For all of its 25 years, thriving ones or lean, the Bloomington Early Music Festival, or BLEMF as we more fondly call it, has been heavily peopled by the young. Those who pushed for such a festival back in 1994 were young.
They were students in what was then called Indiana University’s Early Music Institute, now the Historical Performance Institute. Waiting to take the stage were talents in abundance, and when the festival became reality, they stepped forward. What’s more: loyal alums, many of them in the developing portion of their careers, seemed equally inclined to step in for moments in the festival spotlight; they did so, coming from nearby and far away.
More mature talents were hired to round out the roster, but the look and feel of BLEMF was always budding and buoyant. And who could mind that when the results were, most of the time, so positive?
Well, this current 25th BLEMF, striving to make a strong impression of come-back after several leaner years designed for rebuilding, features an even more dominant footprint of youth. That’s because those who put the festival together — the IU Jacobs School of Music, its Historical Performance Institute, and Bloomington Early Music (dominanant figures in the field combined to preserve BLEMF) — got themselves a new partner.
Early Music America, a national organization with the aim of promoting the performance and study of early music, signed up to bring its Young Performers Festival and Emerging Artists Showcase to Bloomington as part of BLEMF 2018. So, a number of concerts have been devoted to highlighting young talents nationwide — individuals and ensembles — to enlarge the presence of blossoming talent.
Two ensembles performed in consecutive events at First Presbyterian Church Thursday afternoon: The IU-formed and developed Tarara and the Oberlin Baroque. Both declared that, indeed, there is a wealth of talent coming along to give validity and glamor to an endeavor that, through the use of period instruments and performance practices, seeks to more closely tie music’s past to the present and, in reverse, the present to its past. We are shown how music from long ago must have sounded when played in historic style on instruments of the time. In reverse, we can learn what music of more recent eras and even today might sound like when voiced by those old instruments (results can surprise!).
Tarara — an ensemble of 11, some who sing, some who play period instruments, some who do both — focused on late 15th to early 17th century vocal music from Spain and the New World. The repertoire included both sacred and secular pieces: a gorgeous “Ave Maria,” gentle reflections on nature, sharper reactions to people encountered, and humorous tales taken from the imagination and real life.
The five Tarara members who sang — sopranos Paulina Francisco and Lucy Wortham, tenor Gregorio Taniguchi, and basses Danur Kvilhaug and Jonathan Wasserman — made one believe the concert was then, not now, so keen seemed their sense of period. The two basses brought along their guitar and lute expertise. From the remaining musicians (Reynaldo Patino, Adam Dillon, Stephen Nosko, Charles Wines, Sarah Lodico Wines, and Beth Garfinkel) came the music’s other instrumental requirements, exotic exhalations from violin, recorder, sackbut, bagpipes, viola da gamba, percussion, and organ. Dillon and Wasserman directed the ensemble, with faculty advice from Dana Marsh, one of BLEMF 2018’s architects.
Oberlin Baroque, a group of 10 directed by Michael Lynn, proved an extremely gifted set of musicians focused on instrumental music. To prove a point made earlier, that new music played on old instruments can provide a notable experience, a recorder player from the Ohio contingent, Peter Lim, and guitarist Craig Slagh, performed two pieces by Astor Piazzolla, “Café 1930” and “Bordel 1900.” The results were quite wonderful: sensuous in the café visit and deliciously playful for the bawdier place: Lim made of his recorder a flirtatious coloratura; Slagh not only strummed his guitar but struck it with fervor. The music was renewed via the old.
As for bringing the past into the present: that was much in evidence, as:
• Lim and fellow recorder artists Jonathan Seamon and Kelsey Burnham, along with Matt Bickett on chamber organ and Leonardo Marques Ferreira Lima on viola da gamba, warbled and splashed through Henry Purcell’s “Three Parts on a Ground.”
• Violist da gamba Lima joined two fellow violists, Ruby Brallier and Chris Labman, in stunning unity zipped through Marin Marais’ “Pieces pour trios violes, Livre IV.”
• Organist Bickett masterfully negotiated Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 541.
• Violist Labman, in concert with cellist Jessica Korotkin and harpsichordist Abe Ross, fervently and also with commendable finesse added Jean Baptiste Barriere’s “Sonate pour le Violoncelle, Avec la Basse Continue, Livre 3, No. 4” to the ensemble’s afternoon program.
• And, Baroque flutist Kelsey Burnham joined violist Brallier, cellist Korotkin, and harpsichordist Rose for a nifty reading of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Concerto in B Minor, TWV 43:h3.