Songs of Rivers Tempesta di Mare Has Seen
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Songs of Rivers Tempesta di Mare Has Seen

Posted May 16th, 2018

The 2018 Fringe Festival features Songs of Wars I have seen, an intriguing theater/music work by composer Heiner Goebbels inspired by a World War II memoir by Gertrude Stein. The composition will be performed (and spoken) by musicians from two local ensembles. But while the Philadelphia Orchestra will be familiar to most Festival-goers, baroque orchestra Tempesta di Mare remains less known.

This weekend provides an opportunity to get to know the classical ensemble, as they present their Spring program in concerts at Penn’s Landing and in Chestnut Hill. The program, River Music: Bach & Telemann on Water’s Edge, includes pieces by J.S. Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann, Baroque heavyweights whose compositions figure prominently in Tempesta’s seasons.

“This music is powerful and evocative, and it tells fascinating stories,” says Rafael Schneider, who works for the orchestra. Telemann’s piece “Hamburger Ebbe und Flut” (Hamburg ebb and flow) premiered in 1723 at a large hall overlooking the Port of Hamburg, a location Schneider compares to the Independence Seaport Museum overlooking Penn’s Landing and the Delaware. The Seaport Museum will host Saturday night’s concert, an event which also serves as the centerpiece of Tempesta’s annual gala. This festive gathering includes boat rides along the Delaware, a cocktail hour with signature drinks, a meal, and a post-concert dessert reception with the artists.

The other piece in the program, Bach’s “Schleicht, spielende Wellen” (glide, playful ripples) continues the riparian theme. Bach composed the work as a birthday present for Friedrich August II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, with four vocal solos to give voice to each of the rivers of the king’s realm.

“The music and the text work together to paint vivid portraits of these mighty characters,” says Schneider. “The wartorn Vistula, which was the site of terrible carnage in the War of Polish Succession won by Friedrich August II; the noble Elbe on whose banks the king’s seat of Dresden rested; the beautiful Danube representing Friedrich August’s wife and her family; and the magical, whimsical Pleisse urging harmony between the various competing political forces of the other three.”

In presenting such gems of Baroque music, Tempesta prides itself on being an engaging, exciting ensemble. Though played with the highest level of musicianship, their performances remain relaxed and accessible. Their conductorless approach is both historically accurate and fascinating to watch. “The musicians seamlessly work together to create the music,” says Schneider, “and the flow of it moves through their bodies visibly, almost like a dance.” The ensemble has been called “the model of a top-notch period orchestra” by the Miami Herald

“We believe our interpretation of Baroque music allows it to escape from its too-common consideration as stuffy or old-fashioned and become something exciting, something new, and something accessible to anyone,” says Schneider. It’s this accessible approach to Baroque stylings which makes Tempesta di Mare an ideal partner for conductor Anu Tali in the Festival production of Songs of Wars I have seen, an innovative contemporary composition with parts for Baroque instruments. 

See for yourself at River Music: Bach & Telemann on Water’s Edge, a program evoking the beauty and splendor of rivers. It’ll make you wonder what songs the Schuylkill and Delaware would sing, were Bach and Telemann alive today and composing in Philadelphia.

—Christopher Munden

What: River Music: Bach & Telemann on Water’s Edge
When: May 19 at Independence Seaport Museum; May 20 at St. Martin’s Church in Chestnut Hill
Cost: $25-$39
Solos by Laura Heimes, Meg Bragle, Aaron Sheehan, Randall Scarlata
tempestadimare.org/events/2017-2018-river-music

Featured image: Johann Georg Stuhr, Treehouse with Low and Inland Harbor, c. 1685. Courtesy of Historische Museen Hamburg. The central building is the Baumhalle, where Ebb und Flut premiered.

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