Ensemble Caprice, early music a bluesman would get
Early Music Now opens with Ensemble Caprice, in Spanish music from the New World.
Many years ago I heard a Chicago Bluesman named Lefty Diz. He was scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. His band was ready to go. No Lefty. Lefty’s turquoise Stratocaster, on stage and cradled in its stand, looked lonely. At 9:15, the band started without him. 9:25, still no Lefty. 9:30. The crowd got antsy.
Then a commotion from the back of the room, and there was he was, in an purple suit and white suede shoes. As the band played on, he strolled nonchalantly through the congregation at a leisurely pace. A sudden, vigorous leap propelled him to the stage. He grabbed the neglected Stratocaster and produced a stupendously loud and illegible chord. It somehow fit the ongoing music impeccably. The audience went nuts.
What does this Blues moment have to do with the Ensemble Caprice, the Canadian group that Early Music Now presented Saturday night at UWM’s Zelazo Center?
At first blush, Lefty Diz and Ensemble Caprice might seem as close as Corsica and Cudahy. On second blush, it’s more like Kenosha and Racine.
Caprice’s Matthias Maute and Sophie Larivière (recorders and transverso flutes), David Jacques (baroque guitar), Susie Napper (baroque cello) and Ziya Tabassian (percussion) called their show Salsa Baroque. They played 17th and 18th-century Spanish and South American repertoire, not Chicago blues, and boxwood recorders versus a turquoise Stratocaster.
But you could argue that Lefty Diz and Caprice work from the same playbook. It would read that music can be playful as well as dramatic, can be for dancing, should fit the venue and should offer a chance to show off great chops and imagination.
The goal of Ensemble Caprice, according to the program notes and Maute’s articulate onstage commentary, was to show how the challenge and excitement of the Americas changed the music the Spaniards brought with them. The Spanish musical forms, Tarantellas, Canarios, and Chaconnes, to name a few, could not remain static. Music that travels never does. Native American and African influences transformed the Spanish music.
The clapping sent a message that carried through the concert: The world abounds with simple sounds to honor and use.
Maute and Larivière entered through the back of the house and reached stage in a stately manner (even so, they were much faster than Lefty), and the antiphonal processional turned into an ensemble. This wandering was an apt metaphor for the thesis of the concert. Things happen when music moves from one place to another. It made perfect sense for the performers to enter the hall as migrants.
After the opening Jacaras, Caprice played another 26 pieces, in eight sets. Maute, the charismatic and witty leader, tied these sets together with a story of his own invention. Like all fine story tellers, he gave the impression that he was improvising. The improvised spirit made its way into the musical performance as well. Divisions and variations in Baroque music were largely improvised, but then or now it’s far safer safe to practice “improvised” variations. That makes the music more reliable but less spontaneous. To Ensemble Caprice’s credit, lots of improvisational musical conversation seemed to be going on.
Some tunes were quiet and melancholic, Falconieri’s La Suave Melodia, for example. Some were introspective, with eruptions of wild division playing; Ortiz’s Doulce Memoroire gave Napper quite the work-out, and she was more than up to it. If you like ground basses, this program’s numerous chaconnes and passacaglias were for you. Caprice played them with cheerful rhythmic verve that reminded us that chaconnes and passacaglias have their roots in dance.
The question of authenticity always comes into play at early music concerts. Did the music really sound like this 400 years ago? Probably not.
As a learned concert-goer remarked to me, this ensemble’s lack of concern with “authenticity” made their performance all the more authentic. Ensemble Caprice, among many other groups in the early music movement as it has lately evolved, have found a convincing path to authenticity by not attempting to sound 400 years old. Rather, they try to imagine how free-wheeling musicians might have thought 400 years ago. They are like 17th and 18th century musicians not in the sounds they make (although period instruments certainly help) but in their imaginative approach. Caprice took old tunes, added salsa and chutzpah and served an evening of grand entertainment.
The late Lefty Diz would have understood this concert. He might have even sat in with the band.
Next up for Early Music Now: The Alba Consort on Nov. 17.
Don’t miss anything! Bookmark Matthew Reddin’s TCD Guide to the 2012-13 Season, sponsored by the Florentine Opera. And each Tuesday, consult the TCD On Stage for the week’s events.