Nun Nicer @ The Roundhouse - Queer Arts FestivalWednesday, August 05, 2015
|Alexander Weimann & Reginald Mobley - August 5 2015
The above to be heard this Thursday at 7:30 at the Roundhouse.
Had I early in my life chosen to be a plumber, it is most doubtful that besides the generous amount of money that I would have in the bank that I would have spent a couple of hours today listening to Reginald (Reggie) Mobley, Alexander (Alex) Weimann and Beiliang Zhu rehearse the music of composers of doubtful sexual persuasion of the 18th and 17th century. There are a few advantages in being a photographer and not a plumber.
Since I lived a large chunk of my life in Argentina and Mexico members of the gay community had to (until recently) exercise caution and a low profile.
My fave Spanish (Argentine) euphemism for lesbian is tortillera (omelette maker). I have no idea on the origin of the use of that word for this specific meaning. Of men in Mexico they sometimes say "los del 41"(of the 41). It seems that in the early 50s police raided a gay party and arrested 41.
The fact is that Early Music Vancouver under the tutelage of Artistic Director Matthew White (who until recently was a most competent countertenor, more on what is a countertenor below) has embarked on throwing to the wind what was until now an almost strict and narrow interpretation of what makes music, early music. You can now add exciting to that interpretation.
Consider that this year besides all those wonderful composers of the 17th century that most of us have never heard of we have had Brahms and now a Queen’s Music (with the special connotation of a queen of the draped boa kind) at the Roundhouse tomorrow Thursday. The music featured is of composers who may have been ahead in their time of our contemporary rainbow revolution.
Reginald Mobley is a black countertenor who happens to live in Boston. While I am not going to ask him directly, “Reggie, are you gay?” I must presume that he is so. He has prepared a program for tomorrow at the Roundhouse which is a co-production of Early Music Vancouver and the Queer Arts Festival.
Let’s first clear up as to what exactly a countertenor is. In some ways Del Shannon was one even though he did not know it. A countertenor is a baritone who sings in falsetto. The voice resembles a female alto and that of those unfortunate men of past centuries who had a prominent but baggy male organ severed so as to keep the pure and high tone of the young boy before his voice changed. Posterity can thank Joseph Haydn’s father for refusing to have his son’s, …ahem removed as young Joseph had a beautiful voice.
Modern countertenors are intact in every way but can still perform the music that was intended for them. This is particularly the fact for many of Handel’s operas where the hero protagonist is a high pitched male voice. With the revival of baroque music there are now many countertenors who need not indulge in plumbing to make money. One of the best (if not the best) is Reginald Mobley.
At the rehearsal today, with harpsichordist AlexanderWeimann (Artistic Director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and keyboardist as he is also playing the piano tomorrow, with music of Cole Poeter and Stephen Sondheim, etc.) and baroque cellist (no end pin but prominent gut strings) Beiliang Zhu, at the UBC School of music Mobley told me he was influenced early in his youth by jazz and blues. In fact one of his early teachers (wow!) was Ella Fitzgerald.
The program’s first part is all about composers of the 17th and 18th century. The second half, with Weimann on the piano has some Schubert, Chopin and (yes!) Rorem, Coward, Porter and Sondheim.
Today in the rehearsal I listened to the music of two Italian nuns, Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704) and Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-1678). Both of them were singers who composed for the other nuns of their respective convents. Mobley said that they were alleged tortilleras. In Cozzolani you will listen to in O quam tristis rapid fire use of ave and eva. The former is a very white Virgin Mary, the latter a not so white passionate woman with not so lofty instincts.
For those who may not have listened to this kind of music before here are some pointers.
1. At first Mobley’s countertenor voice will sound odd. Mobley is so good that you will soon forget the oddness and concentrate on his vocal and most expressive excellence. Note that he wears spats. That is one of his many sartorial touches. Mobley has a bit of dyslexia so he tells me he depends on his Samsung pad to read lines. He has difficulty memorizing lines.
2. Particularly with the two nuns you might listen to notes that sound like the wrong notes. This is not the case. Mobley told me that early music (of the baroque period) pre-figured jazz and its penchant for improvisation. So make believe that the wrong notes are the right wrong notes of Thelonious Monk. In the 17th century composers of what was called the Fantastic Period, liked these notes. So do I.
3. Baroque instruments were rarely played in large auditoriums (they did not exist) or large halls. The sound is subtle and much less loud. Thursday night you will enjoy all the subtlety of Weimann’s virtuoso harpsichord playing. Beiliang Zhu on cello plays what those in the business call continuo. That is a complicated word for bass playing no different from that in rock’roll.
A word to the wise try not to clap between the movements of individual composers.
Music for the best of all possible worlds
Music for the best of all possible worlds