Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Musica Maestrale's Second Season: A Chat with Artistic Director Hideki Yamaya

On a delightfully sanguine late-August evening in my back yard about two weeks ago, I sat down over drinks with my friend Hideki Yamaya, an early music plucked strings expert and Musica Maestrale's Artistic Director. We had an informal chat about his group's upcoming second season, which premiers this Saturday night September 14th at 8 pm at the Community Music Center (3350 SE Francis St.) Tickets are $16 general admission or $14 for students/seniors, and can be bought here online or at the door. They will be playing with members of the Early Music Guild of Oregon

Musica Maestrale is an early music collective that specializes in small-ensemble chamber music from before 1800. For an in-depth look at their goals, make-up and perspective, as well as video and audio links to some performances, check out this article I wrote at Oregon Music News after talking with Hideki last year.

LW: Talking with Hideki Yamaya, the Artistic Director for Musica Maestrale

HY: That’s me

LW: That’s him. So there are some big changes this year…big developments as far as...

HY: I don’t know if it’s big. We have more board members…however we are looking for a new Executive Director. In the interim I’m filling that role, doing the administrative aspect of MM. What’s exciting is going to be the first concert of this season. It is a joint project with the Early Music Guild of Oregon, run by Phil and Gail Newman, whom you may know as the leaders of the Oregon Renaissance Band, of which I am also a part. This first project that we’re doing is a concert of ‘broken consort’ music.

LW: Broken Consort? What is that?

HY: That refers to the fact that this music is instrumental ensemble music, but it’s a consort made up of different instrumental families. So when you think about a consort, you usually think about a consort of recorders or a consort of viols…instruments all belonging to the same family. This [broken consort] ensemble is made up of instruments from different groups, different families.. This is also called a ‘consort of six’ because it requires six instruments, and it is also called an English consort.

LW: Now ‘English consort…’ does that suggest certain instruments when you use this term?

HY: Yes. It is almost always the same instrument makeup. It consists of either the treble viol or violin, recorder or renaissance flute, bass viol, lute, cittern and bandora. Now the cittern and the bandora are rarest of these instruments. The cittern is a plucked wire-strung instrument of four courses and it’s related to the mandolin family but the tuning is very peculiar, and you play it with a quill plectrum. The bandora is…kind of similar to a lute but it is wire-strung and it has six courses and it’s tuning is closer to that of the guitar. So those two instruments add that ‘twang’ to the whole sound. So you have this interesting combination of sustained melodic instruments and plucked, strummy instruments.

LW: This adds a percussive effect?

HY: Exactly. It’s a very unique sound.

LW: And this is all in the first concert?

HY: That’s right.

LW: So which composers are you playing in this first concert?

HY: Well, we are doing a whole bunch of stuff from two sources for this consort music. There’s [John] Dowland, good old Dowland, and [Thomas] Morley, and Richard Allison…those are the main composers. And we’re doing a couple sets of pieces by Matthew Locke, who is a little bit later, but he called some of his pieces broken consorts even though they require fewer instruments.

LW: So…heavy on the Englishmen?

HY: Yep, it’s an all English program. I think this might be the first time some of these pieces are going to be played with a full broken consort makeup. It’s rarely done, as you can imagine, because of the difficulty of getting all these instruments and players together.

LW: Well that sounds pretty exciting. Now that’s September 14th?

HY: That’s right. And then in December we’re going to do a fundraiser event which…

LW: Details to follow?

HY: [Laughing] Yeah. It will be a holiday themed food-and-music kind of event. And then the second concert is in January, and we’re doing yet another joint project, [this time] with The Ensemble.

LW: The Ensemble?

HY:  Yes, which is…do you know about them?

LW: It seems like I should, but…refresh my memory.[laughing]

HY: [It’s] Patrick McDonough’s thing, and he’s [doing] vocal music…I think he’s focusing on early music and contemporary music. Nothing in the middle. I heard them do Haydn’s…I forgot what it was…Stabat Mater, or some such sacred piece last year, and they did a really great job. Of course you know the choral singers in Portland, they are in all the groups [laughing] but he hand-picks them…people who can really do solo work. And so we’re doing a joint project with them which is going to be a part of the Celebration Works series at First Pres[byterian], and we’re doing a concert of Monteverdi madrigals.

LW: [Me salivating] Ohhh…do you know any of the ones you are doing?

HY: Yes…all the pieces are set already.

LW: Anything you can think of off the top of your head?

HY: Oh yes. The biggest piece we’re doing is Sestina. Sestina is a poetic form. The subtitle of it is…oh I forget. I’ll tell you later. But if you look up Sestina Monteverdi it’ll pop right up. [NOTE: I did, and the subtitle is Lagrime d’Amante al Sepolcro dell’Amata {Tears of a lover at the tomb of his beloved}. ] It’s a piece that’s about 17 minutes long, and it’s in four or…five parts maybe.

LW: Is that one of the dramatic madrigals…let’s say along the lines of Tancredi e Clorinda or something like that?

HY: It’s not, and it’s not staged. It’s all five voices throughout with optional continuo which…I’ll take that option. It’s better…more dramatic with instruments. It’s an incredibly beautiful piece.

LW: Does it tell a continuous story?

HY: It’s the lamentations of a lover at the grave of the beloved. Pretty dark…

LW: One of those light-hearted 17th-century…

HY: [Laughing] Yes. All the singers should be great. Mel Downie Robinson will be singing, and she’s great…so I’m looking forward to that. It should be a good project. That piece comes from book six of the Madrigals…I think the bulk of it [the concert] comes from books six and seven, and then some other pieces here and there. The third concert is going to be me and John Lenti who plays a lot with Portland Baroque Orchestra. It’s going to be lute duets and theorbo duets…it’s going to be a pluckfest. Good stuff.

LW: So the lute enthusiasts had better turn out for that one.

HY: Yeah…they'd better. [Laughing.] Everyone should. Again, these are going to be pieces that you will rarely hear [live] because of the instruments involved.

LW: Well that’s always the fun of baroque music, because there’s just so much variety as far as instrumentation.

HY: Exactly.

LW: I mean, you don’t want to call them undiscovered, because someone knows they’re out there, but there's just a treasure trove of largely untapped compositions that’s almost bottomless at this point. It’s not the stuff that people have been playing and recording for the last hundred years, and you’re like ‘oh, I’ve got four CDs of that in my collection…’

HY: Exactly. It’s not Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in this program [laughing.] And that’s going to be in February. Now the last two concerts have not been set yet.

LW: Ahah! TBAs?

HY: Yeah. One of the things I was thinking about fell through so…I still have to come up with those. But it will be decided very soon. I’m still looking forward to doing a full season of five concerts. Just have to keep it going…keep us in people’s consciousness.

 [We chatted for a while about the first season, as well as some of the goals/needs of the second season, including his desire to develop a larger audience of around a hundred or so on a regular basis.]

LW: It takes some time to develop that groundswell, even when the quality is good and the music is good…I think that’s one of the problems inherent in living in such an arts-saturated town like Portland. People have so many choices so that even when it’s something that’s pretty unique like MM it’s still…not to call it ‘clutter,’ but it’s just that people have so many excellent options from which to choose that a new ‘start-up’ can get lost.

HY: Exactly. And since we don’t really have money yet we can’t really spend money on advertising or fancier programs or posters and things. We’re going to start applying for grants. Since we have one season under our belts we feel like we’re in that position now. And we’ve also got to find someone who wants to take on the job of being Executive Director.

LW: What is MM looking for in an ED?

HY: I’m hoping this organization will grow, but I don’t see it becoming a full-time position for anyone.

LW: So it’s a volunteer position?

HY: Not exactly…it might start out that way but we’re hoping to soon move into a position where we can pay someone, just like I want to be paid for the work I do [laughing.] But you know it’s something where if someone were to do administrative work for a few organizations like this, it could be a full-time job.

LW: What kind of duties are involved with being an ED?

HY: Someone who is in charge of all the logistics…getting a venue, getting all the programs printed, flyers printed, all the e-mailing, maintaining the website, publicity…someone who’s good at talking up what we’re doing and asking for money.

LW: Someone who knows what they’re talking about…someone who knows how to gab about the right things? Not necessarily someone who has a PhD in 16th Century music but…

HY: They would have to be knowledgeable to a certain extent, but I could take over when it comes to talking specifics about the music. Someone with good organizational skills. Of course that ED doesn’t have to do all that him or herself…they can delegate. We have a board of four right now….we might like to have one more person on the board right now and I think I know who that might be.

LW: Well thanks for talking with me Hideki, and I’m genuinely excited about MM’s second season.

HY: Me too . Thanks!

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