Irish Music Without the Beer

Early Music Now starts season with a Celtic-styled version of John Dowland’s tuneful songs.

By - Oct 8th, 2014 01:16 pm
Tenor Michael Slattery (2nd from right) joins Canadian Ensemble La Nef

Tenor Michael Slattery (2nd from right) joins Canadian Ensemble La Nef

Since 1986, Early Music Now has served a loyal following by hosting the best of early music performers from across the globe at Milwaukee venues. The group will launch an ambitious 28th season at 5:00 pm this Saturday, October 11th with a “cross-over” concert that should interest an even broader audience.

English troubadour John Dowland has already been popularized in Sting’s album, Songs from the Labyrinth, eight years ago. Dowland’s songs feature tuneful melodies, a gentle atmospheric lute accompaniment and poetic text celebrating love and loss – subjects that have never gone out of fashion. As the first real English songwriter, he wrote music that could be performed by artists and amateur alike. This time, Canadian ensemble La Nef – a Renaissance era “band” – will offer a twist on the Dowland legend by casting his music with a Celtic flavor. Tenor Michael Slattery will accompany the group.

Whether or not John Dowland’s uncertain Irish roots were an influence on his music, La Nef does not appear to be arguing that we have been hearing Dowland in the wrong way. Rather, they offer a fresh view that reveals a new and charming perspective. Removing a bit of the courtly “decoration” in the lute and adding a relaxed folk song intimacy with perhaps a touch of an Irish brogue comfortably recasts Dowland as a troubadour every bit as comfortable at Irish Fest as at a Renaissance Faire. Song selections in this concert will trend that way as well, with more story telling and less of the classic Dowland material. Hosting the concert at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church removes the option to sip a pint, but the location is close enough to many taverns for an after-party.

String Ensemble Quicksilver. Photo by Tatiana Daubeck.

String Ensemble Quicksilver. Photo by Tatiana Daubeck.

Early Music Now will return to St Paul’s for its next concerts. An East Coast group, Quicksilver, will bring its all-string ensemble to town for two concerts on Friday, November 7th and Saturday, November 8th. The selections explore one of the most creative eras in Western classical music, a time when performers moved from church to manor and hall, instrumental music showcased virtuoso style, basso continuo instruments were able to mix it up with the others and a whole new language defined options for ensemble playing. The instrumental dialogue that evolved into sonatas, quartets and quintets began here. Although city-states in northern Italy may have been the center of these innovations, cultural influences across the European continent are explored in these concerts.

A capella vocalists Lionheart. Photo by William Wegman.

A capella vocalists Lionheart. Photo by William Wegman.

The last of the 2014 concerts marks a return of a well-received a cappella group, Lionheart, for a pair of concerts December 13th and 14th at St. Joseph’s Center Chapel. Six singers offer an aural experience dramatizing the clear tones of Medieval music and the harmonies of Renaissance music designed for cathedral and chapel halls. The concert will offer selections from two centuries – from Medieval chant to advanced Renaissance polyphony – in a program of Italian devotional music. The contemplative program will be offered without pause, offering a welcome antidote to the holiday season’s surfeit of “Frosty”, “Jingle Bells” and “Hark, the Herald.”

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is located Downtown at 904 East Knapp. Attendees may park in the Lincoln School for the Arts lot across the street. A pre-concert talk will precede the Dowland concert at 4:00 PM. For more details on all of these programs, including detailed on-line program notes and an opportunity to purchase tickets online, visit the Early Music Now web site Single or season tickets may also be reserved by calling 414-225-3113.

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