The musicians of Le studio de musique ancienne de Montreal will be performing at Ontario churches this month. Photo courtesy of Le studio de musique ancienne de Montreal

Sounds of Sistine Chapel on Ontario church tour

  • July 18, 2015

If Michelangelo was listening to music while he worked on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, his playlist would probably sound something like Le studio de musique ancienne de Montréal’s Music from the Sistine Chapel concert.

The concert program is a collection of polychoral compositions by renowned Renaissance composers, such as Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina, Josquin des Prés and Gregorio Allegri. To match the grand masterpiece that is Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, the concert’s conductor, Andrew McAnerney, said it is not surprising that the music would be just as grand.

“Like the chapel itself, it’s all done in a very grand scale,” said McAnerney. “If you close your eyes, you hear the beauty of the music, you can imagine that you are in the Sistine Chapel.”

Le studio de musique ancienne de Montréal — an early music vocal ensemble founded in Montreal that has been performing since 1974 — continues its summer festival tour in churches across Ontario starting at St. Mark’s Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake July 18, ending with a featured performance for the Westben Arts Festival Theatre in Campbellford July 26.

The music program was created by artistic director Christopher Jackson for the studio’s summer festival tour. The music covers a wide range of subjects deeply rooted in Catholic history.

Allegri’s Miserere is one of the highlight pieces of the program. It is an emotionally charged piece based on Psalm 51 that was famously composed in the 1630s for exclusive use during the Tenebrae services at the Sistine Chapel during Holy Week.

“The music would have been found in the Sistine Chapel ’round about the end of the 15th century all the way through the beginning of the 18th century,” said McAnerney. “It’s a tour of about 300 years of music from the chapel itself.”

The concert also features several pieces from Palestrina, a 16th-century Italian composer known for his ornate musical arrangements. The concert opens with excerpts from Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, which is originally about 40 minutes in length. The Mass was composed in honour of Pope Marcellus II. It was sung at every Papal Coronation Mass up to the coronation of Pope Paul VI in 1963.

Luca Marenzio’s Super flumina Babylonis, which is a musical setting of Psalm 137, requires three choir parts. McAnerney has split the studio’s 12 singers into three parts to create the ornate and rich quality that the piece requires.

“It’s wonderful to perform. It’s as rewarding to perform as it is to listen to,” said McAnerney. “The effect of having these 12 talented singers sing these monumental Renaissance masterpieces is very exciting.”

McAnerney said that the people’s reactions to the concert have been fantastic so far. He admits that performing the music in churches has coloured the gravity of the performance. However, he emphasizes that the music stands on its own.

“The music doesn’t have to be in that setting necessarily. The music is the same and is powerful to work in any venue.”

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