“Alchymy at the Courthouse,” performed in the rotunda of the Monroe County Courthouse last Friday evening, was co-planned by Bloomington Early Music, IU’s Historical Performance Institute, and the Alchymy Ensemble of viols, that ensemble featuring music from the 17th century and played on period strings, along with sackbuts (period trombones) and voices from the Institute. Support came from the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable and Christel DeHaan Family Foundations and Bloomington Early Music.
Add Alchymy’s five different viols and continuo organ to twelve vocalists from the Jacobs School’s Historical Performance Institute, along with three Baroque trombonists, two violists da gamba, a theorbo player, and percussionist. They were the performers last Friday moving in and out of the playing area on the second floor of the courthouse rotunda with a ceiling way above them and their sounds thrillingly echoing round and about.
The program focused primarily on two 17th century German giants of music, Michael Praetorius and Heinrich Schutz. The resonant sounds produced could make a listener begin to dream awake and imagine being somewhere, most likely a Lutheran church, in 17th century Germany.
Sometimes, the whole contingent of performers wrapped the audience in fetching weaves of sound. At other times, only a portion of the musicians did the honors. But whatever one heard, the music was played and sung to reflect what the scholars and artists of today believe the congregants from back then heard. It certainly sounded authentic. The Alchymy Viols produced music seemingly right for the early 17th century. So did the brass and percussion on the scene. And the voices lifted high sang ever so fetchingly and meaningfully the Biblical and ecclesiastical words used in those times.
The viol ensemble performed without conductor. When other musicians were added to the mix, Dana Marsh, director from the Historical Performance Institute, took charge and kept the atmosphere charged with excitement.
A bit of news was shared by Marsh during the program: we will have Blemf, a Bloomington Early Music Festival, over the Memorial Day weekend. That’s something to look forward to.