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WQXR Marks 400th Anniversary of "Vespers"

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The year 2010 brings important classical musical anniversaries, perhaps chief among them the bicentennials of Chopin and Schumann. But there's a quadricentennial of note this year, too: The publication of a collection of works by Claudio Monteverdi.

The Vespro della Beata Vergine, known informally as the Vespers of 1610, is a tour-de-force for early music singers and instrumentalists. Monteverdi combined older styles of church music with new ones he created in this collection, which was probably intended as a sort of audition piece to attract the attention of Pope Paul V, and to get Monteverdi a better job than he had at the time in Mantua, Italy. (That immediate effort failed, but Monteverdi did become maestro di cappella in Venice in 1613.)

The Vespers, a pinnacle of Renaissance music, contains elements that look forward to the Baroque style to come, and spectacular vocal and instrumental effects that are still capable of thrilling audiences four centuries later.

Several performances of the Vespers of 1610 are taking place in New York in 2010, including one this week at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola. The performance brings together four early music ensembles: two New York-based groups, ARTEK and the viol consort Parthenia; the Philadelphia-based Renaissance wind band Piffaro; and the National Gallery of Art Vocal Ensemble from Washington, D.C.

WQXR's Jeff Spurgeon visited a rehearsal and talked with ARTEK founder and director Gwendolyn Toth and with Gene Murrow of Gotham Early Music Scene, Inc., a not-for-profit organization that promotes early music performance in the New York area.