Early Music Now’s Galileo’s Daughters
The term “Renaissance man” (or woman) persists today because of the accomplishments of the artist-scientists of the 14th through 17th centuries. Leonardo da Vinci was a visual artist as well as a scientist. Michelangelo was a prolific poet, sculptor, painter and architect. And Galileo Galilei, the subject of Saturday Early Music Now program, received the inspiration for many of his scientific ideas from his early work as an assistant to his father, a lute-maker and music theorist.
EMN presented Galileo’s Daughters, an ensemble offering an unusual blend of history, science and music. Dava Sobel narrative delved into the history of astronomy and its relationship to music up to and beyond the theories proposed by Galileo in the 1600s. Images of the heavens, flowing water and the contours of the planets filled a screen on stage. Each of the seven parts of the program was punctuated by pieces composed by Galileo’s contemporaries, performed with luminous clarity by soprano Sarah Pillow, Mary Anne Ballard on viola da gamba and Ronn McFarland on lute and theorbo (bass lute).
While her content was interesting and well-researched, Sobel’s delivery came a little too close to lecture-hall academics at times. And the visuals made a lovely effect, but some identification of the planets and galaxies featured would have been welcome.
Although she spoke of her background in modern styles like jazz and blues, Sarah Pillow’s clear soprano perfectly captured the bell-like straight tones and unearthly tremolos and trills of Renaissance style. Her reading of Monteverdi’s “Lamento d’Arianne” was an exquisite blend of the pure tones and dramatic flourishes.
The viola da gamba can be temperamental and hard to tune. However, Mary Anne Ballard drew singing beauty and poignant inflection from the instrument.
Robb McFarlane impressed with his agility and sensitivity on the lute, in both the Renaissance pieces and his own compositions.
Once again, Early Music Now brought to Milwaukee performers who present music that might be perceived as antiquated or irrelevant in a context that clarifies some of the its history and culture at no loss of passion and poetry.