What: Ensemble Laude: Sanctuary: Chambers of the Heart-Baroque Masterpieces for Women’s Voices and Strings.
When/where: Sunday, 7 p.m., First Church of Christ, Scientist (1205 Pandora Ave.).
Tickets: brownpapertickets.com, in person at Ivy’s Bookshop, $12
The popular women’s choir Ensemble Laude was founded in 1996 by soprano Elizabeth MacIsaac, an early-music specialist, and initially it focused exclusively on medieval and other early fare. Over the years, however, its repertoire has greatly expanded, particularly with respect to multicultural and modern music.
The choir now sings just about anything it deems sufficiently beautiful, moving, or meaningful. Laude’s concert on Sunday will be devoted to sacred music that touches on the idea of havens, refuges and landscapes as sources of healing.
The program will be typically eclectic and wide-ranging, including medieval polyphony, a French-Baroque motet, a mass by late-Romantic German composer Joseph Rheinberger, and modern settings of traditional chants.
The program’s subtitle promises “Baroque masterpieces,” though the 18th-century music comprising the second half — Hasse, Porpora, Sacchini, Michael Haydn (Joseph’s brother) — really reflects the infancy and early maturity of the Classical style.
The program also pays homage to the many and varied communities of women that have made music since the Middle Ages by including works composed specifically for women in convents, schools, and orphanages. Three works in the second half, for instance, were probably composed for use in Venice’s ospedali — institutions that cared for orphaned, abandoned, and indigent girls — and provided musical training sufficient to produce singers and instrumentalists of impressive virtuosity.
Hasse, Porpora, and Sacchini all worked at Venetian ospedali,as did Vivaldi, who directed performances at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà that were internationally renowned. (Incidentally, girls in ospedali often performed behind screens to preserve their modesty, but, fortunately, the women of Ensemble Laude are more brazen.)
This turn toward the 18th century-toward late-early rather than early-early repertoire, we might say, reflects MacIsaac’s desire to expand Laude’s early-music profile but was also motivated by an experience she had recently at a conference in San Francisco. Hearing a girls’ choir there sing Porpora, she wondered what similar repertoire might be available. As it turned out, she was sitting next to Martin Banner, a clinician well known in choral circles and the editor of many obscure choral works whose manuscripts he unearthed in European libraries and monasteries.
Banner generously shared dozens of scores with MacIsaac, some of which will be performed on Sunday. Though primarily an a-cappella choir, Laude has worked with instruments from time to time. On Sunday, however, the complement of instrumentalists will be unusually substantial.
The 32 choral voices will be joined by organist Nicholas Fairbank, violinists Mieka Michaux and Christi Meyers, violist Kay Cochran, gambist Pat Unruh, and natural-horn players Andrew Clark and Bill Jamieson. All have considerable experience playing early music on period instruments. (The string players will use modern copies of early instruments and Baroque bows.)
Ensemble Laude programs contemporary music, too, and commissions one work a year. Its fourth such work will have its première on Sunday: Sarah Quartel’s Sanctum: A Requiem on Vancouver Island, for women’s voices and viola da gamba. Quartel is a young Canadian composer whose choral music has been performed internationally and published by Oxford University Press. She now lives in Gananoque, Ont., but between 2010 and 2013 she lived in Victoria, doing some teaching and conducting children’s choirs. She bonded with MacIsaac over their shared love of early music and choral repertoire, and the commission was the result. (She will speak about her new piece at Sunday’s concert.)
Sanctum was influenced by early music, Quartel says, but her principal aim was to illustrate landscapes that inspired her while she lived here. The four short movements depict, respectively, “the tumult of the water, the grandeur of the mountains, the freshness of the wind, and the sky after the rain,” and the four Latin texts are drawn, interestingly, from the traditional Requiem mass.
The piece should sound particularly effective under the huge, acoustically excellent domed ceiling of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, where Ensemble Laude has been performing since last spring. Sunday’s concert will be Laude’s last in Victoria this season, though it has two more performances scheduled nearby, both on Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 11): its annual appearance at Providence Farm, in Duncan (2 p.m., $10), and a fundraiser at Merridale Cidery, in Cobble Hill (4:30 p.m., $80). For details, visit ensemblelaude.org.