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Early music exhibition sets the tone of the Renaissance

By Miko Sloper, Special to the Daily Planet
Monday June 03, 2002

Whether you are a seasoned veteran of the pre-Classical music scene or a curious newcomer, this week’s Berkeley Festival and Exhibition provides a wide range of opportunities to binge in gluttonous aural indulgence, or sample a new but ancient part of the musical palette. 

Fans of exotic instruments will be interested in several rarities to be heard during the festival. Of course the most common keyboard instruments will be harpsichords and organs. Plucked string instruments will be mostly lutes and 

theorboes, and recorders will be played by virtuoso musicians. 

The Artaria Quartet features the basset clarinet while performing several Mozart pieces. This will give the clarinet parts a warmer timbre than usual, and present a tonal blend closer to that which Mozart's audiences would have 

heard. Of course their bowed instruments have gut strings, further sweetening the blend. 

Other concerts will feature triple harp, archlute, hurdy-gurdy, viola d'amore, virginal, shawm, sackbut and a host of other delightful unusual instruments. 

Female composers play prominent roles in several of the festival’s programs. The brilliant baroque chorale and instrumental ensemble Magnificat will sing psalms and motets of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani. The ensemble Anima Fortis will perform works of Barbara Strozzi and Isabella Leonarda. The medieval quintet Heliotrope will feature compositions of female troubadors.  

The most unusual offering of the festival is an equestrian ballet. That's right-- dancing horses! "LeCarrousel du Roi" returns by popular demand after proving a smash hit at the 2000 Berkeley Festival. Some of the finest riders on the west coast will show off the artistic talents of their great noble beasts as dressage shades into dance. This fabulous spectacle is sure to convert many early music fans to lovers of equestrian arts and convince horse lovers of the joys of Renaissance music. These performances are the only ones which happen outside of Berkeley. They will take place in Walnut Creek at the Heather Farms Park. 

Much of the music presented in this Festival is vocal. Many listeners who feel that "classical" singing style is too artificial and unnatural will be pleasantly surprised by the subtle and sweet vocal technique employed by Renaissance and Baroque performers. These singers aim for beautiful, clear and poetic expression of the text, rather than the bombastic power which characterizes operatic technique. 

Those who perform early music will be especially delighted by the huge exhibition of music publishers and instrument builders. Craftsmen and scholars come from all over the world to display their wares. This exhibition will be open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall. 

Many of the Festival's performances are scheduled during the morning hours and afternoons, so the ambitious concert-goer can easily attend several performances daily. 

Although the Bay Area is one of the recognized centers of early music performance, there won't be a concentration of pre-Classical music again until the next Berkeley Festival in the summer of 2004. 

Some of the concerts that merit special attention are: 

• The local ensemble Baroque Etcetera performs Bach's Cantata #78, which KPFA listeners will recognize as an often-heard theme, especially on Sunday mornings. 

• Soprano Twyla Whittaker presents "The Amorous Nightingale: A Celebration of Baroque Birdsong Arias." 

• La Foolia: Comedy in Early Music. 

• Songs of Orpheus: Ayres of John Dowland. 

• Old Age meets New Age: "Afro-Baroque." 

For a complete schedule of all Festival events, stop by the visitor information center in Zellerbach Hall. For tickets call (510) 642-9988.