Montana Early Music Festival: Viva Vivaldi!

Chorus, soloists and Baroque orchestra bring period music to four Montana towns Jan. 16-19

On Stage

Neither snow nor sleet will deter a flock of musicians from bringing the Montana Early Music Festival to four communities Jan. 16-19. The 18th annual festival pays homage to the music of Antonio Vivaldi with concerts in Bozeman Jan. 16, Butte Jan. 17, Missoula Jan. 18 and Helena Jan. 19.

Musikanten Montana Artistic Director Kerry Krebill conducts favorite festival soloists and the MEMF Chorus and Orchestra. The orchestra musicians are Early Music specialists, coming to Montana from around the country, and play instruments of Vivaldi’s time, including Baroque strings and horns, trumpets, oboes d’amore and oboes di caccia, recorders, and portatief organ.

Musikanten Artistic Director Kerry Krebill conducts the Montana Early Music Festival.
Musikanten Artistic Director Kerry Krebill conducts the Montana Early Music Festival.

According to Krebill, conductor of Musikanten Montana, the logistics of presenting four concerts in four days in communities 100 miles apart are formidable.

“We want to put this concert on in four cities because if you’re gathering 16-20 extraordinary period instrument players together and bringing in soloists and other singers who are experts at this music, it is very sad to only put on one show!”

So, she deploys over 300,000 frequent flyer miles, rents buses, and takes the musician on the road.

Weather here – as all Montanans know – is never predictable, especially in January. “It’s been 50 degrees. It could be 50 below,” says Krebill. “We cross our fingers. And we rent these buses, with drivers that take the high school sports teams all over in every season, so our musicians are transported safely to these other cities.”

The musicians seem to enjoy their travels. “It’s actually fun to be on a bus after a concert – I understand there is often a cooler of beer or a bottle of wine,” says Krebill. “It’s a great time to celebrate and get to know each other.”

Her only advice is for the vocalists: “On the way over, I just tell the singers don’t try to talk over the bus noise – save your voice!”

The singers, most of whom have performed with Krebill for years, learn the music on their own, and prepare for the MEMF concerts by studying the Baroque style, often with help from YouTube or other online resources.

“It’s pretty amazing,” she says. “When everybody knows the notes, we can get together and make music!”

After four years of Bach: Viva Vivaldi!

Following four years of music by Bach, this year’s festival showcases Vivaldi.

“It was really hard to think of something to follow the musical experience of hearing the music as Bach would have heard it – the silvery strings, the gentle trumpets, wooden flutes, no vibrato, light and dancing treatment of notes and phrases,” Krebill says. “We were really enamored.”

But it was time for a change. After last year’s festival, musicians began offering suggestions: Telemann, Handel, Praetorius, someone even earlier? This summer a couple of players suggested Vivaldi, with Montana violinist Carrie Krause playing “Winter” from the Four Seasons in the middle of the concert.

“I thought that sounded like fun, putting a beloved gem of the orchestral repertoire into our choral concert, with our own virtuoso violinist leading it.”

Krebill began researching Vivaldi, reconnected with his famous Gloria and found some lesser known gems: “Difficult, very florid solos and duets and trios, works for double chorus and double orchestra – great stuff!”

She pared down the program to four works, with Beatus vir and Dixit Dominus from his Psalms joining Gloria and “Winter” from the Four Seasons.

Professionally, Krebill loves bringing “a new kind of music” to Montana. During the 25 years she spent conducting her choral group in Washington, DC, she had never conducted a group of musicians on period instruments – a so-called Historically Informed Performance (HIP).

“I somehow fell in with this gaggle of HIP musicians, and we’ve all gotten the benefit of it,” she says. “Now my DC singers come out here to sing with this little Baroque band we’ve got going.”

Much to Krebill’s delight, this year’s festival features several new string players and half a dozen new singers. “It’s always fun to bring some new musicians to Montana for the first time and watch them fall in love with the state, the people they stay with, the enthusiastic audiences, the coffee shops and great beer, and our festival,” she says.

“I think the musicians – I’m talking vocal and instrumental, soloists and chorus singers – are as surprised as the audience that this kind of music exists ‘in the wild west’,” she adds.

Montana Early Music Festival concerts

Bozeman: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Holy Rosary Church

Butte: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 17 at Immaculate Conception Parish

Missoula: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at St. Francis Xavier Church

Helena: 4 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Cathedral of St. Helena; n addition to the music of Vivaldi, the instrumentalists of MEMF will perform a Salon Concert Monday, Jan. 20, at a home in Helena’s Mansion District. RSVP via email to [email protected] to attend.

– Kristi Niemeyer