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From Ghetto to Cappella
Interfaith Exchanges in the Music of Baroque Italy

Thursday, November 16th at 8:00pm

The Brotherhood Synagogue, 28 Gramercy Park South, New York, NY 10003


Detail of map of Venice from Civitates Orbis Terrarum Cologne: 1572-1617. Courtesy of George Glazer Gallery


Our program of Italian music opens with an unaccompanied Yemeni chant. The text by Dunash ha-Levi ben Labrat (920-990) is a prayer for peace and freedom, a prayer in praise of the Sabbath, a prayer for security by an uprooted people.

Jews from the Middle East were transplanted to Italy as early as Ancient Roman times, as Jews expelled from Spain found a home there after 1492. Italian Jewish communities incorporated descendants of both Sephardic refugees as well as those of slaves brought back from Judaea by conquering Roman armies. That the Jewish presence in Italy was characterized by the familiar and precarious balance between assimilation and exile is well known. What is less commonly explored is the cross-fertilization between Jewish and Christian musical cultures, and the impact this exchange had on mainstream compositional voices of the seicento.

Salon/Sanctuary Concerts presented a concert dedicated to the music of the groundbreaking Renaissance Italian-Jewish composer Salomone Rossi (1570-1630) for four consecutive years. Rossi flourished as both a composer and violinist in the court of Mantua and revolutionized the sacred music of his own people by incorporating musical forms that had previously been forbidden in the synagogue. His sister was an opera singer who premiered roles in some of the very first operas that were ever written. He achieved a remarkable level of acceptance at a time of great intolerance. He lived in two worlds, and that is why our concert dedicated to him has always been called From Ghetto to Palazzo, in reference to the Ghetto of his people and the Palazzo of the people he served.

Title Page of Salamone Rossi Songs of Solomon

Frontispiece of The Songs of Solomon of Salomone Rossi

Salomone Rossi revolutionized sacred Jewish music and created an uproar by setting Hebrew texts to polyphony, a form considered too lavish and thus unbefitting a people in exile. Just as Rossi reshaped the music of the synagogue by incorporating the forbidden polyphony of the church, many Christian composers brought sweeping changes to their sacred music by absorbing sounds they heard from neighboring Jewish ghettos. Nowhere was this more prevalent than in Venice. Numerous Venetian sacred compositions reveal modes and melodies so closely associated with the synagogue that it is next to impossible not to bring up the comparison of Temple and Church. This is why our current exploration, which goes beyond the work of Rossi, is called From Ghetto to Cappella.

17th century Venice was a melting pot with many parallels to modern day New York. Jewish ghettos co-existed with Turkish and Armenian ones, while relatively liberal social attitudes for the time allowed for a degree of social exchange between people of different religions. Venice was not just the city we know today, but the region of the Veneto, which encompassed Salomone Rossi’s Mantua as well as a number of other cities and towns. The ghetto walls which separated Gentile from Jew were more porous than impenetrable. Many Christians went to the ghettos for entertainment as well as edification, visiting synagogue services in order to experience an ancient tradition that gave foundation to their own. That this curiosity did nothing to prevent frequent acts of violence against Jews is fascinating, and gives a picture of a Jewish community perched uneasily between acculturation and expulsion.


Click on the image above to hear Benedetto Marcello's transcription of Ma'Oz Tsur

Salomone Rossi makes an appearance in our program with two canzoni written for the pleasure of the Gonzaga court. Along with Rossi we hear Benedetto Marcello (1686 – 1739), whose Estro Poetico Armonico (1724) includes Hebrew chants inserted between Psalm settings in Italian which take their melodies from the chants. Another composer whose work suggests a Jewish influence is Barbara Strozzi (1619 – 1677), who was unique not only for being a successful female composer in a time of limited options for women, but for possessing a singular artistic voice which shined through works of striking invention that stand the test of time and sound radical even today. Her Salve Regina daringly sets a standard Christian sacred text to a Byzantine chant-like opening, and in the opening of her Lagrime mie, one discerns elements of cantorial chant deployed in the expression of an abandoned lover’s laments.

Francesco Durante (1684 – 1755) was a Neapolitan composer known for his sacred compositions. His aria Vergin tutto amor has become engrained in the consciousness of classical singers everywhere due to its inclusion in the collection of 24 Italian Songs and Arias with which so many of us in the United States begin our vocal study. The song is known as a pedagogical piece, and as it is uprooted from its historical context, we know Vergin tutto amor as an isolated work rather than as an excerpt from a mass or motet. However the phrygian mode discernable in the descending scale which sets the text O madre pia (merciful mother) is known as Freygish, common to Middle Eastern music and Hebrew prayer. Because so little is known about Durante, how the Freygish made its way into this setting of a most Catholic text is an intriguing mystery about which we can only conjecture.

At the dawn of the 18th century, Georg Friedrich Handel’s youthful Italian sojourn in Venice and Rome offered the German composer a lesson in the compositional techniques of the Italian seicento. This education resulted in a compositional output that formed the blueprints for many of his later works which he wrote in London, oratorios which set Old Testament stories to Italianate music. The chamber duet Langue, geme tells a story of a dove separated from her mate, who rootlessly flutters and laments until reunited with her other half.

In 1759, the year of Handel’s death, the Jewish community of Amsterdam commissioned a Hebrew translation of Handel’s London oratorio, Esther, which tells the story of Esther the orphan, the indomitable Jewish heroine who saved her people from extinction under Persian rule. A duet from that work, Mi mavet mi nafshi, concludes our program. In this short piece, Esther’s entreaty finds voice through a Hebrew text.

The translation from English to Hebrew was penned by Jacob Saraval (1707 –1782), Rabbi of Mantua.

– Jessica Gould



Photo of Jessica Gould by Nathan Smith

Soprano and Salon/Sanctuary Founder and Artistic Director Jessica Gould has been noted for her performances, recordings, and innovative research projects that view history through the prism of music. In June 2017, Villa Finaly, the Florentine branch of La Chancellerie des Universités de Paris La Sorbonne, honored her with an invitation to embark on an annual residency to conceive, research, and perform original concert programs that celebrate the historical ties between France and Italy. As a soprano, she has been noted for "a dramatic intensity that honored the texts" (The New York Times), “gorgeous melismatic singing (Voce di Meche) and for having "reached the heart of an enraptured English audience" (Traditional Music Maker, UK). Her recordings include CDs on the MV Cremona, New World Records, and Naxos labels. American radio broadcasts of both live and recorded performances include WQXR, NPR, WWFM, WKCR, and MPR, among others.

In her capacity as Artistic Director of Salon/Sanctuary Concerts, her original programming featuring repertoire spaning a millenium has been praised as "impeccably curated" by Time Out New York, "highly original" by The New York Times, and "imaginative" by New York Magazine. Bilingual in Italian and English, she holds the honor of being the only American ever to have been invited to create original concert programs for three notable Florentine institutions – Palazzo Bardi, Palazzo Guicciardini, and L’Associazione per Boboli, among others.

Chamber music performances include The Guggenheim Works & Process Series with The Cassatt Quartet, The Beinecke Library at Yale University, The Clarion Society, Sinfonia New York, The Four Nations Ensemble, The Virginia Arts Festival, The American Philosophical Society, and as well as guest soloist appearances with numerous ensembles. Presenters abroad include the Istituto Francese, Martedì in Arte at the Palazzo Davanzati, Casa Martelli, the Church of Santissima Annunziata, the Museo di Arte Sacra in Tuscany, Scandicci Cultura, and the Library of the Museo di San Marco (Florence), the Chiesa di Santa Barbara dei Librari, Primavera in Musica (Rome), the UK Lute Society (London) and Hengrave Hall (Bury St. Edmunds, UK).

From Ghetto to Cappella, her original program commemorating the 500th anniversary of the creation of the Venetian Ghetto, was chosen by Carnegie Hall for inclusion in its La Serenissima Festival in February of 2017. In 2016, the program received the patrocinio of the Comune di Sabbioneta, Italy, where it was performed in the Teatro all’Antica, a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of three remaining Renaissance Theaters in the world, constructed in 1590.


Elena Biscuola

Mezzo-soprano Elena Biscuola has garnered widespread critical acclaim for appearances in some of the most noted European early music festivals, (Regensberg, Resonanzen, Ambronay, Beaune, Utrecht, and Brugge, etc.) with such esteemed groups as La Risonanza, L’Arte dell’Arco, Concerto Italiano, Concerto Köln, Cappella Artemisia, Complesso Barocco, La Venexiana, under the direction of such leaders as Ton Koopman, Allan Curtis, Fabio Bonizzoni, Rinaldo Alessandrini, Davide Pozzi, and Federico Guglielmo.

She can be heard on a wide range of recordings, released on the Amadeus, Brilliant, Chados, Clavis, Carlus-Verlag, Gaudeamus, Onclassical, Naxos, Stradivarius, and Tactus labels. Among her most recent CDs is the 2017 Glossa release of La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’Isola d’Alcina, of Francesca Caccini. Her performance of the role of Alcina under the direction of Elena Sartori has earned enthusiastic critical praise from many media outlets, among which are Grammophone, the Sunday Times of London, and Orpheus.

Performances of contemporary compositions include the modern-day premiere of the opera Menocchio of R. Miani, presented as part of the Mittelfest Festival, while competition victories include the Vercelli International Lieder Competition, the International Vocal Chamber Music Competition of Conegliano, and the International Competition “Luca Marenzio.” She has performed Romantic repertoire under the batons of A. Ballista, R. Buchbunderm and T. Severini, having studied German Lieder with Dietrich Fischer Dieskau.

Ms. Biscuola graduated with highest marks from the Conservatory of Vicenza, where she studied with Gloria Banditelli. She also holds a degree from the Torino Conservatory, where she graduated with highest marks under the guidance of Erik Battaglia.

Elena is a native of Milan and makes her home near Venice, Italy.

“lovely dark color, accomplished technique and dramatic panache” – Carlo Vitali, Opera Today

“Biscuola’s rich, honeyed alto and impassioned delivery breathed life into Alba Tressina’s Vulnerasti cor meum (You have ravished my heart); her vivid declamation and carefully nuanced phrases made this piece a standout of the evening." – Joseph Sargent, San Francisco Classical Voice

“Elena Biscuola is a seductive and mature Alcina” – Alexandra Coghlan, Grammophone

“Elena Biscuola’s superbly controlled and dramatically paced performance successfully exploits every textual nuance, in a finely shaded depiction of Alcina’s shifting emotional states.” – Iain Fenlon, Classicalarte.net


Charles Weaver

Charles Weaver performs on early plucked-string instruments both as a recitalist and as an accompanist. Chamber music appearances include Quicksilver, Early Music New York, Piffaro, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Folger Consort, Blue Heron, Musica Pacifica, and the Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble. He is on the faculty of the Juilliard School, where he teaches Historically Informed Performance on Plucked Instruments. In 2016, he was the assistant conductor for Juilliard Opera’s production of Cavalli’s La Calisto. He also works with the New York Continuo Collective: an ensemble of players and singers exploring seventeenth-century vocal music in semester-length workshop productions. He has taught at the Lute Society of America Summer Workshop, the Madison Early Music Festival, and the Western Wind Workshop in ensemble singing. He is associate director of music at St Mary Church in Norwalk, Connecticut, where he specializes in Renaissance polyphony.


Photo of Loren Ludwig by Stephen de las Heras

Loren Ludwig is a scholar/performer based in Baltimore, MD. As a musicologist he explores the social dimensions of musical polyphony—how musical counterpoint fosters social relationships among those who play or sing it and what we can learn about those relationships by studying past musical cultures. Loren received a PhD in musicology from the University of Virginia and his work has been supported by the Fulbright Program, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the American Musicological Society.

As a performer, Loren seeks the balance of passion and precision in his music making. Praised for his “outstanding” playing by the Washington Post, Loren aspires to the generosity that he hears in the most inspiring music around him. In demand for his solo playing (he recently performed as viola da gamba soloist in the American Premier of George Benjamin’s opera Written on Skin at Lincoln Center), Loren will never pass up an opportunity to play polyphony. He is a co-founder of LeStrange Viols and performs with ACRONYM, the Smithsonian Consort of Viols, the Folger Consort, Hesperus, and a slew of other ensembles that specialize in consort music, the harmonious combination of multiple instruments of the same family.


Elliot Figg

Elliot Figg is a keyboardist, conductor and composer from Dallas, Texas. He is a graduate of the Historical Performance Program at The Juilliard School where he studied harpsichord with Kenneth Weiss. He has also studied with Arthur Haas at the Yale School of Music. Elliot is an active member of several New York based early music and contemporary ensembles, including ACRONYM, New York Baroque Incorporated, and New Vintage Baroque. Recent engagements include: Conductor and harpsichordist for L'Amant Anonyme with Little Opera Theatre of New York; assistant conductor and harpsichordist for Cavalli's Veremonda with Spoleto Festival USA; assistant conductor and harpsichordist for Dido and Aeneas with L.A. Opera; assistant conductor and harpsichordist for Alcina and Orlando with WhiteboxLab. Elliot received Bachelor's and Master's degrees in music composition from the University of North Texas where he studied composition with Cindy McTee and Joseph Klein, and harpsichord with Lenora McCroskey. His own works combine baroque performance techniques with altered tuning systems and modern formal approaches.

Salon/Sanctuary Concerts is a project of the Fire Department Theatre Company, Inc., a 501 (c ) 3 non-profit organization. All donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.

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