Earlier this year, Peter Terry, a singer who runs a series of concerts in Jamaica Plain, was lamenting to friends about how little music happens in Boston in August. “It’s too bad there are all these people who have to stay in town and can’t go to Tanglewood or wherever,” Terry recalls saying. “It’d be nice to get some music for them.”
At the time, he was also reading a history of Spanish music and wondering at how much of it was unknown. “I was puzzled that no one was performing it. All the musical people I was in contact with were doing the same old Germanic and Austrian composers.”
The ideas converged: A series of August concerts that would explore music of the Spanish Baroque. A Google search led him to Salomé Sandoval, a guitarist and singer with a degree in early music performance from the Longy School of Music. Sandoval’s ensemble, El Fuego, specializes in 16th- and 17th-century repertoire from Spain and the New World.
Iberica 2012 Early Music Festival
The pair have put together “Iberica 2012,” a series of performances with a variety of musicians exploring music from Spain, Portugal, the New World, and the Jewish Diaspora from the 17th and 18th centuries. For a festival that was assembled, as Sandoval puts it, “on a very modest budget,” it has an astonishingly broad reach. Opera excerpts, songs, sacred works, and instrumental music are all represented in four programs that will collectively have 10 performances over the course of 12 days, at churches and synagogues across the Boston area.
“It’s a sort of a little sampler of a lot of things that were going on at the same time, music that hasn’t been performed much in Boston,” says Sandoval.
The festival opens on Saturday with a program of excerpts from opera and zarzuela — a variant of opera that includes stretches of spoken dialogue — by Spanish composers José de Nebra and Antonio de Literes. The second half of the program is taken up with selections from a zarzuela by Literes, “Acis y Galatea,” based on the same mythical story as Handel’s well-known work of the same name. “It’s absolutely marvelous,” says Sandoval. “I think it will be amazing to translate all this old Spanish and bring it to an American audience.”
Sandoval’s ensemble offers a program of love songs from Spain and the New World called “Cupid’s Arrow.” “Lots of rhythm, lots of percussion, lots of New World sounds mixed with Spanish texts and culture,’’ Sandoval says. Curiously, there is an overlapping of sacred and secular in some songs, where references to Cupid and the baby Jesus mix.
Terry’s contribution to the programming is a concert of sacred music, at the core of which is Spanish composer Luis Gargallo’s “Historia de Joseph,” a work, Terry says, that musicologists think is the first oratorio written in Spanish. The piece condenses the chief events of the Biblical story of Joseph and his brothers into an oratorio lasting 20-25 minutes. “And it does so without any segues,” says Terry. “You’ve got to really know the story in order to figure out what’s coming next.”
Among the unusual features of “Historia” is what Terry calls a “sort of cyber-duet” for Joseph and his father, Jacob, who are in two different places at the time. “Dad’s in Palestine thinking, When am I ever going to see my son again? And Joseph is in Egypt thinking, It’s OK, Dad, we’ll be reunited again.”
Also fascinating is the subtle parallel running through the piece between the lives of Joseph and Jesus. “It ends by saying, we will all come to the table to share bread and wine,” Terry explains, a reference to the Last Supper. “It’s very interesting from that point of view of being an overtly Old Testament story appropriated in a way that would make it especially meaningful for Christians.”
To fill out the concert, Terry — who used to live in Israel and performs as a countertenor under the stage name Yakov Zamir — added music for Hoshana Rabbah, the final day of the Jewish holiday Sukkot, composed in the 1730s for a Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam. He added a cantata for the same festival written for a synagogue in Casale Monferrato, Italy.
A program split between songs performed by Sandoval and instrumental music by the keyboardist James Nicolson rounds out a rich menu of music that most Bostonians will never have heard, and may never hear again.
“To use language from my youth, I want to blow some people’s minds,” said Terry. “I want them to go home and say that was amazing. Because that will mean there are people who want to hear this music. And they’ll ask for it, and that’s how we’ll get more performances.”
Radius, Chameleon seasons
Two of Boston’s intrepid chamber groups have announced their 2012-13 seasons. Radius Ensemble will open its 14th season on Oct. 6 in a diverse program that brings together music by Prokofiev, Weber, Mark Schultz, and Morton Gould. That concert is the first of four in the group’s subscription series at the Longy School of Music. Radius will also conduct a two-week residency at Clark University in Worcester and perform at Rockport Music. The group has also received a grant from the Free for All Concert Fund to present three concerts at stops along the MBTA Route 1 bus line: Dudley Square (Nov. 5), Harriet Tubman House in the South End (Nov. 8), and the Cambridge YWCA (TBD).
Chameleon Arts Ensemble’s 15th season includes a three-concert exploration of the massive influence of Arnold Schoenberg’s music, especially “Pierrot Lunaire,” whose centennial is being observed this year. That piece will be played on Chameleon’s sixth and final program, which also includes works by Debussy and Stravinsky (May 18-19). The long shadow cast by that piece is taken up in Thea Musgrave’s “Pierrot Dreaming” (Feb. 2-3) and Helen Grime’s “Seven Pierrot Miniatures” (Mar. 16-17).
Tickets for both groups are available now: www.radiusensemble.org; www.cha