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Monday, September 20, 2021

A 21st century performance of a 17th century masterpiece

The American Bach Soloists will perform Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 at the Mondavi Center on Feb. 1 at 8 p.m. Student tickets start at $18 and rush tickets for $5 beginning 30 minutes before the performance.

In case you haven’t been counting, the masterpiece itself is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year.

“The great thing about commemorative anniversaries of composers’ lives is that they bring heightened attention to [the composer], and here’s a case where it’s not a composer’s birthday but a publication of great music,” said Jeffrey Thomas, director of the American Bach Soloists and UC Davis choral ensembles. “It’s one of the top 10, I would say, of famous works from the Baroque period.”

The American Bach Soloists are an ensemble of musicians and singers dedicated to performing the works of Bach and other classical, Baroque and early romantic composers. Formed 21 years ago in San Francisco, the ensemble is made up of a full choir and orchestra.

Each musician is a specialist in the style of Bach and his contemporaries. The orchestra even includes instruments from Bach’s time, such as the cornetto and harpsichord.

The ensemble unites throughout the year to rehearse and perform, usually with only a few days to practice the challenging material.

“When you look at a printed work that’s 400 years old, there’s a lot that’s left out,” Thomas said. “Composers didn’t leave many instructions about the performance of their works. Because of that, there are a lot of puzzles that have to be figured out.”

Thomas and the musicians relish the opportunity to delve deep into this complex and rare work and introduce it to a contemporary audience. The piece, those who have performed it agree, is just as thrilling today as it was centuries ago.

“It’s sensational music,” Thomas said. “You’re listening to something that was played 400 years ago, and yet it sounds so alive. It’s a really exciting experience.”

Corey Jamason, a principle keyboardist of the Soloists, will give a lecture at 7 p.m. to offer thoughts on the piece and provide an inside look at the performance ahead.

“It’s one of the greatest works of Monteverdi, and he’s one of the greatest composers that ever lived,” Jamason said. “It’s a really special piece.”

In his lecture, Jamason will discuss the “colorful” life and works of Monteverdi. He aims to provide insight into the challenges of Vespers and how the ensemble interprets the work according to historical documents.

Although classical music is largely foreign to the average American today, musicians believe the works of Monteverdi and others still have a lot to teach us.

For modern-day musicians, listening to centuries-old music is “definitely beneficial,” said Nicole Tanner, first-year music and geology major.

“It teaches about theory, and how [music] is played by people in today’s world,” she said.

Thomas is confident that audiences will thoroughly enjoy the power of Monteverdi’s work, and said the piece is a favorite of many Soloist members and period specialists.

“It’s mind-blowing, it’s extravagant, it’s exciting,” he said. “We’re all really looking forward to getting our hands on it again.”

For more information about the performance and to purchase tickets, visit mondaviarts.org.

ROBIN MIGDOL can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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