Christmas From 500 Years Ago

Acclaimed Rose Ensemble sings the really old hits, with harp and hurdy-gurdy.

By - Dec 8th, 2016 05:14 pm
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Rose Ensemble. Photo courtesy of Early Music Now.

Rose Ensemble. Photo courtesy of Early Music Now.

The Rose Ensemble, an internationally respected early music chorus with a home base in Saint Paul, will return to the Early Music Now series for the fourth time Saturday and Sunday at St. Joseph Chapel. The concert, “A Rose in Winter: A Garden of Medieval and Renaissance Music for the Nativity,” includes carefully curated selections primarily from the 15th and 16th century. The works celebrate the ancient legend that describes a mid-winter midnight blooming of nature in honor of the Madonna and Child.

The ensemble of 11 singers is accompanied by recorder, harp, vielle, psaltery, hurdy-gurdy, and percussion. The period instruments offer light accompaniment to an otherwise a cappella group. These Milwaukee performances will feature English ballads, Spanish cantigas, and German carols, including music of Hildegarde von Bingen, Michael Praetorius, John Dunstable, John Mouton, Giovanni Palestrina, and Anonymous. The program for the concert explains its focus on the Rose:

“The rose, an ancient symbol of the Virgin, Mary and the Christ child, inspires this program of Medieval and Renaissance music for the Christmas season. During a time of year when the thirst for happiness can bring stress and even sorrow, this joyful program celebrates the blossoming of new life during the coldest of days. Amidst familiar stories of wise men and shepherds, ancient Christmas legends also describe a midnight blooming of all manner of plants, trees, and flowers.”

Appropriately, the symbol of the rose served as the inspiration for the ensemble’s name when it was founded in 1996.

Also featured on the program is a commissioned work by Victor Zupanc, who has written several pieces for the Rose Ensemble. Zupanc has composed many concert pieces for various choirs, orchestras and chamber groups. But much of his work has been composition for theater – as a part of nearly 300 plays. This world premiere performance of “A Brighter Ray” can be expected to fit the ambience of the early music that precedes it.

The Rose Ensemble offers a six minute audio preview of this concert from a recent recording session on Vermont Public Radio. It seems likely that this new themed concert will become the next of a series of ten recordings the group has issued.

The ambience of St. Joseph’s Chapel fits the program and the small ensemble. One of the most beautiful worship spaces in Milwaukee, the Italian Romanesque Revival chapel offers an intimate and acoustically elegant experience.

This pair of Milwaukee performances will take place at St. Joseph Chapel, 1501 South Layton Boulevard (South 27th Street), on December 10 (Saturday) at 5:00 p.m., and December 11 (Sunday) at 3:00 p.m.. The complete program, including texts and translations and contextual notes, is available at

Tickets may be ordered online at Tickets may also be ordered by phone at 414-225-3113, or by mail at Early Music Now, 759 N. Milwaukee St. #420, Milwaukee 53202. Individual adult/senior tickets for Tier 2 and Tier 3 seating range in price from $29 to $46 dollars, with student tickets ranging from $10 to $15.

Urban Milwaukee Members can click here to request a free pair of tickets to the December 11th performance while supplies last.

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