Classical Music: Oak Bay church ideal for season opener

What: Early Music Society of the Islands: Imaginario, with Armonía Concertada
When/where: Saturday, Oct. 5, 8 p.m., Oak Bay United Church (1355 Mitchell St.); pre-concert talk 7:10
Tickets: $30, seniors and students $25, members $23, student rush $8. Call 250- 386-6121; online at rmts.bc.ca; in person at the McPherson Box Office, Ivy’s Bookshop, Munro’s Books and Long & McQuade

What: Victoria Symphony (Masterworks): Bellincampi conducts Mendelssohn and Schumann
When/where: Saturday, Oct. 5, 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 6, 2:30 p.m.; Farquhar Auditorium (University of Victoria Centre)
Tickets: $35 to $58. Call 250-721-8480 or 250-385-6515; online at tickets.uvic.ca; in person at the UVic ticket centre and the Victoria Symphony box office (610 — 620 View St.)

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The Early Music Society of the Islands gives concerts mostly in the Alix Goolden Performance Hall though sometimes uses other venues, larger or smaller, depending on the repertoire. One of its alternative venues, Oak Bay United Church, has proved well suited to especially intimate music — a lute recital in 2013, a fortepiano recital in 2015.

The church is ideal for the society’s first concert of the season, on Saturday, which will feature one of its admirable forays into unfamiliar repertoire: Renaissance Spanish music for solo voice and vihuela de mano.

The concert will feature Armonía Concertada, a duo comprising soprano María Cristina Kiehr and vihuela player Ariel Abramovich, both of whom were born in Argentina, studied at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland and still live in Europe (Kiehr in Basel, Abramovich in Madrid).

The vihuela, a guitar-like instrument, flourished mostly in Spain (though also in Portugal, Italy and elsewhere) in the 15th and 16th centuries, and the term vihuela de mano designates one played with the fingers as opposed to a quill or bow.

Though the vihuela was very popular, the surviving repertoire for it is relatively small. Saturday’s program draws on published and manuscript sources of vihuela music, and on other repertoire, to create an imaginary new book of secular songs with vihuela accompaniment.

About half of the program is devoted to songs by Juan Vásquez (ca. 1500 to ca. 1560), a Spanish singer and church musician who was especially famous for his secular music, particularly the song form known as the villancico.

The program also includes arrangements of madrigals and other polyphonic pieces, including settings of Virgil and Petrarch, some by major foreign composers (Adrian Willaert, Jacques Arcadelt, Cipriano de Rore), some by more obscure figures, including that most prolific of all early composers, Anonymous.

Armonía Concertada, joined by two colleagues, recorded a version of Saturday’s program for a CD released on the Arcana label in March. (It is the duo’s first album.) As this CD reveals, the songs have a melancholy beauty, and the duo’s performances are deeply expressive.

The Victoria Symphony, too, will move to a new venue for its first pair of weekend Masterworks concerts of the season: the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium, which, until now, has been the orchestra’s regular venue only for Classics concerts. This change is, of course, a result of last year’s conflict between local performing-arts organizations and the Royal and McPherson Theatres Society, over rents and access to the Royal Theatre.

(Pre-concert talks will still be given, starting an hour before each performance, in the Senate Chambers, adjacent to the auditorium.)

This weekend’s concerts will feature the return of Italian-born conductor Giordano Bellincampi, who made his Victoria Symphony debut in April.

Bellincampi grew up and has spent much of his career in Denmark, though he currently holds conducting positions in Norway and New Zealand.

He also teaches at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, where one of his pupils was Christian Kluxen, the Victoria Symphony’s music director, who hails from Copenhagen.

Bellincampi, who gave an energetic performance of Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony (No. 3) in April, will lead two more early-Romantic masterpieces this weekend: the overture to Weber’s opera Der Freischütz, and Schumann’s magnificent Symphony No. 2, a highly original and intensely dramatic work, brimming with imagination, that includes a beautiful, profoundly melancholy slow movement and one of the greatest symphonic scherzos ever written.

In between, Bellincampi will be joined by American violinist Stefan Jackiw in Mendelssohn’s imperishable Violin Concerto.

Jackiw, who lives in New York City, holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard and a diploma from the New England Conservatory. He received a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2002 and has performed all over the world, including with the biggest American orchestras and some top-ranked recital partners.

Jackiw will make his Victoria Symphony debut this weekend, though he has performed here before. In 2018, he appeared in the Eine Kleine Summer Music festival as part of the JCT Trio, an adventurous piano trio with which he still performs.

(A superb Jackiw performance of the Mendelssohn, recorded in 2009 in Seoul, can be watched on YouTube.)

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