You may not know it, but Cincinnati has a thriving early music scene. With the Cincinnati Early Music Celebration in full swing, there’s no better time to sample it than this month.
Early music can be described as music written before 1750 from the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods. Practitioners try to perform it as authentically as possible on period instruments, such as lute, viola da gamba, recorder and harpsichord.
“We are spotlighting groups that do this,” said Christopher Wilke, organizer of this year’s Cincinnati Early Music Celebration. “We are not served by the mainstream classical community. It just falls between the cracks of what we know in America as classical music.”
The festival, which goes through Feb. 27, has 17 events. Most are free. Three are ticketed.
This is Wilke’s first year organizing the early music festival, originally founded by Catacoustic Consort, directed Annalisa Pappano. Catacoustic’s newly purchased theorbo – a kind of lute with a spectacularly long neck – will be celebrated in a ticketed concert for the unusual instrument on Saturday night at North Presbyterian Church in Northside. (To read more about the new theorbo, click here.)
Wilke is particularly pleased to introduce English lutenist Nigel North in a concert of music by J.S. Bach. North will perform with Wilke’s own Caladrian Ensemble on Saturday afternoon at Old St. Mary’s Church in Over-the-Rhine. North has worked with many of the world’s prominent Baroque ensembles and has produced hundreds of recordings, including his series, “Bach on the Lute.”
“He’s an incredible force in the early music scene,” said Wilke.
The third ticketed event will feature the Cincinnati Boychoir and Collegium Cincinnati in Vivaldi’s Gloria and other Baroque hits, Sunday afternoon at Christ Church Cathedral, Downtown.
And lest you think that early music is only for those who are knowledgeable about music for theorbos or Baroque harps, there are also several events in bars – offering a more casual atmosphere than say, a church. For instance, there will be a free collaboration with Classical Revolution at Northside Tavern on Feb. 11.
“That will be a grab bag of all kinds of ensembles. So if you don’t know anything and want to find out more, that would be a perfect one to see,” he said.
Wilke, a native of Hamilton, OH, got his start playing electric guitar – from heavy meal to classic rock. That evolved into an interest in playing classical guitar. After earning a master’s degree in classical guitar at CCM, he earned a doctorate in lute at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.
“As I got into it, I discovered the lute music that forms that repertoire. I discovered they have more strings (his has 24), and that opens a lot more range of what you can play on the instrument,” he said.
Because most people know little about early instruments, concerts usually involve show-and-tell.
“Many (period) instruments look similar to modern instruments, but have a unique sound all their own,” he said. “We’re definitely willing to talk about the music, and we demonstrate the instruments. Many times you can come up at the end and take a look at the thing.”
To see the full lineup, for more information or to purchase tickets, visit CincinnatiEarlyMusicCelebration.webs.com or visit their Facebook page. Most events are free. Information: 513-515-9151.
The three ticketed events this weekend:
Saturday Feb. 10, 3 p.m.: Nigel North presented by the Caladrian Ensemble. Lute player Nigel North, regarded as “Perhaps … the greatest performer on the instrument of all time” performs a solo recital of the music of J.S. Bach. (Pre-concert lecture: 2:15 p.m.)
Where: Old St. Mary’s Church; 123 E 13th St., Over-the-Rhine
Where: North Presbyterian Church, 4222 Hamilton Ave., Northside
Sunday, Feb. 11, 3 p.m.: The Cincinnati Boychoir & Collegium Cincinnati, Vivaldi’s Gloria and Other Baroque Hits
Where: Christ Church Cathedral; 318 East Fourth Street, Downtown