There are many moving musical settings of the medieval sequence “Stabat Mater” (“Sorrowful Mother”) that contemplates the suffering of Christ as experienced by the Virgin Mary standing next to the cross during his crucifixion, but none more celebrated nor exquisite than that of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, whose 300th birthday anniversary is January 4, 2010 and is being celebrated all year long. Baroque Band, Chicago’s period-instrument orchestra, gets a head start on the festivities during the very week of the birthday itself with a series of performances of Pergolesi’s most famous work.
Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater” is shrouded in legend since its frail composer wrote it very young and then died soon after at the age of 26. It was commissioned to take the place of another celebrated “Stabet Mater,” that of Scarlatti, and because of its beauty and its composer’s mysterious death soon after the work’s completion, the piece is a staple of major Italian churches during Lent, and is often presented in an elaborate, operatic manner that obscures much of the work’s original intentions. (Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director designate and fellow Neapolitan Riccardo Muti is a particular fan of the work presented in this grandiose style.) The Baroque Band approach will be to strip away these excesses and restore a sense of the original performance style of the piece.
Many historically informed performances of the work pair a female soprano with a male alto or countertenor, but of course, it is almost impossible to achieve Pergolesi’s original balances with that ironically very modern combination. Since the original was written for male soprano and male alto and we don’t castrate singers any longer, many find having an Early Music female soprano and female mezzo-soprano the closest modern configuration to the blend and sound that Pergolesi was after. To that end, soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Lane foot the bill admirably. The program also includes the Sinfonia from Pergolesi’s “O frate ‘nnamurato,” Scarlatti’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 in f minor and Vivaldi’s Concerto in C major, RV 114. (Dennis Polkow)
January 8, Music Institute of Chicago’s Nichols Hall, 1490 Chicago, Evanston, 7:30pm; January 9, Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn, 7:30pm; January 13, Symphony Center’s Grainger Ballroom, 220 S. Michigan, (312)235-2368, 7:30pm, $15-$35.
Dennis Polkow is an award-winning veteran journalist, critic, author, broadcaster and educator. He made his stage debut at age five, was a child art prodigy and began playing keyboards in clubs at the age of fourteen. He holds degrees in music theory, composition, religious studies and philosophy from DePaul University in Chicago. Polkow spent his early years performing and recording in rock and jazz bands while concertizing as a classical pianist, organist and harpsichordist and composing, arranging and producing for other artists. As a scholar, Polkow has published and lectured extensively and taught at several colleges and universities in various departments. As an actor, narrator and consultant, Polkow has been involved with numerous films, plays, broadcasts and documentaries. As a journalist, Polkow helped co-create the experiential Chicago Musicale and Spotlight, the award-winning tabloid arts and entertainment section of the Press Publications chain of newspapers, which he later edited. He also created and ran the nationally recognized journalism program at Oakton College and was faculty advisor to its award-winning student newspaper; many former students went on to major media careers, including Channel Awesome’s the Nostalgia Critic. Polkow’s research, interviews, features, reviews and commentaries have appeared across national and international media and he has corresponded from the Middle East, Asia and Africa for the Chicago Tribune. Contact: email@example.com