Rebuilding and reviving Monteverdi Vespers

A piece that has truly withstood the test of time, Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 will be coming to the Chan Centre on Friday, October 23.  

Featuring an orchestra with specialized periodic instruments, a choir and nine soloists, the 17th century work was arranged as a three-way collaboration between Early Music Vancouver, the Vancouver Chamber Choir and Pacific MusicWorks based in Seattle.

“[Vespers] is one of the greatest works in the Western classical music repertoire and it’s one that you don’t get to hear very often because it requires very specific instruments that are not common nowadays,” said Matthew White, artistic director of Early Music Vancouver. “Though it’s one of the greatest works in the classical canon, it’s one of the lesser well-known ones in a way.”

According to White, Vespers was one of the works that marked the transition between the Renaissance and Baroque periods of music.

In the past, reproducing music from this era was difficult due to not only the lack of instruments from the period, but also the lack of trained performers who would be able to play them. However, movements to rebuild and revive the historic instruments have now made performing early music possible.

“What’s really exciting about this performance is that we’re bringing together some of the best players of these instruments from all over the world,” said White. “It’s going to be very special in that regard. You’re going to get to hear virtuosos playing these instruments in a way that you might have heard in 1610.”

Just as specialized instrumentalists were required to play historic instruments such as the cornetto and sackbut — precursors to the modern day trombone — it was important to find vocalists who would be able to perform 17th century styles of music.

“We have to look for the [singers] who have enough experience with this particular kind of music that they can be immediately successful in it,” said Stephen Stubbs, the performance's Music Director. “It’s knowing [the performers] individually. This is a hand-picked group in every department so you know the people, you work with them and you get to trust them and so you know that they are the right people to hire for the job.”

For Stubbs and White, the hope is to share some of their passion for early music through the unique collaboration.

“[Vespers] is a piece unlike any other in terms of its magnificent large moments and intimate small soloistic moments,” said Stubbs. “It’s got a fantastic range of colours and emotions so anyone who has not had the experience should come try it out.”