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Early Music Now Concert Dispels Winter Darkness

Rose Ensemble performance reminds us of the promise of spring

Nov. 29, 2016
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Photo y Michael Haug Photography

The St. Paul, Minn.-based Rose Ensemble has travelled the world from its beginning, sharing its expertise in and love for medieval and Renaissance music. This ensemble of vocal and instrumental artists under Jordan Sramek (the ensemble’s artistic director as well as its founder some two decades ago) performs early music concerts from Vermont to California and Germany to Bolivia. At the 2012 Tolosa Choral Contest in Spain, the Rose Ensemble took home first prize in both the sacred and secular music categories.

The Rose Ensemble has recorded several unique and interesting CDs; among them are Il Poverello: Medieval & Renaissance Music for Saint Francis of Assisi; And Glory Shone Around: Early American Carols, Country Dances, Southern Harmony Hymns and Shaker Spiritual Songs;

and Slavic Holiday: Legends from Ancient Bohemia and Poland. Truly showing the ensemble’s eclecticism and variegated talent, it has also released an album of American music of the Prohibition Era, the Mexican Baroque and even Hawaiian vocal music. We are indeed quite fortunate to have like-minded hosts—Early Music Now—to provide Rose Ensemble with the time, space and opportunity to share its art with us here in Milwaukee. 

Rose Ensemble’s program, titled “A Rose in Winter: The Miracle of New Life in the Dark of Night,” is just the right medicine for the winter blahs. The program’s music, taken together, powerfully and beautifully reminds us that, no matter how harsh the coming months, spring will return. One of the best-known pieces on the program is the Christmas carol and Marian hymn Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, harmonized by the prolific German composer, organist and theorist Michael Praetorius in 1609. It’s much better known in the English-speaking world in the 1894 translation by Theodore Baker as Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming. Particularly moving and most apropos to our purpose are Baker’s charming words: 

O Flower, whose fragrance tender

With sweetness fills the air,

Dispel with glorious splendor

The darkness everywhere. 

Both sacred and secular pieces fill the concert program; most will be unfamiliar to audiences, but that’s a good thing. There are two pieces by the German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, visionary and mystic Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179): O frondens virga and O Virga ac diadema. Some of the most “modern” music is Surge, illuminare, Jerusalem by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), an Italian composer whose works represent the culmination of Renaissance polyphony. Another of the “big names” of the age is Guillaume Dufay (1394-1474), a central figure of the Burgundian School of composition and a leading figure of the early Renaissance period. Attendees will hear his Flos florum. There are several anonymous pieces from the 12th through 14th centuries as well as works by such as Francisco Guerrero, Jan Tollius and John Dunstable. The latter, an Englishman, was one of the finest of the composers active in the early 15th century; Rose Ensemble plays his lovely motet Speciosa Facta Es (Thou Art Beautiful). 

“A Rose in Winter: The Miracle of New Life in the Dark of Night” will be performed on Dec. 10-11 at St. Joseph Chapel, 1501 S. Layton Blvd. For tickets and more information, visit earlymusicnow.org.

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