Truffles, Chocolate, and Champagne: A Recipe for Success
After winning the Naxos/EMA Recording Competition, the Catacoustic Consort plans for the future
by Mark Powell, Early Music America
Before Annalisa Pappano decided to form her own early music group, she looked around for an ensemble that could be a steady creative outlet for her. Not finding the right match in her new home of Cincinnati, Ohio, she decided to establish the Catacoustic Consort. The group has experienced a meteoric rise since its founding in 2001 and is the Grand Prize Winner in this year’s EMA/Naxos recording competition. Catacoustic will record Passion and Pain: The Art of the 17th-century Italian Lament for Naxos; the recording sessions are planned for Spring 2004 in Toronto.
“I play weird instruments,” Pappano quips. “I know I'm not going to have constant work playing the lirone, trble viol, and pardessus de viole. I also play the viola da gamba, which is unusual enough, but I play all the weird ones on top of that.” (The lirone is a bowed string instrument with anywhere from 9 to 14 strings, and only plays chords. The pardessus is a type of treble viol.)
Catacoustic Consort is a group with a flexible membership. Pappano, who is a graduate of Indiana University’s Early Music Institute, invites musicians from around the U.S. and the world for specific programs, often colleagues from her time at Indiana or fellow musicians she has met performing in other groups.
Catacoustic Consort takes its name from the acoustics of echoes, of reflected sound. Pappano says “it doesn’t really matter what it means, but that it sticks in people's minds." The incarnation of the Catacoustic Consort that won the EMA/Naxos Competition is a Baroque quartet, with Pappano on viol and lirone, soprano Catherine Webster, Michael Leopold on theorbo, and Becky Baxter on Italian triple harp. Pappano looks for musicians who are not only talented players and singers but also people who are easy to work with. “I met Cassie (Catherine) Webster at Indiana University, where I was blown away by her singing and also discovered she was a really great person to work with,” she says. Pappano met Leopold and Baxter while playing at the Houston Grand Opera. “I don’t only want the talent,” she says confidently, “but I want the whole package, fun people who are easygoing, too.”
Catherine Webster is thrilled to be performing with Pappano. Also a graduate of Indiana University’s Early Music Institute, Webster is an active and flexible artist, performing with a great variety of ensembles and festivals around the country, from RECONSTRUCTION, a new all-female Baroque quartet based in San Francisco, to a bluegrass trio with her sister Chris Webster and flatpicker Scott Nygaard. “I knew Annalisa’s work when we were in graduate school together, so I said yes to the project. Catacoustic Consort is my favorite continuo group to sing with for early 17th-century Italian music, music closest to my heart— it’s so evocative. Singing with the combination of harp and theorbo is great, but the lirone, with its beautiful, delicate, sustained sound, is especially supportive to a singer. It breathes the same way I do; the colors of the band are really beautiful. And Annalisa takes such good care of us, feeding us truffles and chocolate and champagne.”
Lutenist Michael Leopold traveled all the way from Milan to enjoy the same good food and good music making. Leopold met Pappano, as well as Becky Baxter, when they were performing together in the orchestra of Houston Grand Opera during a production of Monteverdi’s Poppea. “It’s been good to be back in the States working here in early music. Catacoustic has provided lots of opportunities for me: the recent Charpentier opera and some duet concerts, too. I hope we have lots of opportunities in the future.” A resident of the United States, Leopold is currently in Milan studying with Paul Beier and playing lute and theorbo.
Becky Baxter also spent time in Milan, studying historical harp with Mara Galassi. Now she makes her home in Houston, Texas, and plays Italian triple harp for Catacoustic Consort. “I’m preparing to drive up again to Cincinnati for more concerts with Annalisa,” she sighs. The journey is about 19 hours of driving time alone. “It’s worth it,” says Baxter. “I really love playing with Annalisa, Michael, and Cassie. The music is great, and the ensemble terrific.” Like Pappano, Baxter also plays unusual instruments. The Italian triple harp used for the “Passion and Pain” program has two rows of diatonic strings on the outside, with an inside row of chromatic notes.
I can do my dream projects with Catacoustic, not just the standard repertoire. The early music world is special, because it's about the joy of discovering new things. ~ Annalisa Pappano
Pappano is proud of this particular band. “This quartet is really a dream team,” she beams. “We have such a good time together, magical rehearsals and moving performances.” Pappano is confident that she’ll be able to attract perhaps these or other professional players to the Cincinnati area on a permanent basis.
Annalisa Pappano’s confidence shines through in all that she does. The Catacoustic Consort has a clear mission to appeal to new non-traditional audiences, to create programs that engage various disciplines of the arts and humanities, and to attract and retain professional musicians to the Midwest.
“We reach out to our audience through program notes; audience members say to me, ‘More pictures please!’ I found out the program notes were being passed around local university-area coffee shops. I met a young 20-something woman at a party who came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you’re the pardessus lady.’ She hadn’t been to my concert but had read all the program notes in a café. A few months later she celebrated her birthday by bringing a dozen or so of her friends to one of my concerts.” Initially inspired by two grants from state humanities councils, Pappano realized that her audience expected these notes, with or without a grant. She also talks about the music to her audiences, explaining the music’s cultural context “beyond the notes.” Her approach has paid off in audience development.
“I like mixed audiences,” Pappano says. “At one marketing seminar I attended, the speaker said, ‘If you market to young people, you will attract all ages.’ As long as they’re happy about being at my concerts and leave with that spark, then that’s all I want.”
She and her three companions encountered new and non-traditional audiences at their performance of “Passion and Pain” at the 20/20 II Festival in Cincinnati. The festival celebrates “everything that is cool, hip, edgy, exciting, and funky about the arts.” Pappano is proud to be involved. “They invited us after seeing a poster for one of our concerts.” “Passion and Pain” features 17th-century music by Monteverdi, Peri, Kapsberger, Caccini, and Strozzi, laments designed to purify the emotions of their hearers through a sort of Aristotelian catharsis. Such an esoteric theme fits right into 20/20, a 20-day and 20-night eclectic arts festival designed to showcase the best Cincinnati has to offer in the arts, from opera to sculpture to Sunday Gospel brunches to performance poetry. The event is geared in particular for young people, with three subscription options: one for full-time students, one for under 30s and one for “everyone else,” for the “hip and the hip replacements.”
"Cincinnati is a great place to be an artist,” says Pappano. “There aren’t many people doing early music here, but the city has a great cultural life. This new festival is a great way to get people out and engaged with the arts.” Thanks to Pappano and her ensemble, the world of Baroque music is becoming accessible to an emerging new audience of modern people who are hungry for something new and different.
The ensemble is staying busy in that mission. In September, Catacoustic Consort produced the opera La Déscente d’Orphée aux Enfers (The Descent of Orpheus to Hell) by Charpentier within the frame of The Festival of the New in Cincinnati. “People are attracted to early music because it’s new,” says Pappano. She is not afraid of risks. “I can do my dream projects with Catacoustic, not just the standard repertoire. The early music world is special, because it’s about the joy of discovering new things.”
When asked what advice she would give to other emerging early music groups, she says, “I’ve learned a lot in the last several years, particularly from the Cincinnati group, The Fine Arts Fund, that educates and helps arts groups develop. For example, we were paired with a former marketing executive from Procter and Gamble to gain his expertise. This is the best advice I can offer: Ask for help. It’s really important to relinquish control in certain areas. Obtaining money is not the most important thing; but rather obtaining knowledge from members of the community.”
Although many years have passed since as a teenager she took up the viola da gamba at Interlochen Arts Academy, her teachers Mark Cudek and Anne Marie Morgan still inspire her. “I still feel the energy of their teaching,” she says. “Wendy Gillespie from Indiana University has also been a great influence as one of my teachers and has been a great mentor and supporter of Catacoustic Consort.”
While she doesn’t yet have regular students of her own, Pappano says “my job right now, my goal, is to inspire my audience. I love that.”
Reprinted with permission from the Winter 2003-04 issue of Early Music America magazine, © 2003 Early Music America, Inc.