Ensemble for Medieval Music. Benjamin Bagby, Director

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Sequentia celebrates its 40th anniversary in March 2017




Katja Zimmermann

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From the Press

"Frankish Phantoms", Vancouver 2011

An event that always repays anticipation is Early Music Vancouver’s annual summer festival, particularly when it features Benjamin Bagby and Sequentia.

Antiquarian is too dry a word for an ensemble that re-creates the mysteries of the past with such vivid urgency. This time, as part of an ongoing series of explorations called the Lost Songs Project, the singer looked into the ninth-century court of the emperor Charlemagne in the world premiere of Frankish Phantoms: Echoes From the Carolingian Palaces.

There are good reasons why Charlemagne’s name continues to resonate today. This Frankish king was a hugely important figure politically and in terms of what he achieved in the arts, especially music. Among other things, he virtually invented the concept of Europe.

Personally, he is reported to have been a tall, sturdily built man with imposing white hair. He was kind and civilized but not one to be pushed around, as his doctors found out when they tried to advise him to eat boiled meat instead of the roasted kind that he preferred.

Bagby, Sequentia’s director, sang and played the Germanic harp; Wolodymyr Shmishkewych sang and played the gusli, or Slavic harp, and the organistrum, or hurdy-gurdy; and Norbert Rodenkirchen played flutes and the lyrelike cithara.

Ancient, furious, now–unheard-of battles were re-created, as were death laments and tributes in song to great, powerful, now-forgotten men.

One of Charlemagne’s biggest accomplishments in music was to unify various singing styles into the living collection we now call Gregorian chant. To hear the directness and power of the time’s early monody was incredible, its gravity often belied by the beauty of the words.

There isn’t room to detail the ways in which this amazing re-creation of history held a theatre full of people in thrall. It reminded us that music is an extremely powerful key that opens a great many doors, and in ways that we wouldn’t expect to see. The most moving thing about this concert is that it introduced us to a shared past that many of us didn’t even know we had. Together these magicians supplied an entertainment that was nothing less than bardic.

It effected the miracle of collapsing more than 10 centuries of time.

The Georgia Straight (Vancouver), 2 August 2011 (Lloyd Dykk)

Like any number of other Sequentia fans, I’m prepared to hear anything at all they turn their hand to. In “Frankish Phantoms,” their choices were as remarkable and their performances enthralling. Working with just flutes and harps (and, for their grand finale, the organistrum, a sort of hurdy gurdy) the music was entirely fleshed out, its seeming austerity at odds with the evocative, dramatic delivery of singers Benjamin Bagby and Wolodymyr Smishkewych. Texts were projected—an enormously valuable addition to the evening—and ranged from poignant (like Alcuin’s O mea cella) to epic (like the unexpected 12th century Russian Song of Igor’s Campaign negotiated with such aplomb by Smishkewych). Concert pacing was as good as I’ve ever heard, no matter what the repertoire. By the sweetCanticle of Eulalia and a concluding panegyric to Saint (no longer Emperor) Charlemagne, one left the concert hall transformed by both music and performance.

Vancouver Sun, 7 August 2011 (David Gordon Duke)


Upcoming Concerts

30 September 2018
New York City (Music Before 1800)

17 October 2018
London (British Library)

7 December 2018
Amherst, MA / Amherst College
Monks singing pagans

14 December 2018
Gdansk, Poland / Actus Humanus Nativitas
Monks singing pagans

See full concert schedule



Benjamin Bagby's teaching activities in 2018

In addition to his teaching position at the University of Paris - Sorbonne, where he has taught since 2005 in the professional masters program, Benjamin Bagby travels widely in 2018 to teach other practical workshops for young professionals:

Milano, Scuola Civica di Musica (Milano, Italy) 29-31 January
The troubadours of the Milano manuscript R71 sup. (late 13th century)

Folkwang Universität der Künste (Essen-Werden, Germany) April-June
Benjamin will join the faculty of this renowned masters program for liturgical chant performance and medieval music, specializing this year in music from Notre Dame of Paris. The dates of his courses: 13-14 April, 18-20 May, 28-30 May and 15-17 June. More information

Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (Basel, Switzerland) 25-26 May

7th International Course on Medieval Music Performance (Besalú, Spain) .
Music relating to the idea of the Crusades, especially in the 12th and early 13th centuries.

Amherst Early Music Festival (Connecticut College, New London CT) 15-21 July
An intensive course on the Roman de Fauvel (14th century)
July 21, 2018, 1 pm "Roman de Fauvel project" (student performance)

Burg Fürsteneck, Germany (31 August to 02 September
Fortbildung zur Musik des Mittelalters / Roman de Fauvel (guest instructor)

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