EACH WINTER, starting on or about Valentine’s Day, the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival kicks off a new season. Last Saturday marked the start of the 48th annual series of concerts. For it, contralto Karen Clark (pictured) sang a program called Love Songs Through The Ages. She was joined at the R. Blitzer Gallery in Santa Cruz by Shira Kammen, a specialist on medieval fiddle (vielle) and harp, and viola da gamba player Roy Wheldon, both of whom offered up some short dances from across the program’s spectrum. The ‘Ages’ covered were the Medieval (composers Giraut de Bornelh, Guillaume le Vinier and Hildegard von Bingen from the 12th century), the Renaissance (composers Giulio Caccini, Tobias Hume and John Wilson from the 16th-17th centuries) and some traditional folk songs popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. No 18th or 19th century classical songs made an appearance though the concert did include spoken commentaries, including Q&A on the music and the instruments, and a shared reminiscence of how the Festival fared through the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, with Festival artistic director Linda Burman-Hall.
In the case of Hildegard, love music inevitably means a spiritual vision which fit right in thanks to its ecstatic sensuality. This served as a reminder that as music began to emerge from plainchant into the era of troubadours and traverse—from the sacred to the secular—it immediately embraced sensuality. (The same can be said for the emergent polyphony (organum) that delightfully distorted the tradition of plainchant at Notre Dame.) Probably the best-known piece on the program was Caccini’s “Amarilli mia bella,” whose reference to an arrow makes for an ideal Valentine.
One encounters a true contralto voice rarely. Clark’s is rich with colors. More good news is that the program will remain available through this weekend at the Festival website. Click HERE