Performing Arts: Holiday Music of the Trecento

by patrickmccoy

Trio Eos joined the Folger Consort in an evening of Italian  music and art celebrating the nativity.

The Folger Consort with Trio Eos. L to R: Robert Eisenstein, Jessica Beebe, Mary Springfels, Michele Kennedy, Christa Patton, Maren Montalbano, Mark Rimple. (Photo courtesy of The Folger)

There is just something about the sound of vocal music during the holiday season.  Whether it is sung a cappella or accompanied by instruments, vocal music adds a special touch to any celebration. In the Elizabethan Theatre of the Folger Shakepeare Library, the Folger Consort presented a very special concert of 14th century Italian Christmas Music. At the time, the Trecento brought forth great works of literature from authors such as Petrarch, Boccaccio and Dante. Complimenting such literary excellence was the work of musicians, who were composing sophisicated pieces that further exemplified the high art during that time.

Consort musicians Robert Einstein, Christa Patton, Mark Rimple and Mary Springfels were joined by the New York-based women’s ensemble, Trio Eos. Some of the most popular songs during the Trecento were the sacred songs referred to as the laude. Sopranos Jessica Beebe, Michele Kennedy and mezzo-soprano Maren Montalbano lifted their voices in a variety of combinations as they performed with the consort instrumentalists.  Prior to the concert, the elaborate Neapolitan presepio, an 18th century recreation of the nativity, by sculptor artist Ulderico Pinfildi was on display for guests to view. The artist’s work had been featured in many exhibitions around the world.

Among the special guests at the reception was Muni Figueres, Costa Rican Ambassador to the U.S. Remarks at the pre concert reception were given by  Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Alberto Manai, Director of the Italian Cultural Institute and by the artist himself. In describing the presepio, Pinfildi chatted with WL Performing Arts about the use of various colors, textures and shades in depicting the figurines in the work.

“Naples was a very multi-ethnic city and full of diversity. It was the most important harbors of the Mediterranean,” explained Pinffildi.

The pairing of Pinfildi’s sacred creation with the sacred themed music was a stroke of genius. Thoughtfully considering the musical period and complimenting  it with an artistic facet of the same, it presented the listener with a context to appreciate the artistry of the evening. This was very important, considering that the program was not your traditional “Silent Night,” “O Come All Ye Faithful” type of holiday concert. It was up to the singers and instrumentalists to communicate the Christmas story through the perhaps unfamiliar repertoire of the evening. Opening the program was the anonymous setting of “Altissima luce col grande splendore,” which was a lyrical, anthem-like work that effectively introduced the voices of the guest performers. The sweet angelic soprano voices of sopranos Michele Kennedy and Jessica Beebe were like a sacred cloak surrounding the richer mezzo-soprano of Maren Montalbano, which in esssence provided the emotional depth of the Virgin Mother.

Instrumental works by the musicians were interjected throughout almost in the manner of traditional lessons and carols.  The varied pieces were almost like the final period to the musical statement made by the singers. Christa Patton was a sure standout as she executed the demands of the music on the bagpipes. Mary Springfels is always such a delightful focal point as she is fully engaged, whether she is performing or listening to her colleagues.  Lutenist Mark Rimple brought a delightful elegance to the music with the delicate beauty of his lute. Robert Einstein, one of the consort founders, seemed to beam with appreciation for the high level of camaraderie on stage, gracefully providing the performance program for his colleagues. Ending the program was the entire company of singers and instrumetalists in “Gloria in cielo e pace in terra,” a festive work that gave the singers an opportunity to perform with tamborine and drums, ushering in the age old story of the nativity through sacred song.

Petersburg, Va. native Patrick D. McCoy received a B.M. in vocal performance from Virginia State University and      an M.M. in church music from the Shenandoah Conservatory in    Winchester,   Va. He has contributed arts and culture pieces to CBS    Washington, The   Afro-American Newspaper and the newly published book,    “In Spite of the   Drawbacks” (Association of Black Women Historians),    which includes his   chapter on legendary soprano Leontyne Price.  McCoy   has interviewed some   of the most acclaimed artists of our  time,   including Renée Fleming, Denyce Graves,    Norman Scribner, Julian Wachner, Christine   Brewer and Lawrence  Brownlee.   Listen to these interviews and others   at Blog Talk Radio. McCoy may be reached via email at and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.


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