Vibrant Program of Medieval Music Performed by Istanpitta and Utopia

Posted on September 12, 2011 by Edward Reichel

Istanpitta and Utopia Early Music, Chevrefoil, Vieve Gore Concert Hall, Westminster College, Sept. 12

That medieval music sounds strange and exotic to modern ears should come as no surprise. After all, nearly a millennium separates this music from today. But there are some things that aren’t too foreign to today’s listeners. For one thing there is the expressive content of early music. Contrary to what one might think, the music of the Middle Ages is wonderfully expressive and rich with feelings and deep rooted emotions. Given the rather limited means of expressing ideas, these composers – most of whom are anonymous – were remarkably adept at bringing depth and insight to their works.

Westminster College opened their new concert season Monday with a program of early music that featured a fabulous collaboration between the Texas-based ensemble Istanpitta and Salt Lake City’s own Utopia Early Music. At the core of the program was the Tristan and Isolde story, made famous for later audiences by Richard Wagner, but here related by Marie de France in the second half of the 12th century in her poem Lai du Chevrefoil (The Tale of the Honeysuckle). This was told through narration and song by Utopia’s Christopher LeCluyse and Emily Nelson. Interspersed were numerous instrumental pieces by a number of 13th to 15th century composers. It was a well thought out program that was wonderfully cohesive and organic.

Istanpitta and Utopia brought this music to life. It was an entertaining evening and it was a delight to hear this well known and tragic tale of love recounted in musical terms that reflected the period in which the story takes place. LeCluyse and Nelson narrated (both in French and English) with feeling and sang with conviction and passion. And the five members of Istanpitta (Al Cofrin, Shula Kleinerman, Therese Honey, Tom Zajac and Peter Maund), playing a variety of instruments, gave a first rate performance that conveyed the love they have for this music.

This was an infectious and utterly captivating concert that obviously resonated with the sizable number of people in attendance in Vieve Gore Concert Hall. Bravo to Westminster College for bringing this music out to a larger audience.

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