VOXFIRE is the collaboration of three of the most highly regarded interpreters of early and contemporary vocal music on the U.S. West Coast, who are adapting and presenting the works of these eras with their own distinctive musical style and dramatic flair.
Working alone as well as with some of the most prominent instrumental specialists of today, they have performed music from medieval luminaries such as Hildegard, Machaut and Landini through the Italian Baroque masters, such as Monteverdi and Barbara Strozzi, to works by modern-era composers as varied as Benjamin Britten and Steve Reich.
"Songs to the Virgin: A Medieval Meditation," is an elegant mixture of chant, both ethereal and soaring, and polyphony, both gentle and joyous, celebrating medieval Christianity's most cherished feminine ideal.
All acapella - without instruments - the group accompanies itself in this mellifluous music, a style that particularly suits the voices of Voxfire.
"...THE FIRST CD FROM VOXFIRE..."
"...Samela Aird Beasom, Christen Herman and Susan Judy...features the three, night-beaming sopranos in the repertoire that has won them acclaim for their unique musical ecstacy. Using in many cases their own editions, and singing mostly unaccompanied, the singers of Voxfire have as their goal, "a balance between likely musical practices from the Middles Ages and sounds that bring some of the mystery of that era to modern ears." Not only have they brilliantly succeeded, they have produced a richly beautiful tapestry of sound that deserves wide distribution."
- Laurence Vittes, Southern California Early Music News
"...BEST HEARD IN THE WITCHING HOURS OF THE NIGHT..."
"There is a special feeling that permeates the senses while listening to this Voxfire compilation of Gregorian chants, canticles and hymns set to music. You float away on wings of sound that fill the soul and the spirit. All activity ceases, all thoughts are halted, the spikes of stress are flattened and smoothed out. It is not a soporific - you do not nod off - but you do feel the gentle force of a great power wash over you and you let yourself be taken away on these calming sounds. The voices comprising Voxfire are spiritual without denomination, transcendental in their astonishing vocal blend. These are the ethereal Samela Aird Beasom, Christen Herman and Susan Judy.... Befitting the beauty of the music of Hildegard of Bingen, Voxfire brings the sound and time of forever. There is no text of greater poetic power and beauty than that which forms the heart of this music. In their very quiet, unearthly way, Voxfire truly lifts the spirit."
- Dorian, Beverly Hills Outlook, 2002
NOTES FROM THE CD
The music presented on this recording seems to reflect the very essence of the mystical quality of the Middle Ages, where boundaries between the mundane and the celestial quite often are blurred, and poet's texts flow freely from concrete description to ecstatic metaphor.
Likewise fitting seems to be a theme that concerns the Virgin, probably the most fervently adored subject of medieval Europe, whose story could be the very definition of the word "mystical." Perhaps no one from the time can flow between planes of existence as effortlessly as does the great Hildegard of Bingen - the early 12th-century mystic, abbess, diplomat, poet, natural historian, composer and visionary - writer of some of the most beautiful hymns and sequences from the Middle Ages.
Most remarkable is her impassioned, sensual poetry and distinctively beautiful melodic lines, such as the upwardly sweeping fifths in 'Ave generosa' and 'O pastor animarum'.
The Gregorian chants on this recording include a number of short, liturgical Alleluias from the Liber Usualis, as well as the four "Marian" antiphons, in honor of the Virgin, composed circa the 10th century and chanted in the Office services of the early Roman Catholic Church.
Also represented here are settings of these popular texts in later centuries: 'Alma redemptoris mater' by John Dunstable (c.
1370-1453) is a beautiful example of early English writing; and 'Ave regina celorum/Alma redemptoris mater', from the late 13th to 14th century Las Huelgas Codex, is a double motet or polyphonic piece with two different simultaneous texts.
Also from Las Huelgas is another double motet on Marian themes, 'Ex semine rosa prodit spine/Ex semine Abrahe divino', attributed to Perotin (c.
1160-1220), who was called the greatest composer of "discant," the practice of writing parts against an existing plainsong (chant melody).
'Magnificat', one of the most important of the ancient Byzantine canticles, is still used today in Roman Catholic liturgy.
Its Biblical text, Mary's reaction to Angel Gabriel's profound message, is a perennial favorite for composers of church music.
Because knowledge of medieval music and its performance is incomplete, modern-day interpreters have many options and decisions to make.
Most obvious here is Voxfire's upward transposition of this mainly men's music to fit treble voices.
Vocal droning has been added to chants such as 'Salve regina', 'Ave generosa', and 'O quam mirabilis'; and organum, or the adding of parts a fourth or fifth above or below the original melody, is also used.
In another Voxfire arrangement, for 'Stabat Mater dolorosa', the famous lament of the Mother over her Son on the cross, verses alternate between Gregorian chant and 13th century two-voice writing.
For all of these interpretations, a balance is sought between what are thought to be likely practices from the Middle Ages and what creates the sound that will bring some of the mystery of that era to our modern ears.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
SAMELA AIRD BEASOM, soprano, began her career with the Roger Wagner Chorale as a soloist in the Renaissance and Baroque repertoire, touring extensively throughout the United States and Japan.
She has since been featured with numerous other ensembles, including I Cantori, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, and the Los Angeles Music Center Opera, with whom she has performed more than forty productions.
Ms. Beasom has been featured soloist at the Carmel Bach Festival, the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival, the Corona del Mar Baroque Festival and the Ojai Festival.
Ms. Beasom is the primary soprano soloist with L.A.'s Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra and A Musicall Dreame.
She can be heard on the 1995 recording of Songs for Clarinet and Soprano by Gordon Jacobs.
Ms. Beasom is a founding member of Voxfire.
CHRISTEN HERMAN, mezzo-soprano, a graduate of U. C. Berkeley, has appeared as soloist with various ensembles throughout the West, including Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, the Paulist Boy Choristers, the Cambridge Singers, and I Cantori, in whose production of Hildegard von Bingen's 'Ordo Virtutum' she sings the role of The Soul.
Although she is known particularly for her work in Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque styles, she has also given premiere performances and made recordings of new works by several American composers, including Steve Reich, Joan La Barbara, and Daniel Lentz.
Festivals and series include the Ojai Festival, the LA Bach Festival, Music at St. Matthew's, the Armand Hammer, and the Colly Soleri Series at Arcosanti.
Recent solo performances include Long Beach Opera's production of Charpentier's 'The Imaginary Invalid', Steve Reich's 'Tehillim', the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival, and the soundtrack to the movie Simpatico.
Ms. Herman is a founding member of Voxfire.
SUSAN JUDY, soprano, specializes in performances of both early and contemporary music.
She has appeared as soloist with varied ensembles, recording and performing throughout the Southwest, and has appeared as soloist at festivals and series including the Ojai, Nakamichi, UC Berkeley Baroque, UC Santa Cruz Baroque, and San Luis Obispo Mozart festivals; the MIT Experimental Music Studio series; the Los Angeles County Museum's Monday Evening Concerts and Skirball Center Music series.
Ms. Judy has premiered a number of new works, including West coast premieres of works by Steve Reich, John Adams and Otto Luening.
She has performed for many years with LA-based I Cantori and Musica Angelica, where she has played principals in staged productions of both medieval and Baroque works.
With the soprano trio Voxfire, Ms. Judy is researching, arranging, producing and performing concerts from ancient through commissioned new works.
She also works with American Bach Soloists as well as with other freelance soloists in the LA and San Francisco Bay areas.