The Falmouth-based early music group Ensemble Passacaglia will present a free concert entitled Honiesuckle, featuring medieval, renaissance and traditional music, on Friday, August 15, at 7 PM at St. Barnabas Memorial Episcopal Church, 91 West Main Street, Falmouth. The church is handicapped-accessible with ample parking.
Ensemble Passacaglia is a quartet specializing in ancient and world music. The members are Jan Elliott on recorder, crumhorn, cornamuse and concertina; Lisa Esperson on percussion; Tom Hanna on lute, guitar, mandolin and oud; and Molly Johnston on viola da gamba and vielle.
Passacaglia plays a variety of music from medieval and renaissance eras to the present, mainly from Europe but also from the Middle East and the Americas. Its repertoire includes lute songs, madrigals, canzonas, processionals, and a variety of dance pieces from pavanes and galliards to modern waltzes and Turkish melodies. The name Passacaglia derives from the Spanish pasear (to walk) and calle (street), evoking ancient music played by wandering troubadours and artisans. The program title, Honiesuckle, is the name of a stately dance piece by Elizabethan composer Anthony Holborne.
Medieval and renaissance music spans roughly the 13th to 17th centuries. In the time before printed music, and for centuries afterwards, performers were expected to improvise and decorate the melodies they played, much like jazz musicians today. Many pieces were adapted from vocal music, and instrumentation was rarely specified as musicians simply arranged tunes for whatever instruments were available. Also, before harmony and chords were fully developed, melodic lines were more independent and rhythmically complex, giving a sense of an interwoven tapestry or multidimensional puzzle.
Passacaglia was founded in 2001 when Mr. Hanna, Ms. Esperson and Ms. Elliott met and discovered the striking combination of their instruments: winds, plucked strings and percussion. A mutual affinity for medieval and renaissance music brought them together as accompanists for the vocal ensemble the Solstice Singers, and soon thereafter they started performing as a trio. In 2007 Ms. Johnston joined the group, adding the viola da gamba to the mix.
Blending instrumental textures and exploring the historic cross-fertilization between Europe and other nations, Passacaglia aims to transport listeners to another time while bringing the music forward with fresh and original interpretations.
“As a group we strive to make the pieces sound good to us and fun for an audience,” Ms. Elliott said. “We provide a lot of variety, interesting sounds, textures and rhythms—a feast for the eye as well as the ear.”