By Jann Benson, Early Music Colorado Quarterly, Volume XIV Number 3-4, Fall/Winter 2006-07

Istanpitta Delights with First Rate Music and Song

EMC’s current concert season got off to a bold start on a windy Saturday evening with an energetic collection of medieval treats presented by Istanpitta. The four members of the ensemble played all manner of medieval instruments, and soprano Abby Green added her fine voice.

Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Saint Mary described the evening’s project. Istanpitta chose their pieces from Cantigas de Santa Maria, a thirteenth-century collection commissioned by Alphonso X, ruler of a large part of Spain. Music, subject manner, and style were all inspired by that period and place. It was a time of much social variety, including Christian, Jewish and Islamic elements actively integrated into Spanish society with considerable interchange and forebearance.

The pilgrimage format of the concert and cultural varieties represented in the cantigas offered many opportunities to tell stories through combinations of song, music, and narration. Some pieces were happy, some very comical, and some sad. All were entertaining, appealing, and done superbly well with a sense of informality and fun. Not to be out-done by all that plucking, bowing, and blowing of instruments, the soprano used a wide range of textures with her fine voice, altering it as the context demanded.

The ensemble also made extensive use of drum, played in the Arab style with the fingers of both hands. Although they represented thirteenth-century musicians, the performers hesitated not at all to include anachronisms when appropriate. In their song about a glutton whom Santa Maria miraculously revived from death-by-choking, they recruited our own Paul Brunson to pantomime the part of the glutton. He ate a lamb and a rabbit and whatever other stuffed animals the group could find for him. After coughing up the enormous rabbit bone he rose from the dead with good humor. One of their last pieces was about a pork chop, and sure enough, they had a pork chop with them. It even squeaked.

The whole evening of music and stories hurried along with fun and laughter and good will. Regis University’s music program provided us with a fine venue for the performance, and afterwards treated us to a generous reception. There we had a chance to talk with the artists and see their extraordinary instruments more closely.

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