Monday, December 11, 2023

ModernMedieval at the National Gallery of Art


This is the time of the year when the Dresser craves an old church concert of medieval music where the acoustics can be felt as well as heard. The next best thing occurred on December 10, 2023, at Washington, DC’s National Gallery of Art West in one of their garden atriums when ModernMedieval presented a cappello music celebrating Advent, Christmas, and winter solstice. Singing was mezzo soprano Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek (artistic director), soprano Martha Cluver, and soprano Chloe Holgate.


Among the baker’s dozen of musical selections were several chants by the mystic nun Hildegard von Bingen; numerous anonymous pieces ranging from 13th to 15th Century, including the deliciously odd “Ivy Is Good”; one traditional English carol (“O Little Town of Bethlehem”) notably arranged by Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek (this arrangement allows for pauses that made the well-known carol seem new); the modern carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” composed by Gustav Holst and Harold Darke based on the poem by Christina Rossetti and arranged by Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek; and one recently composed piece based on the oldest known English poem about winter (2019: “Winter Wakeneth” by Andrew Lovett).


Here is the poem in Middle English in which it was originally written. Some scholars date this poem to 1310.

Wynter wakeneth al my care,
Nou this leves waxeth bare;
Ofte I sike ant mourne sare
When hit cometh in my thoht
Of this worldes joie, hou hit goth al to noht.

Nou hit is, and nou hit nys,
Al so hit ner nere, ywys;
That moni mon seith, soth hit ys:
Al goth bote Godes wille:
Alle we shule deye, thah us like ylle.

Al that gren me graueth grene,
Nou hit faleweth albydene:
Jesu, help that hit be sene
Ant shild us from helle!
For y not whider y shal, ne hou longe her duelle.

The poem deals with how short life is. Oddly for its time, it mentions hell but not heaven.

What the Dresser loved about this concert was the languorous pacing that allowed for breathing and reflection. ModernMedieval’s next concert is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 15, 2023, hosted by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. They are worth going out of your way to hear them. Check their website  for other upcoming concerts.