century London. Four years later after his arrival in 1670, the diarist John Evelyn wrote that “I heard that stupendious Violin Signor Nicholao (with other rare Musitians) whom certainly never mortal man Exceeded on that instrument: he had a stroak so sweete, & made it speake like the Voice of a man; & when he pleased, like a Consort of severall Instruments: he did wonders upon a Note: was an excellent composer also … nothing approch’d the Violin in Nicholas hand: he seem’d to be spirtato’d & plaied such ravishing things on a ground as astonish’d us all.”
Mattteis’s compositions have the brilliance and energy of Italianate sonata writing, combined with the spiciness of what he described as “false consonances.” Our selection alternate a few of his heartfelt slow movements with impetuous Allegros written “to exercise the hand.” The English certainly appreciated his vivid genius: on reading over Matteis’ Ayres, no less a guardian of the English consort tradition than John Jenkins (according to North) “pulling off his spectacles, clapt his hand on the book and declared he had never heard so good a peice of musick, in all his life.”
“Wee are frolycke heare in Cowrt: mutche dauncing in the privi chamber af countrey dawnces before the Queene, whoe is exceedingly pleased therwith: Irish tunes are at the tyme most pleasing”
(Letter from Earl of Worcester to Earl of Shrewsbury, 1602)
Irish melodies seemed to have been regarded as even more exotic than Scots tunes. In the seventeenth century, aristocratic Gaelic society was in the decline, and the ruling gentry were more interested in establishing polite society along urban English lines; traditional tunes were relegated to the middle and lower classes. One of the only individual musical voices that stands out from this time is the distinguished harpist Turlough O’Carolan; he devoted several airs to commemorating his first love, Bridget Cruise. O’Carolan’s collection also includes several examples of a “planxty;” this is (according to Petrie) “a harp tune of supportive and animated character,” a jig in slow triple time. It may have the meaning of “a health to” (from “slainte”), since planxties are all dedicated to a particular person: in this case, a certain Toby Peyton. Larry O’Gaff is a double jig, while Kid on the Mountain (also known as Bottle of Wine) is a slip jig in several sections; Mountain Rose is a popular reel known also by many other names.
Francesco Maria Veracini was a well-traveled Italian who (after an unfortunate incident involving defenstration in Dresden, brought on either by depression or through a plot by his rivals) found a welcome home in London of the eighteenth century. Many of his Sonate accademiche were probably heard as entr’actes between operas. The ninth of these sonatas includes an elaborate set of variations on a Border ballad, called “Tweed Side.” Veracini was quick to seize upon the British fondness for these ballad tunes; one of his operas, Roselinda, included an aria on The Lass of Paties Mill, to the great disgust of Charles Burney. Charles de Brosses heard him play in 1739, and recorded that “his playing is just, noble, knowledgeable and precise, but a little lacking in grace.” All concurred that he was one of the most distinguished violinists in Europe, and he enjoyed a busy international career; the British envoy heard him play these Tweed Side variations in Florence in 1750.
We close with one of the masterpieces of English music, Henry Purcell's Chaconne "Three Parts Upon a Ground." Here, a simple repeated bass-line (the ground) is repeated 28 times, rounded off with a final coda derived from its last four notes. Though undated, scholars believe that Purcell probably wrote the piece some time between 1680 and 1683, while he was also writing the great Fantazias for viol and the more modern violin sonatas of three parts. Like the Fantazias, the Three Parts on a Ground is a tribute to the great English tradition of contrapuntal complexity; Purcell displays all his considerable learning in adding as many canonic tricks as he can (and carefully labels them all in the score!). But it is also a work inflected by modern developments: the chaconne dance-rhythm that permeates the entire piece is derived from the great chaconnes of French operatic composers, while the virtuosic figuration that is traded at top speed among all the treble parts is deeply Italianate in character.
SELECTED PRESS QUOTES
The California-based Musica Pacifica showed why its musicians have been winning an international reputation as early music specialists . . .The effect was transporting -- a small miracle of precision and musical electricity." - Washington Post
“Lively virtuosity and . . . a wonderful feeling of vivacious spontaneity, belied by stunning precision of execution.” -- Los Angeles Times
“impressive versatility and bravura virtuosity.” – San Francisco Classical Voice
“ravishingly beautiful . . .warm, expressive, and intensely alive to every nuance, this is playing to ravish the senses.” - Fanfare Magazine
“Musica Pacifica is made up of some of the finest baroque musicians in America. Their clear, clean sound and preoccupation with music rather than style makes this ensemble one of the best trio sonata ensembles I have heard . . . The playing just couldn't be better!” - American Record Guide
“* * * * * - 5 stars” - Highest rating. “By turns languorous and affectful and irresistibly sparkling,
. . . their elegant, stylish, and thankfully unmannered performances are all one could wish.”
- Goldberg Magazine (Spain)
“This is the crème de la crème of the West Coast early music scene . . . a world-class performance: light, relaxed and heartily refreshing.” -- Alte Musik Aktuell, Regensburg, Germany
“The superbly elegant music-making of these artists exemplifies the finest in historical performance today.” – Early Music America Magazine
"The standout-- perhaps of the entire festival--was the chamber group Musica Pacifica, in a superb concert of Neapolitan Baroque works. [They] combined masterly control with risk-taking spontaneity.”
-- Early Music [UK]
“* * * * * - 5 stars” - Highest rating. “There is a real sparkle both in these performances and in the way they have been recorded.” - Classic CD
"an unforgettably thrilling Baroque ensemble.” – Goldberg Magazine
" With 720 seats, Synod Hall was packed for Musica Pacifica. . . Each of the Musica Pacifica artists is a genuine virtuoso." -- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"[Musica Pacifica] packed [the church] both with people and with notes. The technical virtuosity of the soloists was matched and even exceeded by the brilliant expressivity of the ensemble as a whole.” -- San Francisco Classical Voice
“Musica Pacifica communicated the outer and inner life of this music with such panache that their playing produced an irresistible feeling of joy.” -- San Diego Reader
"The velvet-glove approach to Baroque music." "Supremely tight ensemble and smooth blending . . . performed with flair!" "Musica Pacifica offered [one] of the most elegant concert performances in Tucson [this year]." -- Arizona Daily Star, Tucson
“Saturday night, it was a treat to the ear! . . . extraordinary in virtuosic agility. By their applause, the large audience agreed.” -- Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"The enthusiastic audience--the largest single crowd for any event since the festival started--exulted in the virtuosity of the performances, and rewarded the players with shouts and standing ovations. --The Capital Times, Madison, WI