“Voices and Viols” with Seicento Baroque Ensemble

Courtesy Richard C. Saxon Photography

When bringing the pleasures of rarely-heard Baroque choral music to an audience, Evanne Browne – Artistic Director of the Seicento Baroque Ensemble – likes to think outside the box. |

Seicento’s “Celestial Music” concert last November was preceded by slideshow presentations from an astronomer and an art historian, and the selections by Henry Purcell interwoven with live narration by Colorado Public Radio classical host Charley Samson.

Seicento’s upcoming concert, “Voices and Viols,” on Saturday, March 22 promises to be equally engaging. But let’s back up and find out a bit more about the boulder-based Ensemble, and baroque choral music in general. Though I’ve enjoyed all of Seicento’s previous concerts, I had many questions for Evanne, and this is what I learned.

Evanne Browne (front  right) and the Ensemble

Evanne Browne (front right) and the Ensemble

Evanne was inspired to found the Seicento Baroque Ensemble in 2011 because, though the Front Range has a number of fabulous choirs, no one was performing the music of the 1600s (the “Seicento,” in Italian). Why does she love that time period? For a few reasons. Prior to 1600, music was polyphonic – all the voice lines equally important. But around 1600 composers got excited about having a melody with a bass line and harmonies – the style that describes pop music today. Also at that time composers began giving more emphasis to words, and music started reflecting the meaning being expressed.

Evanne says many people tell her they’re not well-versed in classical music but baroque music speaks to them. “It’s almost easier to listen to, because the words are important. You get the gist of a piece of music – that was the goal of the composer, to communicate emotions like love and sorrow.”

And the instruments are just plain fun. Seicento is accompanied exclusively by period authentic instruments such as sackbut, lute, and harpsichord. For concerts, Seicento often imports guest artists because there are very few professionals in the area. For “Voices and Viols,” viola da gamba players will travel to Boulder from all over the world.

How can Seicento make that happen? A grant from the Boulder County Arts Alliance helps. While in town to accompany Seicento, visiting viola da gamba guest artist Tina Chancey (winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Early Music America) will share the art of the viola da gamba with students at local Whittier Elementary School. The goal is to get kids excited about something they’ve never experienced before. “Tina can play rock n’ roll on her gamba!” enthuses Evanne.

Seicento postcardYou don’t have to  miss out just because you’re not a Whittier student. “Voices and Viols: Music of Baroque German Masters Schutz, Schein and Scheidt” will be performed by the 32 members of Seicento along with guest instrumentalists and vocal soloists at the First United Methodist Church of Boulder, 1421 Spruce St., at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 22. Come early (6:45) for a pre-concert talk and viola da gamba exhibition with Tina Chancey. There are two other concerts that weekend, in Denver and at the historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park – find details and ticket information here.

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