Utrecht Early Music Festival 2016 part 7: Ignotae Deae

Last year, after the Utrecht Early Music Festival 2015 had finished, I had already remarked it was high time attention was paid to female composers. Ignotae Deae dedicated their fringe concert to 17th century female Italian composers. Their audience heard a spectacular concert.

20160828 Venetian Portraits 003While waiting for the concert to begin, I chatted with a woman sitting next to me. It turned out I was not the only one wondering why so much attention is always paid to male composers and hardly any to female composers. Especially at a festival like this one and for decade after decade after decade!

A row behind us, a blond radio presenter with oversized headphones and microphone tried to get some reactions which might fill her time-slot at that evening’s festival broadcast. Though it is presented as being “life”,  it was now quite clear not all its items broadcasted each day between roughly 19:00 and 20:00 during Utrecht’s Early Music Festival on Dutch NPO4 radio station were actually life.

The interview of the Italian couple sitting next to her did not run smoothly. By take three, the Italians had told her for the umpteenth time they were from Milan, but had been living in the Netherlands for quite a few years now. They not only spoke Italian, but also reasonable Dutch and fairly fluent English.

The blonde enthousiastically came up with another stupid question: what did the Italians expect of this Italian concert? If the blond did get an answer, I did not hear it. The discussion about female composers now involved people left and right of me, as well a the row in front. Either the Italians had grown exasperated with the radio journalist, or after five or more takes the blond had given up on her Italian victims. Fortunately, she shut up during the concert, but the members of Ignotae Deae seemed to be next on her hit-list.

Thanks to a previous fringe concert during the Early Music Festival a few years ago, I was familiar with the harpsichord works by Elisabeth Claude Jacquet de la Guerre. A few of her Italian songs featured on the program. I was familiar with the name of Barbara Strozzi but not her works. The names of Antonia Bembo and Francesca Caccini were new to me. Another unkown was Robert de Visée, the only male composer who featured on the program with one work. All male composer should of course have been excluded from a program focussing on female composers.

After an introductory song, “Il Rome” by Barbara Strozzi, soprano Antonia Harper explained Ignotae Deae not only focuses on female composers, but also on forgotten male composers. As Ignotae Deae performed so brilliantly, their inclusion of Robert de Visée with one instrumental piece is forgiven. Antonia Harper also explained the ensemble’s name. It is derived from a dedication by Barbara Strozzi.

Paola Ventrella played the theorbo and Paola Francesca la Forgia viola da gamba. Both did so superbly. Whether accompanying Antonia’s ringing voice or performing instrumental pieces: this ensemble was simply perfect. After the concert, rows of public remained stunned in their seats for several minutes. As a gentleman finally stated: “… This performance is so mind-blowing, one needs time to recover!”

Several members of the public were so impressed, they said they were going to attend Ignotae Deae’s second performance during this festival. I have never heard members of the public discuss such an option, let alone straight after the end of an ensemble’s first fringe concert.

There are so many fringe concerts, lectures, workshops and more to choose from, that hearing an ensemble once, usually suffices. During the 10-day-long festival, the public can vote which fringe ensembles they want to hear next year – but that’s it. So for part of an audience to publicly declare they want to hear an ensemble again – within less than 10 days … says a lot about the ensemble and its performance.

But then, this concert really went from excellent to bellissima, from bellissima to superlative and then to super-superlatives. Each work was performed beautifully, but I especially loved the version of Francesca Caccini’s “O vive rose” and Barbara Strozzi’s “L’ amante segreto”. When all is performed so superbly, how to distinguish between favourites? Let’s say that the rendering of Antonia Bembo’s “Anima Perfida” came third on my list of bests of the best.

What had been lacking in the Ab-Fab lunch concert of the Windsor Consort was very present in this concert: feelings and emotions ranging from introspection, sadness, a certain stillness, to the highly dramatic. Though you may remark that it is perhaps a bit unfair to compare late 16th century male composers with 17th and early 18th century female composers … It was the performance of the three ensemble members. How static, dull, unimpressive the Windsor Consort’s fabulous fringe concert now suddenly seemed!

Ignotae Deae after their first fringe concert, Utrecht Early Music Festival 2016

Ignotae Deae after their first fringe concert, Utrecht Early Music Festival 2016

Though Ignotae Deae will perform again during this festival, it is to be hoped they will grace next year’s festival as well. These three ladies certainly deserve to!

In Utrecht, but missed this performance? Ignotae Deae will perform again at AAFAB, at 14:00, Tuesday 30th of August 2016. For this fringe concert, free admission tickets need to be collected at the Festival’s fringe concert ticket booth during the early morning of Tuesday 30th of August. If you have the chance to attend this second fringe concert by Ignotae Deae: go, go go!

Ignotae Deae

  • Antonia Harper soprano;
  • Paola Ventrella theorbe;
  • Paola Francesca la Forgia viola da gamba

Ignotae Deae performed:

  • Barbara Strozzi : Il Romeo, L »amante segreto, Amor dormiglione, l’Eraclito amoroso from « Cantate, Ariette, e Duetti, Opus 2, Venice 1651;
  • Francesca Caccini : Io mi distruggo et ardo, O vive rose from Il PRio Libro delle musiche, Florence 1618
  • Robert de Visée : Prelude en chaconne in G from MS Vaudry de Saizenay, Paris 1699
  • Antonia Bembo : Ha que lábsence, Anima Perfida from MS Produzioni Armoniche / della Dama Bembo Nobile Veneta / Consacrate al Nome Immortale etc Paris 1695-1700
  • Elisabeth Claude Jacquet de la Guerre: Italian songs from Sémele/L »ile de Delos etc Paris 1715

Ignotae Deae
Youtube Ignotae Deae performing Francesca Caccini’s “O vive Rose” earlier in 2016

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