“Seaven Teares”- Highlands Spring Concert

From the Marais Project Blog:

2.00pm Sunday 18th September, 2011

Presented by Moss Vale Uniting Church, cnr of Argyle and Spring St, Moss Vale (1.5hrs south of Sydney)

What follows is an edited version of the program notes for the concert on 18 September.

Southern Highlands Spring Concert

Moss Vale Uniting Church is celebrating the end of a long, cold winter with a “Spring Concert” to raise funds for two special local charities: “Triple Care Farm” which supports troubled teenagers and “The Angel Tree”, an organisation that ensures that the children of gaoled prisoners receive Christmas gifts.

I’ve been asked once again to provide the musicians. I have strong ties with the Highlands as my parents in law, Ken and Mary Pogson, are long term Moss Vale residents and members of Moss Vale Uniting Church. In 2010 we played to a packed house at Moss Vale Uniting with The Marais Project. At that concert, many in the audience got to hear the viola da gamba and harpsichord for the first time.

Background to the music and the viol consort

“Severn Teares” takes our name from a famous piece by John Dowland whose music makes an appearance in today’s concert at several points. Dowland lived and worked in England around the time of Queen Elizabeth, before English spelling was standardised. So “Severn Teares” is, of course, the old spelling of “Seven Tears”! Dowland and the other composers we play today wrote a great deal of beautiful and sophisticated music for viol consort which sounds very fresh to our ears even though some works are hundreds of years old.

The viol family has a history quite independent to the violin family and for a time, the two competed with each other for dominance. The viols eventually lost, but we are making a comeback! Technically, viols are constructed quite differently to the violin, viola and cello that make up the violin family. For example, we have 6 or 7 rather than 4 strings and we also make use of tied on frets. Our strings are made of sheep gut and strung at a lower tension than those of the modern violin or guitar. This means that viols “speak” more slowly, are softer and have great resonance. This wonderful resonance results in our consort “ringing on” for a moment or two after we finish playing each song – a lovely effect.

Unlike modern string players, viol consort members in olden times were expected to play at least two or more different instruments. Today Cathy will play treble viol, but she normally plays bass. Shaun is our virtuoso in that he plays bass viol, violin, theorbo (bass lute) and violone, the viol family version of the double bass. This afternoon he features on tenor viol. Imogen and Jenny will perform on the bass, but Jenny also plays treble viol and the smallest member of the viol family, the Pardessus viol. Imogen is a professional cellist by training but is also a skilled bass violist.

Much of the music for viol consort is “contrapuntal” which means it consists of a number of different instrumental voices intertwining with each other. The contrapuntal nature of the music means that at times audiences may have difficulty identifying a strong tune. Composers of this era tended to concentrate on writing for a number of different parts rather than on a single tune with an accompaniment. However, we encourage listeners to just to sit back and “take it all in”.

This concert will be the first time soprano Nicole Thomson has performed with us and we are very pleased to have her on board. She has sung in the past with The Marais Project with great success.