In baroque times, the Epiphany was a major religious celebration in Europe. In fact, this celebration of the coming of the wise men from the East was sometimes a bigger festivity than Christmas. Every other year in Spokane, the musical group Allegro brings the Epiphany celebration home to the Inland Northwest by presenting the Feast of Lights concert at The Met.
Friday's performance will feature the Occasional Consort, a small choir of 12 singers, baritone soloist Randy Wagner, violinist Karen Walthinsen, oboist David Dutton, harpsichordist Beverly Biggs and cellist Cheryl Carney. Music by Purcell, Bach, Buxtehude and Veracini will highlight the concert.
"Back during that era, the music director of the church was required to produce specific music for each occasion," says Allegro's Artistic Director and harpsichordist Beverly Biggs. "Epiphany is an important holiday on the calendar year, and a lot of music has been written for it. The baroque period is a treasure of Epiphany music."
Wagner, head of the choral and voice departments at Eastern Washington University, says that the festive inclination of baroque music makes it especially fun for a holiday celebration. "For the most part, it's very vibrant and exuberant," he says. Wagner also says that baroque music is more convenient for a small chamber orchestra because it makes the most out of fewer instruments than a full orchestra.
While Allegro is well known for its period musical performances, including their large summer festival and concerts in historic homes, Biggs is partial to this specialty music production at The Met because it will be performed with a small chorus.
Wagner will sing two of the songs for the Feast of Lights. One, "Behold I Bring You Glad Tidings," by Henry Purcell, will open the show and include an extended solo by Wagner.
Biggs says the Purcell piece was chosen because Purcell was the most influential baroque composer to come out of Britain. While several songs in the Feast of Lights repertoire will be performed in Latin, this song, done in English, is accessible to the audience and gives them a strong representation of the British baroque movement.
For Wagner, the most challenging piece will be in his second-generation tongue of German. Buxtehude's solo cantata "Mein Herz Ist Bereit," is a reflective piece on Psalm 57 in the Bible, and it was chosen because it ties in with the idea of celebration and Epiphany. Wagner says he's not concerned about performing in German. "Of all the languages, it's the easiest for me because I studied it," he says. Growing up with German grandparents also helped him to develop an ear for the pronunciation of the words in song.
Biggs' use of the harpsichord is also crucial in invoking the baroque sounds of the European Old World. Her instrument is evident in almost every piece. "It was the keyboard instrument for 300 years," she says. "That's longer than the piano has been invented. It's unusual that the harpsichord wasn't included [in baroque compositions], so as a consequence, there's a lot of music written for it."
But Biggs also looks forward to hosting violinist Karen Walthinsen, who is visiting Spokane from Holland. Walthinsen, who has been studying baroque violin in Dresden and The Hague, is a well-respected teacher of early violin music and her enthusiasm is evident in her own performances.
"She's an exuberant baroque violinist," says Biggs, "She's so totally in love with this music that even if you couldn't actually hear her play, you could see it. She really lights up when she plays."
All of the music is meant to inspire the mysticism of Epiphany. In the song "Quem Pastores," finger cymbals chime out a foreign sound. But in general, the music will leave the audience feeling that they have stepped back into a time when music was strongly sacred and used to invoke holiday emotion without being redundant. The combination of violin, oboe, harpsichord and basso continuo (cello), the finely tuned chorus singing in English, German and Latin and the ting of the finger cymbals should move listeners' imaginations far beyond The Met theater and into an old European Cathedral.
& & & lt;i & Allegro's "Feast of Lights" is at The Met on Friday, Jan. 12, at 8 pm. Whitworth College professor Leonard Oakland will give a pre-concert talk beginning at 7:15 pm. Tickets: $8-$18. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &