Re-Play: L'Arpeggiata Presents Music of the Italian Renaissance
Announcer: The following program was previously recorded.
Jeff Spurgeon: In New York City, there are lots of ways to get to Carnegie Hall. The subway, the taxi, a walk down 7th Avenue. You've just found another way to get to America's most famous home for classical music. Welcome to Carnegie Hall Live. I'm Jeff Spurgeon.
John Schaefer: I'm John Schaefer, and this broadcast series brings you Carnegie Hall concerts by some of the world's most celebrated artists. You get to hear the performances exactly as they happen, making you a part of the audience that shares the experience of music-making at Carnegie Hall, or tonight, to be more specific, Jeff, Zankel Hall.
Jeff: Exactly. The vast majority of music on this program is the work of Luigi Rossi who lived in Rome in the middle of the 17th century, and who, frankly, is not on very many people's list of top 10 opera composers, but a Baroque era composer who has slipped into obscurity could not ask for a better group of musicians to rescue him from that fate and make his music sound vital and alive again than the people who are here at Zankel Hall tonight, John.
John: Those people are the member of an ensemble known as L'Arpeggiata. They were founded by Christina Pluhar, an Austrian-born Parisian bass guitarist. She remains their music director. Christina got hooked on early music while she was studying classical guitar in her native Graz, Austria. She then moved to Paris and worked with lots of the big names on the early music scene, like Jordi Savall, René Jacobs and Marc Minkowski among them, but she wanted to find her own way and loosen things up, so in 2000, she founded L'Arpeggiata.
Christina Pluhar: Let's say, my main motivation was that I really-- After many years of playing with other groups, I really needed to be able to create my own programs and invite the artists that I really love, and we wanted to open up also to improvisation, which was not really part yet of early music performance practice when we started. We learned about it at school, we did it a little bit, but I really wanted to include that as a main feature in our work. Very soon after the creation of this group, I did also want to open up our projects to other styles of music.
Jeff: Christina Pluhar sometimes talks about her musical sensibility by using the phrase "Living Baroque".
Christina: The interesting thing is, if you look at pop music today, you find Baroque harmonies. That's all it is really. The rhythm has changed a little bit, but the melodic and harmonic language has not changed. It has nothing of the 19th century and certainly nothing of the 20th century, you see? [chuckles] Yes, you can talk about a universal music if you like, I think, and I think that's why the early music touches so many people. It speaks to us and it's totally modern.
Jeff: Christina Pluhar, the founder and musical director of L'Arpeggiata. What do you think of that idea, John, that the music that was very much a part of the lives of people hundreds of years ago has a spirit that continues through today?
John: I think it's pretty clearly the case. We know that Baroque music was, in part, an improvised art form. I don't just mean Bach going up to the piano or the organ and improvising a prelude, but most of the scores, the baselines, as you know, they're not completely written out. There's just notations and sketches of how the harmony should go, and it's left to the players to improvise a part.
Jeff: That was true then, and it is also true of the music we're going to hear tonight, because the works of Luigi Rossi, as they have been left in the archives are melodies which Rossi wrote out pretty specifically even with a lot of ornamentation, and then just a baseline. In a way, we're hearing music of Rossi, but as arranged by Christina Pluhar and L'Arpeggiata.
John: We should mention the names of two singers who are also going to be a big part of this, because we're going to hear a lot of opera music tonight and music that will sound like opera.
Soprano, Céline Scheen, and mezzo-soprano, Giuseppina Bridelli, along with an ensemble of about 10 or 12 players on stage at Zankel Hall.
Jeff: Representing about 10 or 12 nations. It's a very international group, L'Arpeggiata. They are on stage here at Zankel Hall.
John: Two singers have come out. Christina Pluhar has her hands raised to acknowledge the members of her ensemble. It's coming to you from Carnegie Hall Live.
Jeff: The ensemble L'Arpeggiata performing music by the 17th century Italian Luigi Rossi. Most of what you just heard was taken from his opera Il Palazzo Incantato (The Enchanted Palace) and featured the voice of the mezzo-soprano, Guiseppina Bridelli, and before that, the soprano, Céline Scheen. A performance coming to you from Carnegie's Zankel Hall featuring the ensemble L'Arpeggiatta and these two sopranos whom the artistic director, Christina Pluhar, has brought in to play this particular program.
Now, we have more music of Rossi ahead. First, we're going to take a small composer detour for a little chaconne from Cazzati, and then we'll be back to more music from Rossi's other great opera, Orfeo.
Jeff: You're hearing music from Carnegie Hall Live on this broadcast from Carnegie's Zankel Hall. Performances by the ensemble, L'Arpeggiata, more from this concert in just a moment, and more music by Italian composer, Luigi Rossi. I'm Jeff Spurgeon, and this is Carnegie Hall Live.
This Carnegie Hall Live concert comes to you from Zankel Hall-
-the newest performance space in the Carnegie Complex, and it's home right now to the Paris-based Baroque ensemble, L'Arpeggiata lead, on the theorbo, by their founder, Christina Pluhar. There are 13 other musicians on stage, including two singers, soprano, Céline Scheen, and mezzo-soprano, Giuseppina Bridelli. Now, more music from the 17th century opera and cantata composer from Naples, Luigi Rossi, from Carnegie Hall Live.
Jeff: A song of Orpheus from Orfeo, the opera by Luigi Rossi. The singer, Céline Scheen. Previous, you heard her compatriot on this program, Guiseppina Bridelli, and the ensemble, L'Arpeggiata lead by Christina Pluhar, who has now asked her ensemble, 12 players, 2 singers on his program in total, to come to the edge of the stage in Zankel Hall here at Carnegie Hall and acknowledge the applause of this audience. The program, it's coming to you from Carnegie Hall Live.
Backstage at Zankel Hall, I'm Jeff Spurgeon. John Schaefer's by my side.
John: It's interesting to finally get a chance to see Christina Pluhar without her theorbo.
John: It is an improbably big instrument. It's a bass member of the lute family. It's got to be a good five feet long.
Jeff: It makes that tangy bass sound you've been hearing throughout this program and must be awful to bring on the subway.
John: [laughs] Most of what you've just heard was by Luigi Rossi. There've been scattered little bits of other composers of the mid-17th century in Italy. Lorenzo Allegri was the composer of the Canario, the piece with the handclaps, that dancey number that they did, but then everything after that was from Rossi's two operas. He only wrote two. The Enchanted Palace, and Orfeo or Orpheus, but we also heard some of his standalone works which, apparently, he was best known for in his day.
Jeff: He wrote several hundred of these chamber cantatas, as they were called, and they were mini operas. You heard a very long work sang by Guiseppina Bridelli about a sailor who's captured by pirates who decides to throw himself into the sea rather than surrender to them and a kind dolphin carries him to shore. That was one of those chamber operas of which Rossi was an expert in his years in Rome in the middle of the 17th century.
John: The members of the L'Arpeggiata, an international ensemble based in Paris, France, led by Christina Pluhar, taking a bow from a very enthusiastic audition here at Zankel Hall. Jeff, as you mentioned at the top of the broadcast, I'm willing to bet, almost everyone here tonight was hearing most of this music for the first time. They're taking their seats again, and it looks like we're going to have an encore. Once again, Christina Pluhar, the founder and the music director of L'Arpeggiata. Now, we've mostly heard the two singers separately, but it looks like we're about to get a duet.
Jeff: Yes, they're both onstage.
John: That is music by Claudio Monteverdi, one of the towering figures of Italian music in the 17th century, from his opera, The Coronation of Poppea, Pur ti miro, the duet between Poppea and, believe it or not, the emperor Nero. By the standards of tonight's broadcast, that's a hit.
Jeff: Beautifully sang too by those two lovely women.
John: Céline Scheen, the soprano, Giuseppina Bridelli, the mezzo-soprano, and of course, Christina Pluhar and the band L'Arpeggiata.
Jeff: They're all coming once again at the foot of the stage here at Zankel Hall, an encore offered on this program with a piece of music by Monteverdi [unintelligible 00:11:43] He's a huge figure in his day. He was a big influence on the man whose music we've heard the most of this program, Luigi Rossi. Rossi took a lot of compositional lessons, not literally but by reading the music that Monteverdi left behind and creating the great two works that he presented, one in Rome and one in Paris, Orfeo and The Enchanted Palace in the middle of the 17th century.
Now, one of the really unusual and distinctive sounds that you heard throughout the evening, we talked a little bit about that sharp, tangy bass sound in Christina Pluhar's theorbo, but you also heard what must have been a trumpet. A nice, mellow trumpet, maybe a flugelhorn, and yet it's not. It's one of the most difficult instruments in the world to play. There are a handful of people, guys and women, who can play it, but one of the very best is in L'Arpeggiata. His name is Doron Sherwin and he's with us now.
Good evening, sir, and this was a wonderful performance tonight.
John: First of all, the instrument is a cornetto, right?
Doron Sherwin: That's right. It's the Italian word for it. The English call it a cornet, but it's the same-- In order to avoid any confusion with the 19th century band instrument, we generally, in English, call it the cornetto.
John: It is also distinct from the jazz cornet.
Doron: Absolutely, yes.
John: Difficult instrument to keep in tune?
Doron: It was considered, at that time, that it was even being used the most- it was considered the most difficult of all the musical instruments. That's what some of the theoreticians and the people who wrote about music said about it. It is tiring to play on the long haul, but then most brass instruments are. You can't play a whole evening of non-stop music.
John: Now, you got to take a lovely solo on the cornetto in the middle of [unintelligible 00:13:35], especially.
Doron: I improvised that. That actually is not written out.
John: Then, there is also a song Dormeti that was presented as a duo, but which is originally a trio and you were playing--
Doron: I was the third voice. I had the pleasure of playing with these two fantastic sopranos and did my best to keep the timbre and the expression on a par of what they do.
John: Now, Jeff, you're closer to the instrument than I am. Maybe describe it, because the cornetto does not look like what the word would [unintelligible 00:14:06]
Jeff: What's really fascinating about it is, if you google the cornetto, be very careful because the first that will come up is an ice cream cone, so you have to move past that to this piece of wood that's about a foot and a half, maybe close to two feet long, with a curve in it. Is this a leather-wrapped instrument?
Doron: It is covered in leather. Most of them, as a rule, are covered in leather.
Jeff: There are just five or six finger holes in its longest curve, and the mouthpiece on it is the mouthpiece of a brass instrument, but it is less wide than the diameter of a dime, so the aperture that your lips go into is extremely small.
Doron: About 11 millimeters, yes. That's one of the reasons that the instrument is particularly difficult, but that's also one of the reasons the sound is so distinctive. One said, at that time, that this instrument was being used, that it was the instrument that better than any other could imitate and copy the things that a human voice can do. It's not so much a question of timbre, but what you can do with the melodic line. There's a tremendous amount of dynamic flexibility, flexibility of articulation also, to shadings and subtleties that were the sort of things that were stock-in-trade for singers as well.
Jeff: I think it's the sound of Miles Davis from the 17th century. It's a beautiful mellow, expressive, warm sound. It's warm and cool at the same time and just beautiful. How much of the music that you played tonight was improvised, and how much of it, in your particular part, was written out? Just the percentage.
Doron: It's about half and half, I would say.
Jeff: You get to bring a great deal of your own coloration to it. The arrangements, the part that's written out, how much of that is original and how much of that is created by you and Christina, and maybe the band together? Are any of the notes you played tonight, notes that Luigi Rossi wrote?
Doron: Yes, of course. For example, this Dormeti that you spoke of, the trio, that's all Luigi Rossi, but, for example, the first piece that we did, the instrumental overture to the evening, that survives in a manuscript with only the bass part, the continual part, and all the rest was added by Christina. All the instrumental voices, that's her arrangement and her doing. I was just going to say, but this is when, in particular, is that the best players were known to be extraordinary improvisers. The cornetto was always an instrument where-- Even it was said that to play it well, you had to study composition, because, otherwise, your improvisations would-- You would fall into a thousand errors, they used to say.
Jeff: We didn't hear you fall into any tonight. Have you studied composition a great deal?
Doron: A little bit, yes. Memorized quite a lot of music and, yes, I do some composing on the slight as well.
Jeff: Have you played jazz?
Doron: I was born into a family of jazz singers. Both my mother and my father sang jazz. I grew up with this kind of music, also pop music, but if I had spent the years that I've spent playing 16th and 17th century music playing jazz, I might be able to say, "Yes, I play jazz."
Doron: I'm such a creature of habit and so strongly specialized in this repertoire that-- I'm not a jazz musician, no. I certainly enjoy it. It's extremely inspiring to listen to, but it's not necessarily the way I make my living, no.
Jeff: It's jazz of a form because it's improvisational and free and beautifully done. Doron Sherwin, thank you so much for talking with us.
Doron: Thanks for having me.
Jeff: It's a great privilege to hear you.
A backstage conversation with Doron Sherwin, player of the mysterious and very difficult instrument called the cornetto. Mr. Sherwin is a member of L'Arpeggiata, appearing in Carnegie's Zankel Hall. We have a few minutes left in this program, so we're going to move from Zankel Hall, the third of Carnegie's performance spaces, to the big hall, the room that most people think of when they think of Carnegie Hall, Isaac Stern Auditorium, to bring you a highlight from the beginning of the 2019-2020 Carnegie Hall Season.
The Cleveland Orchestra, their music director, Franz Welser-Möst, and three great soloist were unhand to begin Carnegie Hall's celebration of the 250th birth anniversary year of Beethoven. The music was his Triple Concerto and it featured pianist Yefim Bronfman, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, and the great American cellist Lynn Harrell.
Harrell first appeared in Carnegie Hall in 1964 at age 20. After that debut, The New York Times has "music in his bones plus a technique that a cellist two or three times his age can envy." Lynn Harrell died in April of 2020 at age 76, and so we offer this performance in dedication to his memory. Cellist Lynn Harrell, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Yefim Bronfman with the Cleveland Orchestra and music director Franz Welser-Möst, and Beethoven's Triple Concerto from Carnegie Hall Live.
Jeff: From Carnegie Hall Live, Beethoven's Triple Concerto performed by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, their music director, and the three soloists, violnist Anne-Sophie Mutter, pianist Yefim Bronfman, and the late cellist Lynn Harrell, in a performance given in October of 2019. With that, we've come to the end of this broadcast, which also featured performances by theorbo player Christina Pluhar and the musicians of her ensemble, L'Arpeggiata. I'm Jeff Spurgeon. Thank you for listening. Carnegie Hall Live is a production of WQXR in New York.
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