In 2012 Early Music America has sought to foster early music ensembles early in their careers and created the Baroque Performance Competition to promote awareness and support their growth. Through an application process and panel review, six finalists were selected to compete on October 20, 2012 at Corpus Christi Church in New York City.
The Baroque Performance Competition awards cash prizes for a Grand Prize winner and an Audience Prize winner. In addition to the Grand Prize of $3,000, the winner had the opportunity to perform concerts with four major presenting organizations: Early Music Guild (Seattle) Early Music Now (Milwaukee, WI) Indianapolis Early Music Festival (Indianapolis) and Renaissance and Baroque (Pittsburgh).
As we receive applications for the 2014 EMA Baroque Competition, we thought we would catch up with the 2012 finalists to see what they’ve been up to and how their ensembles, and the musicians in them, have evolved since 2012.
Zweikampf, the harpsichord duo of Faythe Vollrath and Stephen Gamboa, opened the finals with a program of Bach, Couperin, and Boccherini. Known for their provocative playing and interpretation, Zweikampf did not disappoint. Vollrath and Gamboa are passionate about the range of harpsichord repertoire including popular, 21st century, and early music. Their versatility is obvious in the finesse and nuance shown in their performance that night.
After making their debut at the Longy School of Music in 2009, Zweikampf has maintained an active performance schedule. Everywhere they go, Zweikampf is congratulated on their informed historical performance, eclectic programming, engaging concert presentations, and educational outreach efforts. Recent engagements have included the Berkeley Music Festival, St. Mark’s Concert Series in Islip, NY, and California State University – Sacramento campus.
Second on the program was a Boston-based quartet of two sopranos, cello, and harpsichord. Kathryn Mueller, Kristen Watson, Cora Swenson, and Michael Sponseller performed a program of fiery and virtuosic Monteverdi, Handel, and Couperin for the audience.
Since the 2012 competition, Les Sirènes have kept busy both as an ensemble and with their various solo and personal engagements. They have been featured on concerts with the San Francisco Early Music Society, Arizona Early Music Society, Syracuse University, the St. Stephen's Concert Series in Durham, NC, and have collaborated with Sarasa Ensemble in Boston and Providence concerts.
In March of this year, they joined Boston's Musicians of the Old Post Road for concerts of soprano solos and duets on a program entitled Liberty and Music for All: Music of the American Moravians.
Along with a thriving career as an ensemble, each of the members has varied interests including educational work and solo endeavors. Last year, Kathryn Mueller joined the voice faculty at East Carolina University, and co-founded with her husband, conductor Nathan Leaf, the (North Carolina) Triangle-based professional chamber choir, Voices of a New Renaissance. She has also performed as a soloist with American Bach Soloists, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Seraphic Fire, Santa Fe Pro Musica, and regional symphonies across the US.
Cora Swenson joined the Boston Public Quartet as cellist and resident musician of musiConnects, a non-profit organization that brought free lessons, chamber music and orchestral performances to two Boston public schools in undeserved neighborhoods this year.
The Sebastians, Audience Prize winner
Following the exceptional playing of Les Sirènes, an entirely instrumental ensemble took the stage. The Sebastians, made up of Daniel Lee, violin; Alexander Woods, violin; Ezra Seltzer, cello; and Jeffrey Grossman, harpsichord are based in New York City, but have regular engagements all over the Northeast. Harpsichordist Avi Stein participated with the ensemble during the 2012 Competition.
Specializing in the music of the Baroque and Classical eras, The Sebastians have received praise in reviews from the New York Times, Early Music Review and Early Music Today lauding their engaging, crisp and elegant playing.
The Sebastians’ exceptional playing has not gone unnoticed in competition or by audiences either – they snagged the Audience Prize from EMA’s 2012 Baroque Competition as well as being finalists in the 2011 York International Early Music Competition and the 2011 Early Music America/Naxos Recording Competition.
They have participated in the Carnegie Hall Professional Training Workshop with L’Arpeggiata, and have performed at Music Matters (LaGrua Center in Stonington, CT), Friends of Music at Pequot Library (Southport, CT), Juilliard in Aiken (Aiken, SC), and in the Twelfth Night Festival and Concerts At One at Trinity Wall Street (New York, NY).
Last November, a Sebastians commission from composer Robert Honstein received its New York premier. For the tricentennial of Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico concerti, Honstein created a companion suite, entitled Night Scenes from the Ospedale.
The Sebastians are in their second year as ensemble-in-residence at All Angels’ Church in New York City and will spend a semester as artists-in-residence at Connecticut College. In addition, their season contains a tour to Columbus, OH, collaborations with TENET, performances with Salon/Sanctuary Concerts and Parkville Classicals, among others.
With their charismatic playing and exceptional musicianship, The Sebastians edged out their fellow finalists winning the EMA Baroque Performance Competition Audience Prize.
Pallade Musica, Grand Prize winner
After a short break for intermission, quartet Pallade Musica took the stage. Tanya LaPerrière, violin; Elinor Frey, cello; Esteban La Rotta, theorbo; Mylène Bélanger, harpsichord charmed the judges with repertoire of Stradella, Rognoni, Jacchini, Legrenzi, and Castello.
From Canada, Pallade Musica explores underperformed music, doing much of their own research to inform their performances. Despite the academic nature of their repertoire selections, their research and passion breathe new life into pieces that are not often heard.
Having played together in previous ensembles, the Pallade Musica members are now working harder than ever to cultivate their own distinct sound. The ensemble credits their increased exposure from the competition to new performance engagements. In the past two years, Pallade Musica has been touring and recording, both of which has helped them grow as an ensemble, according to cellist, Elinor Frey. Since winning the Grand Prize in EMA’s Baroque Performance Competition, Pallade Musica has gone on to perform all over the world, with an upcoming tour with in Bogotá, Colombia. The ensemble’s first CD is due to be released in April 2014, with recording of a second CD already in discussion.
All members of the ensemble are active performing in other educational and performance communities, including festival performances, post-graduate work and educational projects. In all of their work, separate and as an ensemble, the members of Pallade Musica are seeking to bring out a deeper, more complete perspective of historically informed performance and the breadth of repertoire it entails.
Up next on the program was Ostraka, a trio based in San Francisco. Josh Lee, viol; John Lenti, theorbo; David Walker, guitar performed Corette, Gaultier, and Marais for a captivated audience.
Focused mostly on Baroque and Renaissance repertoire, Ostraka has a clear and effective educational commitment to its community, regularly including pre-concert lecture/demonstrations and making visits to schools of all levels.
Immediately following the competition, the three traveled to Salt Lake City to serve as continuo group for newly formed Utopia Early Music. After that the trio parted ways, with each of the members going on to perform with many of America's leading period music ensembles.
David Walker has been busy shuttling to and from his home in Louisville to collaborate with Catacousitc Consort, Clarion Music Society, Mercury Baroque Orchestra, Seraphic Fire, Chatham Baroque, and Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, and is looking forward to upcoming performances and recording of Monteverdi's Ulisse with Boston Baroque.
John Lenti also spends little time at home in Seattle, touring the US with Naxos/EMA Recording Competition winning ensemble Wayward Sisters, and performing with Haymarket Opera, Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Seraphic Fire, Newberry Consort, Portland Baroque Orchestra and Mr. Jones and The Engines of Destruction. This summer John is joining Carmel Bach Festival as their staff lutenist.
Ensemble founder Josh Lee has been busy crisscrossing the country appearing with Les Delices, Orchestrer Wiener Akademie, Musica Pacifica, Four Nations, Portland Baroque Orchestra, 4X4 Baroque Music Festival and the Seattle Symphony, and is looking forward to appearances in Korea, Sweden, Norway, Italy and Iceland this season. Josh has been collaborating extensively with indie band Radical Face, and their work has recently been used in advertisements for Chevrolet and Apple, as well as on the CBS prime time drama Elementary.
The trio reunited this season for performances for The San Francisco Early Music Society and Early Music Hawaii, performing a post-mortem of French Baroque style with their program Leaving Parnassus.
To close the Competition that evening, Agave Baroque took the stage with music from Granata, Schmelzer, and Bertali. Aaron Westman, violin; Shirley Hunt, viola da gamba; JungHae Kim, harpsichord; and Kevin Cooper, guitar performed during the competition.
After five seasons, JungHae Kim and Shirley Hunt left Agave Baroque. As a result, Agave announced an expanded lineup that promises to take Agave in new directions. The new line-up includes Aaron Westman and Natalie Carducci, violin; William Skeen, viola da gamba and cello; Henry Lebedinsky, harpsichord and organ; and Kevin Cooper, theorbo and baroque guitar. Agave Baroque is thrilled about its new mix of musicians and the diversity of new voices, energy, and repertoire possibilities that come with them.
Last summer, Agave Baroque recorded a new album entitled Friends of Ferdinand, released in November on the VGo Recordings label. It features mainly Austrian baroque works, including all three of the pieces that the ensemble performed in the competition. The album was just featured on a Harmonia Early Music podcast in February, called "This is Fantastic" (along with Pittsburgh ensemble Chatham Baroque's new album of similar repertoire).
This summer, with the new lineup, Agave Baroque will be performing and recording a new program of works by Isabella Leonarda with Boston-based countertenor Reginald Mobley at the Berkeley Festival Fringe and in Fresno. Agave Baroque is busy planning their upcoming season, including the release of their new album later this year.
By all accounts, EMA’s Baroque Performance Competition was a huge success. The music created was exceptional but above all else, the encouragement and excitement surrounding the growing careers of young musicians in early music was inspiring and emboldening.
What ensembles will the 2014 Early Music America Baroque Performance Competition discover? Join us for the finals on Saturday, October 11, 2014 in Chicago, in collaboration with the University of Chicago Presents. There’s still time to enter the competition, but don’t delay. Learn more here.