McCray Hall is used to hearing the sounds of trumpets and trombones, but students there are not accustomed to hearing the sounds created for the opening of the Solo & Chamber Music Series.
The Washington Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble gave a concert as part of the Solo Chamber Music Series (SCMS) on Friday, Sept. 27 at 7:30 p.m. in the Sharon Kay Dean Recital Hall. The ensemble consisted of Stanley Curtis, Patrick O’Connell, and Michael Holmes on cornetto, Holmes, Barry Bocaner, and David Searle on sackbuts and recorders, and Bozena Jedrzejczak-Brown on harpsichord and chamber organ. The concert was entitled “Giovanniana” because it featured music by composers named Giovanni from the 1500s and also featured the predecessor instruments to the modern trumpet and trombone, the cornetto and the sackbutt, respectively.
“I consider it a privilege to make harmony with other human beings,” said Michael Holmes, artistic director with the ensemble. “To do music with others, you make a vertical sonority right then and there. If you do just that, you get a reaction…”
Holmes and the Washington Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble have been performing together for more than 22 years, beginning when Holmes was playing with an early music ensemble, Musica Antiqua, in the 90s.
“…It (Musica Antiqua) was a group that was directed by a man named John Guillory and he had a collection of over 100 wind and string instruments from the medieval and Renaissance periods,” Holmes said. “…I was just toying around and I ended up singing, playing and directing the choir with them (Musica Antiqua)… Later, I was a French horn player playing in the Richmond Symphony and I was looking for other brass players to do interesting stuff, and I loved early music, so we formed the first iteration of the group with two sackbuts and two cornets in a quartet… We did our first recital in ‘98, music of the German kingdoms…”
The ensemble is one of a handful of early music ensembles active in the United States and they perform music from many cultures including early music of Italy, Germany, Poland, Spain, Scandinavia, and England.
“…Composers put in their genius to form new styles and over 1600 years, it developed into the genre we call polyphony,” Holmes said. “…There are a lot of places in the world that don’t have that complexity in music, and it’s just incredible how music has developed – from the 18th century, the 19th century with the Romantics and then into the 20th century with the modern composers… Now, we have this eclecticism of everybody doing everything under the sun..,”
Holmes also added that the surge in interest into early music and music of the Medieval and Renaissance periods has been helped by the progress of technology.
“We’ve got the jet age, and then, the internet age which has helped immensely with knowledge and the early music resurgence has been helped by a result of that,” Holmes said. “…People can find part books and old scores through facsimile online and you can make performing editions. We have more access to music now than we ever have…”
The SCMS concert series continues on Friday, Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m. with a recital given by Otis Murphy, international saxophonist, in the Sharon Kay Dean Recital Hall.