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ISSUE 118 VOL 4 PUBLISHED 10/8/2004

A Rose Ensemble by any other name

By Carolyn Albert
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 8, 2004

A large and curious crowd gathered in Boe Chapel last Friday night to hear the ancient Mediterranean choral program Cantiga! The Cult of the Virgin, presented by the Twin Cities-based Rose Ensemble.

The groups founder and artistic director, Jordan Sramek, described the two-hour program as rooted in folk tradition, full of legends and superstition. The music was selected from a collection of 420 cantigas (literally, songs) from the 15th century, all of which focused on the worship of the Virgin Mary, and lyrics which Sramek described as both preposterous and insane.

Primarily consisting of choral music with sparse instrumental accompaniment, the program began with Una sañosa porfía, which the ensemble solemnly sung as they processed to the stage, adding layers of close moving harmonies on each verse.

Not until a reading from Cantiga #225 did the audience fully appreciate how preposterous the Virgin-dedicated cantigas could be. #225 recounted the tale of a priest who drank a poisonous spider with his communion wine.

Instead of being killed, the man felt a very hairy creature crawling through his body until the Virgin mercifully caused it to come out of his fingernail, after which he caught it, pulverized it and placed it in his wallet.

The masterful storytelling of the ancient music tradition translated clearly, despite lyrics in dialects seven centuries old, through the stage presence and energy of the ensemble members, whose freedom of movement and facial expressions were both pious and mischievous at various times throughout the evening.

Other highlights of the programs first half included a vocal duet hailing the wisdom of the Virgin and featuring mezzo-soprano and St. Olaf alumna Kristine Kautzmen 94.

Periodically during the concert, the St. Olaf Early Music Singers would join the ensemble; they took the stage for the first halfs closing piece, the lyrics of which were the traditional Ave Maria text.

Sramek valued the opportunity to share the stage with the Early Music Singers.

Its about sharing melodies and texts, Sramek said. It [was] sincerely special to be able to involve such an incredibly talented group of singers in [the] performance.

After a lively second half, Music Professor and director of the Early Music Singers, Gerald Hoekstra explained his excitement at witnessing the bringing together of scholarship and creativity that is essential to the artful performance of medieval music.

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