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Concert Review: In Mulieribus

Teams that retain their players over several years are more likely to play better together. Witness the Amadeus String Quartet, a unit for 40 years, or in sports, Miami Heat/San Antonio Spurs. It is this, among other things, that makes In Mulieribus who they are: a constant in tuning, blend, and balance. The women think one another’s musical thoughts, hear their sisters’ voices almost before a musical utterance. They catch every wave together. In this case, familiarity breeds content.

On Sunday at southeast Portland’s St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, the premier women’s group, founded a decade ago by director Anna Song and former member Tuesday Rupp, offered a concert of music by English Renaissance composer William Byrd and two contemporaries: Peter (Petrus) Philips, and Richard Dering. This time around, we were also treated to guest director Kerry McCarthy, who is a published authority on Byrd. Her work with IM was, according to one member, collaborative, and joyous.

Byrd lived in the crucible of time when being an ardent Catholic, much less composing music for that Church, was risky at best. In a way, the musical Thomas More of his time, Byrd led a long life (1540-1623) which spanned, and mirrored musically, the emotional upheaval of England from the time of Henry the Eighth’s break with the Pope, past the death of Elizabeth I.  McCarthy’s publisher says it best in the overview of her recent book on Byrd (Oxford University Press): “(the author) takes on the uncomfortable paradoxes of the composer’s life as a devout and influential Catholic who spent much of his career in the service of the English Protestant establishment."

In the flux of all this, he was able to compose countless masses, motets, and polyphonic madrigals, while serving the dual masters of his own spirituality, yet working as a court musician to Elizabeth I, and Director of Music at an Anglican Cathedral. In the meantime, he composed a great deal of “household music,” so-called by Dr. McCarthy, for use in private Catholic services in homes, at a time when public Catholic services were prohibited.

This music for private use was often sung by women and was a perfect fit for In Mulieribus in Sunday’s concert. Byrd’s legacy included some students who became great composers in their own right, including Dering and Philips.

The program mixed performances by the full ensemble with various combinations of duos and trios. One of the highlights was the duet team of Jo Ganske and Sue Hale. Accompanied by Hannah Brewer on the portative organ, those two alto voices were twins, whether by DNA or artistic design, and they worked beautifully in sync with one another. Another fine contribution in this vein was the solo by Catherine van der Salm, “O si quando videbo.” McCarthy contributed her own alto voice to Philips’s “O quam mira.” This is a well-schooled voice, captivatingly androgynous, a hybrid voice that can easily bridge the gap between alto and tenor. The voice of Hannah Penn shone brightly in “From Virgin’s womb” and in “Duo seraphim,” nicely partnered with Shaelyn Schneider.

Choosing the right venue is as important in the choral art as choosing the right singers and music. For this repertoire, St. Philip was an excellent choice. In Mulieribus chose to sing from three different locations in the sanctuary, each with its own acoustical properties: the back, very clear for the polyphony involved, and a ring time of about two seconds; the front, at least another second of ring time, but less supportive of polyphonic clarity for that reason; and the side, where there is a natural “shell,”  still another variation in what the audience heard, maybe two and a half seconds ring time, and a bit clearer. How refreshing to hear a choir use the whole space, to capitalize on the best placement within the space. Brava!

A welcome part of the program was a set of three pieces played on the organ by Hannah Brewer, two dances (a galliard and a volta) and finally the “Queen’s Alman,” interspersed among the choral settings. These pieces are published for, and presumably originally played, on the virginal. Since the very fast runs were occasionally murky, one wonders if the instrument of choice here could have been a virginal (unlikely here) or harpsichord, and if using one of those plucked-string instruments instead of the organ, with its longer tones, would have helped clarity.

I myself would have welcomed a nod to the secular beyond the keyboard. Byrd composed many brilliant madrigals. Why not include a few of those to take a break from the inexorable liturgical texts? Or were secular texts disallowed here?

Programmatically, the best was the last: Byrd’s iconic Mass for Three Voices, raised a fourth for this group’s accessibility. The women owned this piece. Polyphonic lines flowed with the consistency of warm syrup. Phrases between sections were absolutely cloned. The group sang with a wide dynamic palette, without any one singer being over-parted and no “voluptuous” vibrato that would pervert pitches. These qualities pervaded the concert from beginning to end. And this is a team that should not trade or sell any of its players at anytime in the near future.

If you are a Byrd watcher, you’ll be able to see and hear many singers and fans as Portland’s annual Byrd Festival’s 17th edition gets underway in August at St. Stephen’s Catholic church, led by founder Dean Applegate and Director of Cantores in Ecclesia, Blake Applegate. McCarthy will be a guest there as well, along with British musician Mark Williams and David Trendell.

june 11, 2014 in Oregon Arts Watch by Bruce Browne

Holiday Choral Wrap 2: In Mulieribus and The Ensemble, Alternative Christmas music

"England and Christmas go together like the holly and the ivy, at least in the American imagination. On the wet side of the Cascades, both plants spread like the proliferation of Dickens and Handel this time of year. Such worthies have their place, but In Mulieribus' program of songs and carols from medieval and contemporary England, "Nowell Syng We" at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church just before Christmas, was a blessed relief – a joyous and beautifully presented alternative view down the centuries towards the roots of our musical traditions."

January 11, 2014 in Oregon Arts Watch by Jeff Winslow

Weekend Music Watch: Promising New Voices

At southeast Portland's St. Stephen's Catholic church, In Mulieribus wrapped up a fine year with transcendent performance of music by the medieval abbess and composer Hildegard of Bingen and contemporary Northwest composers Robert Kyr (a movement from the University of Oregon composer's dazzling From the Circling Wheel) and Katherine P. Thomas (a reprise of the Seattle composer's popular Lux Lucis from an earlier concert), along with works by the rising British composer Tarik O'Regan and Frank Ferko inspired by Hildegard. Nothing can really compare to Hildegard's spiraling, ecstatic melodies, but Kyr married those qualities to modern and other ancient harmonies to produce a piece that worked as tribute and stood on its own. I've praised Thomas's shimmering piece before, and also admired O'Regan's soaring Columba Aspexit. Ferko's Hildegard Motets brought in male singers, a lusher sound (with effective drone), and a soothing tone that at last gave way to spicier harmonies and peppier tempos. Immaculately performed as always by the nonpareil women's vocal ensemble, it effectively combined old and new music. The closest earthly approach to a visitation of angels may be a concert by In Mulieribus.

May 5, 2012 in Oregon artswatch by Brett Campbell

A December Feast (In Mulieribus)

'Tis the season of overfamiliar musical comfort food, so this unusual repast from one of the Northwest's premier vocal ensembles, the all-women early music group In Mulieribus ("amongst women"), is even more welcome than usual. The last millennium contains more 12th-month music than the carols you hear at the mall and, too frequently, the concert hall. The splendid sounds on the group's glorious new CD, A December Feast ($15), all associated with December liturgical feasts on the Christian calendar, range from 13th-century works to music by contemporary composers Maurice Duruflé, Peter Maxwell Davies and Portland's John Vergin.

Half the tracks originated in the 15th century or earlier, including the most substantial: shimmering "Sederunt Principes," by the great 12th-century composer Perotin, whose mesmerizing organum technique creates a rich tapestry of interweaving vocal lines. It's probably the most beautiful sound you will hear this season. Many early music groups excel at a single style, but In Mulieribus floats through ethereal medieval and modern works as expertly as it soars over more exuberant music by the great Renaissance composers Palestrina and Tomás Luis de Victoria, and a full-throated "Personent Hodie" adeptly arranged by Craig Kingsbury.

The reverberant acoustics of Portland's St. Stephens Cathedral, where the album was recorded in 2009, produce a serene, echoey sound that, thanks to the group's precision and smart choices by director Anna Song, never lapses into blurriness or gooeyness. Unlike some groups that strive for a uniform blend that sometimes descends into mashed-potato blandness, Song so adroitly balances the voices that we can bask in their rich harmonies while at the same time hearing each distinctive voice clearly.

While you're unlikely to have heard much of this music before, you'll certainly appreciate its stirring, comforting beauty. It's the musical equivalent of a hot toddy, ideal for a season that makes us crave musical warmth with a little kick. The group will sing some of this material, along with much more music from medieval monasteries, Renaissance cathedrals, and even the 20th century, plus some traditional European carols, in concert next Tuesday. It'll be the best classical concert of the season.

dec 15, 2010 in WILLAMETTE WEEK by Brett Campbell

In Mulieribus manages a late Christmas treat

Like many of us stymied by the winter weather, the women's vocal group In Mulieribus (whose name is Latin for "among women") was late with a Christmas gift: Its Dec. 22 concert had to be moved to Sunday, Dec. 28. But a full house at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church received it gratefully, and well they should have, as this septet is among the most accomplished and appealing new ensembles formed in Portland in several years.

The foundation of the thoughtfully designed program was the so-called "O antiphons," a set of seven responses which have accompanied the "Magnificat" at Vespers during the last week of Advent for centuries. Each is based on one of the attributes of the messiah as named by the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament (and preceded by 'O,' hence the name): 'O Sapientia"("O Wisdom"), "O Radix Jesse"("O Root of Jesse") and so on.

In the first half, each antiphon was offered in plainsong along with other thematically related pieces ranging from works of Hildegard von Bingen and Perotin to 13th-century French carols to Renaissance motets. Even though all but one of the pieces in this half was written before the 17th century, there was huge variety in technique and expressiveness, without a dull moment.

The second half opened with a setting of the "Magnificat"by Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina followed by a new setting of the O antiphons by contemporary Norwegian composer Wolfgang Plagge. The latter was a world premiere -- the piece was written in 2003 for an ensemble which disbanded before performing it -- as well as a fascinating and promising foray into new music for In Mulieribus. Its bitonal harmonic language was modern, but the structure and meditative mood clearly echoed sacred settings from many centuries before.

Under the direction of the felicitously named co-founder Anna Song, the singing was exquisite, with nicely-turned phrases and a well-blended pure tone. The six singers (Tuesday Rupp, Kari Ferguson, Jo Routh, Catherine van der Salm, Shaelyn Schneider and Ann Wetherell) have years of experience both as scholars and singers, often working together in other Portland ensembles, and it showed. They were sensitive to the music, the texts, each other and the live acoustic in the room.

In Mulieribus is reminiscent of the all-female it group of early music in the 1990s, Anonymous 4. Now that that ensemble has formally broken up (and has gone over largely to American folk music when it does reunite), there's a place to be filled, and these women are on course to being able to fill it.


In Mulieribus Does it Again

The new recording by In Mulieribus, a Portland-based, all-women vocal ensemble that specializes in early music, just arrived, and once again I can't take it off the CD player. Here it is.

The recording was made from live performances from 2004-2008. I often cringe when I see something described as live because it often means background noise and horrid clapping but there is none of that here - which I point out if that would deter you in the same way it might me.

Like their previous CD, they manage to unite scholarship, performance excellence, and accessibility. So you learn from their musical discoveries (there are many on this CD), you are astounded at the mastery and balance, and it is immediately affecting even for someone who has not somehow cultivated a specialist's taste in early music. Even more a listener who knows none of this music, their performances make the genre very convincing.

The CD explores a greater range of repertoire, including Renaissance polyphony (Victoria, Palestrina, Morley, Morales), which is precisely the music I was aching to hear them sing after listening to their first CD. I'm not sure that there is anything else like this on the market: women's voices taking on this music with vigor and excellence.

There are revelations here too, such as the Anon. "Portum in ultim" (which could be ancient or modern or anything in between), Machaut's "Quand j'ay l'espart" and the deeply emotional "Adieu m'amour, adieu ma joye" by G. Dufay. There is a Christmas theme at work also with "O Magnum mysterium," Durufle's "Tota plulchra es," and a wonderful version of the traditional carol "Es ist ein' Ros' entsprungen."

There is not a note out of place. It is inspiring CD too, not only for women who aspire to sing this music, in either a liturgical or performance context, but for anyone interested to see how this early music can speak to us so magnificently in our time. An excellent job. I'm not entirely sure how the marketing end of singing groups works but it strikes me that there is a great future for these singers.

OCT 13, 2008 in New Liturgical movement by Jeffrey Tucker

Review of Notre Dame de Grâce

CD: In Mulieribus, Notre Dame de Grâce (self-produced): In Mulieribus ("Among Women") consists of seven Portland female singers who sing music written mainly before 1750. Here, they sing 10 medieval chants of stark, enchanting beauty from the famous Notre Dame school. The singing is rhythmically vital, often exuberant, and the sound pure and graceful.

DEC 2007 in the oregonian by david stabler

Service Times & Directions

Weekend Masses in English

Saturday Morning: 8:00 am

Saturday Vigil: 4:30 pm

Sunday: 7:30 am, 9:00 am, 10:45 am,
12:30 pm, 5:30 pm

Weekend Masses In Español

Saturday Vigil: 6:15pm

Sunday: 9:00am, 7:15pm

Weekday Morning Masses

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday: 8:30 am

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