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Folger Consort

We welcome this review from guest contributor Sophia Vastek.

The Folger Consort opened its new season, devoted to music composed "Circa 1610," last night. The unique program, A Harmony of Friends: Music of Italy and China, focused on an even more circumscribed perspective on music composed around that year. The inspiration came from Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), a Jesuit missionary and cultivator of the arts (pictured at right) who became the first Westerner to gain admittance to the Forbidden City in 1601; when he died a few years later -- in 1610, nota bene! -- he was even buried there. The Folger Consort decided to engage in “a little speculation about what sort of musical interchanges might have occurred in the Forbidden City during Ricci’s time there,” and musical interchanges there were with guest artist Yang Wei, a virtuoso pipa player. He was certainly the catalyst for so much of the excitement and energy of the concert.

The program began with an instrumental selection by Lorenzo Allegri, and with the inclusion of Wei’s traditional Chinese stringed instrument, one could begin to understand this musical exchange the Folger Consort had envisioned. The pipa’s sound was entirely different -- a touch of twang and bending of pitch -- yet somehow blended into the Western ensemble easily. Soprano Jolle Greenleaf’s performance in the final song, Damigella tutta bella by Monteverdi, was truly the vocal high point, an inspiring mélange of technical ease and, best of all, personality. Blending seamlessly with Greenleaf, Elizabeth Hungerford’s deep mezzo-like voice was fertile and resonant, but unfortunately offset by a lack of engagement with the audience. Not until her breathtaking solo by Francesca Caccini, Lasciatemi qui solo, did the audience finally see her eyes (literally) and what she was really made of.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, East Meets West, Twice (Washington Post, October 5)
Yang Wei delighted the audience with solo performances of traditional Chinese songs: the sheer amount of sounds and colors he managed to achieve on such a simple instrument was remarkable. The most wonderful moment occurred when the entire ensemble performed a traditional Chinese folk song arranged by Wei himself. The enjoyment was evident in Wei’s almost boyish, over-sized smile as the piece came to a close and he effusively thanked his colleagues. The Consort’s airy vision was met with a present-day musical exchange that, in real time, so clearly captivated its participants and the audience.

This concert will be repeated twice this evening (October 3, 5 and 8 pm) and once tomorrow afternoon (October 4, 2 pm), at the Folger Shakespeare Library (201 E. Capitol St. SE) here on Capitol Hill.

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