Last year, Vesuvius Ensemble’s Christmas concert had 60 people standing in the cold outside the Heliconian Hall because they could not get in.
This year, they have two concert dates. The first is already sold out, and the second has only a handful of tickets left.
Their repertoire is perhaps not what you would expect: 16th century Neapolitan music. It’s not exactly the Baroque music commissioned by churches and high-powered patrons in Europe that are most popular among today’s audiences. Neapolitan music, by contrast, is a folk tradition specific to the region of Southern Italy centred around Naples. It continues to be transmitted orally from one person to another to this day.
While it isn’t a repertoire that you hear in concert halls very often, it is a living tradition that Francesco Pellegrino, Artistic Director of the Vesuvius Ensemble, grew up listening to in Campania as sung by farmers and elders in their everyday life.
For Pellegrino, Neapolitan music is filled with memories of the people and places in his early life. More than a musical tradition, it is an integral part of who he is. So much so, that he decided to quit his career as a successful opera singer, in order to devote all his time to the preservation and performance of this musical tradition.
“I used to love opera. I still do. But when I play the guitar and sing, I feel a different kind of joy.” He continues, “In opera, you are in a box. You have to follow the conductor, the orchestra, and you are not completely free. In this repertoire, I can be myself a hundred percent. A real interpreter, expressing my feelings, emotions, and memories.”
When he moved to Toronto in 2001, he noticed that the city had a vibrant folk and baroque music scene. It was the kind of city that carved out a space for the preservation and performance of musical practices from different times and places, which was exactly where he wanted to be.
The stars aligned when he met Marco Cera 10 years ago. They immediately recognized in each other the shared passion for this music. When Cera introduced Lucas Harris into the mix, Harris was almost overwhelmed with excitement with the artistic possibilities. Together, they founded the Vesuvius Ensemble as we know it today.
Their unwavering commitment to the preservation and performance of Neapolitan music certainly makes Vesuvius an artistic force to be reckoned with. But what is drawing audiences out to their sold out concerts, the majority of whom have no personal connection with the music or the region?
Prof. Catherine Moore from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music offers this insight:
“What they collect into a concert is more than just music. It’s a tradition, a heritage, a way of thinking of music as part of a fabric of a particular part in the world.”
The Vesuvius Ensemble’s passion for the music of this region and period comes through in the care and attention to details that goes into each program—from the ethnomusicological research, the restoration and care of instruments, and the unexpected insights that put what audiences might already know about Baroque music in a different light.
The Tarantella, for example, is a popular musical form from Italy that is often used by baroque and classical composers as a dance. In 2017, Vesuvius spent months meticulously developing an entire program entitled “Le Tarantelle” devoted to exploring its social and cultural history.
From the program description: “In the countrysides of Southern Italy, the Tarantella is much more than a purification dance—it is part of an entire medical and spiritual philosophy known as Tarantism. The musicians become healers charged with the task of finding just the right rhythm that will make the tarantata (bite victim) get up and dance away the venom in her veins.”
Early this season, their program ‘Tale of Tales’ featured early versions of popular fairy tales—such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty—written in the Neapolitan dialect by Giambattista Basile. After the concert, numerous audiences inquired about obtaining English translations of Basile’s stories. Pellegrino was more than happy to point them in the right direction.
The revelation that comes from realizing the Baroque musical tradition we have always known might not be the whole story, and the curiosity that their programs inspire, are perhaps the magical elements that consistently brings out curious audiences.
The effort involved in each program is truly a labour of love. The breadth and depth of each member’s experience, and their genuine passion for this musical tradition, is what takes it over the top to create one unforgettable musical concert.
As Moore describes it:
“Traditional music tends to be thought of as old music, but it is living music with lots of similarities for centuries. How to bring that into the modern world, and make people excited? Part of it is in a vibrant and energetic performance, taking down barriers of formal music, improvised music. You can see before you [at a Vesunius concert] it is all those things.”
The secret of Vesuvius is getting out, and it is bitter sweet for the loyal fans who have discovered such a musical gem. However, if Vesuvius has figured out a formula for engaging modern audiences with music that has stood the test of time, perhaps it might be a secret worth sharing.
We are living in a critical time. Entire systems and sectors are imploding because the assumptions they were built on no longer exist. ~ Simon Brault, Director and CEO of Canada Council
Back in March, we were honoured to be invited as a contributor to Canada Council’s Arts in a Digital World summit in Montreal. I met many people with whom I had only communicated by email or phone, and many more whom I was happy to meet.
It was inspiring to hear BeMused Network’s founding values echoed by the keynote speakers, and to engage in two intense days of the kind of conversations we’ve been having for the last few years. I came away full of optimism for the future of the arts Canada. Read on…
They accomplish the Herculean job of creating rich artistic experiences and eye-catching marketing materials with limited resources. These are the hidden miracles that arts professionals and volunteers work everyday, despite the thankless task. The personal fulfillment they take from the job is one of the reasons they stick around, despite the fraught realities confronting the arts.
It is this dedication that makes the challenge of attracting new audiences such a frustrating one. What more can be done to show the value of the arts? How much more can we give to the creation of unique and memorable artistic experiences? Read on…
“…digital networks will continue to be increasingly central to daily life and anticipates a time when they are regarded as a mundane, but vital part of the social infrastructure.” ~ Andrew Clement and Leslie Shade, “Access Rainbow” (PDF)
Infrastructures are essential yet invisible to us, even as they play a critical role in our everyday lives. Just imagine if our power grid goes out, roads collapse, or water ceases to flow in our homes. Unimaginable disruptions.
We are in an era of constructing digital infrastructures. From high profile projects like electronic health records, which requires the coordination of policy makers, creating of new jobs, and the partnership of various health organizations, to the less visible but no less impressive network of digital applications and social platforms.Read on…
Guest Speaker: Ben Dietschi, Executive Director of Soundstreams Canada Featured Performers: Jazz Pianist Ron Davis (Symphronica), Vocalist Janet Whiteway,
and Contemporary Dancers from the Chimera Project
November 29, 2016 • 5:30-7:30pm • Heliconian Hall (35 Hazelton Avenue) MAP RSVP / Press Release
What does an arts-friendly and patron-focused ticketing service look like? What does it mean to build digital infrastructures for the arts? How can we empower the growing number of independent performing artists and organizations? Come meet the artists, patrons, and partners who have helped shape BeMused Network in the last three years, and how you can be a part of our vision to help artists focus on their art. Read on…
“If we wish a different world, it is necessary to design humane and liberating technologies that create the world as we wish it to be.” — Bonnie Nardi
What does it mean to build a digital infrastructure for the arts? What does it take?
A digital infrastructure is a network of independent systems that play nice with each other. I imagine a digital infrastructure that will exclusively serve the arts community, provide end-to-end services for their most pressing needs, and ensure its sustainability by evolving with the times we live in. Read on…
“There was also something you can’t put your finger on that’s intuitive about the way that we responded to one another’s playing. I don’t even know how to put it into words. It’s chemistry, like in any relationship.” ~ Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt
In 2013, the Dover Quartet’s sensational performance earned them the top and special prizes at the String Quartet Competition in Banff. They have been in high demand ever since on the performance circuit.
As part of their breakneck touring pace throughout the US and Canada, they will be performing in Toronto this Thursday afternoon in the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto’s 117th series, and at Jeffery Concerts on Friday at 8 pm in London, Ontario. Read on…
BeMused Network Open House!
November 24, 2014 • 5:30-7:30pm
Heliconian Hall (35 Hazelton Avenue) RSVP
It has been almost a year since we’ve launched BeMused at Canadian Film Centre’s ideaBOOST launchpad, and you are invited to our Open House to celebrate this important milestone! Come meet the artists, patrons, and partners who have helped shape our inaugural year. I will also be sharing news about the latest developments at BeMused Network.Read on…
(Image credit: “The Seven Lively Arts” mural by R. York Wilson at the Sony Centre in Toronto)
The future library will not be a bricks and mortar institution, but distributed and decentralized.
Imagine a library full of not books, but performing artists. As you walk down the aisle, you can experience any sort of performance you can think of – and a great number of ones you couldn’t even imagine.
If such a library existed, I would spend all my spare time there, happily getting lost, exploring every art form. Read on…
Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale is often only heard in concert; the full production involving actors and dancers can be an unwieldy undertaking. But for artistic director Larry Beckwith, it is one of many such multidisciplinary productions that Toronto Masque Theatre has presented since 2003.
This coming weekend, presented as part of Soulpepper Theatre’s Global Cabaret Festival, Beckwith will conduct an ensemble of top-notch instrumentalists in collaboration with long-time artistic associates Derek Boyes as narrator and choreographer Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière. Read on…