Welcoming Stile in Style?
April 7, 2011
The top-notch British early music vocal ensemble, Stile Antico, was in town for its west coast debut last night. I have been an avid listener of Stile since a friend first introduced me to the 12-member a cappella ensemble three years ago or so but had never experienced them live.
Having lately subsisted on the gossamer-pure and sometimes colorless sound of local male soprano-led men's choirs like Chanticleer and Clerestory performing this repertoire, I have to say that it was tremendously refreshing to hear a mixed group sing works by Byrd, Gibbons, Cornysh, Guerrero and others. The three female sopranos in Stile Antico -- Helen Ashby, Kate Ashby and Rebecca Hickey -- sing with tons of warmth and loads of welly. Their high notes not only soar up to the rafters, but they pack a punch. My skin prickled and tingled with their every top G and A.
The only downside to the whole experience was a feeling of embarrassment: An ensemble of this renown and caliber (Stile Antico is considered to be one of the best in the world for this type of repertoire -- read Alex Ross' recent article in the New Yorker about Renaissance vocal polyphony, which mentions the group alongside the other top players in the field) should not be performing in a half-filled, acoustically-challenged church in the hard-to-access Pacific Heights neighborhood.
Calvary Presbyterian was a gracious host, I'm sure, but Cal Performances or San Francisco Performances should have presented the west coast debut of Stile Antico at Zellerbach Hall or the Herbst Theatre with tons more outreach around the event. As it was, the attempts to publicize the concert were meagre to say the least. I only found out about it through a friend who happens to have grown up with some of the members of the group. I never received a press release and as far as I could tell, there was only one critic in the house -- someone from San Francisco Classical Voice. Pathetic.
Still, I felt privileged to be in the room with such an extraordinary group of vocalists. Despite chafing about the logistical side of things, I felt completely transformed by the music. I hope that the ensemble returns here again soon. Next time they come, let's welcome Stile with more Style.