Boston Early Music Festival, Day 3: Escales

The biennial Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF), which ran June 9 through 16 this year, is an annual cavalcade of Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music featuring top early music performers and ensembles from around the world. I covered it along with a raft of other critics from the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA), which had its annual conference this in conjunction with BEMF.

Day three (Saturday, June 15) involved less dashing about than the previous day, which gave me a chance to wander about the exhibition rooms at the Revere Hotel. As you can see by the picture gallery at the end of this article, makers of a wide variety of historical instruments were well represented: viols, recorders, harps, Baroque flutes and violins (along with appropriate bows), and (of course) many varieties of harpsichord, clavichord, and organ—even old-style fortepianos of the sort Mozart and Beethoven used. All were clearly the work of master craftsmen (and women)—with appropriate price tags.

Jordi Savall

My first concert (2:30 PM at Jordan Hall) was one I’d been looking forward to: Jordi Savall and Hespèrion XXI (a group whose makeup, according to a fellow critic, consists of “whoever Jordi Savall is working with at the moment”) with “Istanbul: Dimitrie Cantemir’s ‘The Book of the Science of Music’ and the Ottoman, Sephardic, Greek, and Armenian Traditions”. Cantimir (1673-1723) was a noted virtuoso on a long-necked lute-like instrument called the tanbur as well as a composer and scholar. “The Science of Music” is both a treatise on music theory and a collection of 355 compositions which, according to Mr. Savall’s notes, “constitutes the most important collection of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Ottoman instrumental music to have survived to the present day.”

About this genre (to quote Tom Lehrer in a different context) “I am knowing from nothing.” But it didn’t require an expert ear to appreciate the virtuosity of Mr. Savall (playing vielle and lyre) and his fellow musicians, who were: Hakan Güngör on kanun (a zither-like instrument played with metal finger picks), Yurdal Tokcan and Driss el Maloumi on oud (essentially a Persian lute), Haïg Sarikouyoumdjian on ney and duduk (recorder-esque woodwinds), Dimitri Sonis on tanbur and santur (relative to the hammered dulcimer), and David Mayoral on percussion.

[Mr. Mayoral’s battery included a dumbek, a hourglass-shaped metal drum that I’ve been playing around with myself, so I was watching him especially closely in hopes of picking up some tips. I wasn’t disappointed.]

This iteration of Hespèrion XXI produced an array of exotic sounds that brought ancient Istanbul to vivid life in the hart of contemporary Boston. You could almost smell the spices, feel the hot sun, and taste the thick, black coffee. This was music that was sensuous and joyful, and the BEMF audience—which seems to be less uncritically enthusiastic than most American classical music audiences—awarded them with a standing ovation rivaling the one that greeted “Almira” Friday night. The group responded with an encore consisting of three different versions of the same tune: Greek, Sephardic, and Ottoman. As an illustration of the rich multicultural stew brewing in Istanbul at the end of the 17th century, it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Seven PM found me back at Jordan for a double bill of chamber operas written for the court of Louis XIV’s unmarried cousin, Marie de Lorraine, by Marc Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704): “Le Descente d’Orpheé aux Enfers” (“Orpheus’s Descent into Hades”) and “La Couronne de Fleurs” (“The Crown of Flowers”). The score for “Orpheé” is incomplete—only two of the presumed three acts survive—so director Gilbert Blin created a kind of “Charpentier sandwich”, placing “Orpheé” between the second and final scenes of “Couronne.”

That’s not as odd as it sounds. The plot of “Couronne” (such as it is) has a chorus of shepherds and shepherdesses engaging in a contest to see who can come up with the most poetically beautiful paean to the magnificence of King Louis (Charpentier knew what to kiss and when, as they say). The judge is the goddess Flore and the prize is the titular crown.

The Orpheus story, in this context, is performed by the rustics as a way to demonstrate that even the ancient stories of the gods pale in comparison to Le Roi-Soleil. When the company gets to the end of Charpentier’s score, Mr. Blin has Louis XIV’s notoriously dictatorial court composer, Jean Baptiste Lully, walk on stage and invoke his royal privilege of restricting public performance of operas to his own works (which, historically, he did). The company then concludes by deciding that, since no mortal can adequately praise the king, the only solution is to divide the crown among all the contestants, wish Louis eternal life, and call it a day.

Charpentier’s score is, without a doubt, finely wrought and beautiful stuff. It was all magnificently sung and, like “Almira,” acted and danced in historically appropriate style. But even the remarkable Mr. Blin and his music directors Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs—the team that scored such a hit with “Almira”—could not, in my view, overcome the dramatic inertia of this material. I also found it hard to stomach all the fawning praise of a particularly wretched monarch, but that’s just me.

That said, the audience appeared to love it all to bits and gave it a standing ovation.

Stephen Stubbs

Saturday’s late-night concert (11 PM at the Jordan) took us to an entirely different world. The early music ensemble Tragicomedia “and friends”, directed by Mr. Stubbs, brought us “Singen, Spielen, Trinken, Tanzen: Hamburg in Handel’s Time.” As the title indicates, this was a neat tie-in with “Almira” (which Handel composed for Hamburg) and, in fact, the program included a couple of scenes from the opera for which Handel was conducting the band from the harpsichord when he got the “Almira” commission: Johann Matteson’s “Cleopatra.” They were pretty silly stuff and went a long way towards explaining why the opera has fallen into obscurity.

But then, “silly stuff” characterizes most of what went on in this concert. This was nothing if not good-humored music-making and a reminder that guys like Telemann, Lully and (especially) Heinrich Schütz liked to have a good time a much as anyone. There was, for example, a slightly rude madrigal “Scherschliep! Messerschliep!” (“O shear-grinder! Knife-grinder!”) by Sebastian Knüpfer (performed with gusto by Jason McStoots, Zachary Wilder, and Christian Immler); a rudely rebuffed seduction scene played out with songs by Telemann; and a performance of Monteverdi’s lively “Chiome d’oro, bel Tesoro” (“Hair of gold, beautiful treasure”) from 1619 followed by Schütz’s satirical German translation from around 1650. It’s a reminder that parody lyrics didn’t start with Weird Al Yankovic.

Throughout the evening Harlequin, danced by Caroline Copeland, provided comic bridges between numbers and silently led everyone in a Knüpfer drinking song at the end. If there were any doubt that early music can be great fun, this would have dispelled it. I took the Green Line subway back to the hotel in a very cheerful state of mind.

Photo gallery: BEMF exhibition rooms.  Not too bad for iPhone snaps.










Concert photos: Harry Nilsson tribute at Off Broadway, Saturday, November 26

It was a memorable night Saturday at the Off Broadway as local musicians and fans gathered to raise many glasses and pay tribute to influential singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson.

First off, I love love love what Off Broadway owner Steve Pohlman has done with the venue recently, taking out the space-eating bar that was always hard to access due to the stool sitters. Though I’ll miss the saloon vibe that the hardwood bar provided, I love the sleek new feel of the club — and the extra room for sure.

There were many highlights with great performances by Theodore, Ransom Note, Dock Ellis Band and others performing hits like “One,” “1941″ and “Without You,” which was the performance highlight of the night. Singer and Off Broadway stalwart Johnny Vegas rocked it as well late in the show. Regrettably, nobody chose to take on “Everybody’s Talkin’” or “Good Old Desk,” but maybe next time.

My highlight of the night was watching Nilsson’s animated feature, “The Point,” as the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra performed the score onstage. Sherman S. Sherman narrated wonderfully, breaking into some great accents throughout. It was pure 1970s gold and I didn’t want it to end.

Photography highlights: November 13-19

Art can be lovely, mesmerizing, breathtaking and thought provoking. However, art can also be destroyed. Thanks to Art Attack 3 a crowd of 200 plus KDHX supporters saw art destruction in the form of a buck-tooth, chainsaw-wielding mad man. And that was just one of five destruction methods.

On a destruction-less note, Howie Day dazzled the Duck Room on a Thursday evening then just two days later Katie Herzig and Butterfly Boucher did the same at the Old Rock House. Lydia Loveless and The Fling stopped by the good ‘ol Magnolia Avenue Studios for a live performance.

And that folks, sums up yet another week of photography highlights.

To see the full articles and complete photo galleries check out Music News and for the KDHX in-studio experience head to Live Performances. Get it at

Art Attack

Art Attack at Neo. Steve Ley

Katie Herzig

Katie Herzig at the Old Rock House. Ben Mudd

Howie Day

Howie Day at Blueberry Hill. Jarred Gastreich

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KDHX photography highlights: October 23-29

The Pageant’s Monday night dance party that kicked off the last week of October meant one of two things, One: Chromeo was in town with Mayer Hawthorne or Two: Monday is the new Friday. The Smokers Club Tour featuring Curren$y and Method Man kept the early-week party trend rolling and by time the Pageant cleared the haze it was Friday and time for the weekend to really begin with a post-World Series win Southern rock party courtesy of the Drive-By Truckers.

Austin based-trio Ume gave St. Louis a friendly reminder that Texas has exported more than a 2nd place baseball team and rocked the Firebird into a thrash trance. Peter Wolf Crier and Union Tree Review did their Indie thing at Off Broadway and Zion and the Lion Roots Band released their fourth album “Crying for Freedom” at Club Viva. The past week in photos was a busy one and proof that the KDHX photographers taste in music is as eclectic as their style.

To see the full articles and complete photo galleries check out Music News and for the KDHX in-studio experience head to Live Performances. Get it on at


Chromeo at the Pageant. Louis Kwok

Method Man

Method Man at the Pageant. Louis Kwok

Drive-By Truckers

Drive-By Truckers at the Pageant. Nate Burrell


Ume at the Firebird. Nate Burrell

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KDHX photography highlights: September 18-24

An Horse, Vetiver and Those Darlins all made a stop at the Magnolia Avenue Studios, The Dodos, the Luyas, Dark Dark Dark performed at Off Broadway and Alison Krauss and Union Station spent Thursday night at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. Joy Formidable, whose song “Whirring” caught the attention of Dave Groehl (he called it the best song of the year), rocked the Firebird and as always, Harvest Sessions carried on.

If you like what you see and need more, be sure to check out the full galleries in Music News on

The Dodos

The Dodos at Off Broadway. Ben Mudd


Those Darlins at Off Broadway. Kate McDaniel


Vetiver in-studio at KDHX. Kelsey McClure

Those Darlins

Those Darlins in-studio at KDHX. Nate Burrell

The Luyas

The Luyas at Off Broadway. Ben Mudd

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KDHX photography highlights: September 4-10

The past week begins with a Monday night latin/reggae/shred session with Michael Franti and Santana at the Fox Theatre. Then all of a sudden it became Friay and as a result two photographers ventured West for the Roots ‘N Blues Festival in Columbia, MO while one went incognito to catch AUCW5 at the Firebird. Harvest Sessions carried on and blues photographer Rick Priest makes his deput on photography highlights with photos from Walter Trout‘s show at BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups.

If you like what you see and need more, be sure to check out the full galleries in Music News on

Michael Franti

Michael Franti at the Fox Theatre. Sam Africano


Crowd at Roots 'N Blues 'N BBQ Festival. Kelsey McClure

Robert Lee Coleman

Robert Lee Coleman at Roots 'N Blues 'N BBQ Festival. Nate Burrell

Walter Trout

Walter Trout at BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups. Rick Priest

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KDHX photography highlights: August 28 – September 3

As summer comes to a close, Harvest Sessions carries on, the in-studios are still frequent and our photographers are as busy as bees.

The past week in photography features Misla performing at the Tower Grove Farmer’s Market, pop-trio Dispatch, singer and songwriter Gillian Welch, local favorite Cassie Morgan and the Lonely Pine and a KDHX in-studio session with Ume.

You can see the full galleries at

Ume in-studio at KDHX. Nate Burrell

Star & Micey

Star & Micey at Off Broadway. Johnny Andrews


Dispatch at the Pageant. Sam Africano


Misla at Harvest Sessions. Sara Finke

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Concert review and photos: St. Louis Bluesweek Blues Cruise makes a cannonball run through Soulard, Saturday, September 3

St. Louis Bluesweek Blues Cruise, September 2, 2011

Dannie Boyd

Sponsored in part by KDHX, St. Louis Bluesweek gave the city a chance to revisit its nationally-recognized blues roots. Closing out the epic week of blues was the Soulard Blues Cruise.

The more-than-week-long event dedicated the Labor-Day weekend to two nights of roaming through the Soulard neighborhood. With 10 venues participating in the cruise the scenic voyage was more like a cannonball run from concert to concert.

The event consisted of a lineup of 20 bands performing across 10 venues in the Soulard area. Purchasing a $10 wristband granted access to all 10 venues for an entire night. In essence, the Blues Cruise was like being confined to a cruise ship on the Mississippi filled with hours of live performances.

To aid in the simulation of a cruise, shuttle buses were provided to transport concert goers from venue to venue. The shuttles ran about every 15 minutes or so to get attendees across the area in a timely manner so they wouldn’t miss out on any action.

Participating venues included: BB’s Jazz Blues & Soups, Sonny’s, Broadway Oyster Bar, the Great Grizzly Bear, Hammerstone’s, the Shanti, Joanie’s Pizzeria, Johnny’s, 1860′s Saloon and Lywelyn’s Pub. Many of the venues are clustered together within blocks of each other which made for pockets of block parties scattered across the area. Soulard is located south of downtown St. Louis.

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