Houston Early Music 2011-12 Season Opens with Passionate Enemies

Houston Early Music will launch its 2011-12 season with a performance by La Donna Musicale on Sunday, October 2. The concert, which showcases the music of rival German courts of the 18th century, begins at 5 p.m. at Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at 2353 Rice Boulevard, Houston, TX 77005.

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Boston-based La Donna Musicale is a nonprofit research, education and performance organization dedicated to highlighting music by women composers from the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods, as well as contemporary works. The ensemble uses period instruments and historically based productions to showcases the compositions. 

 For their Houston program, Passionate Enemies, La Donna Musicale presents music by women composers at courts of Frederic the Great and the House of Hapsburg. For these powerful foes on the battlefield, the competitive spirit extended to the salon, where passions ran high and nothing was spared in their lavish quest of the arts.

 Soprano Shari Alise Wilson and countertenor Gerrod Pagenkopf perform with the ensemble that includes violins, viola, violone, harpsichord and viola da gamba.

 Music by Frederic’s sister, Wilhelmine, and Anna Bon goes up against Hapsburg-sponsored Camilla de Rossi and Maria Teresa Agnesi.

 “For all of these rulers, music was a vehicle to express not only passions but also power,” said Laury Gutiérrez, director of La Donna Musicale. “They spared no effort in presenting the best music and musicians, just as they spared no effort in fighting military battles. Their passion for triumph was the same.”

 Gutiérrez explained that La Donna Musicale focuses on pieces that have not yet been recorded.

 “The 18th century is an exciting period: you have composers such as Handel and Camilla de Rossi that sound Baroque; ­­­­you have composers ­­such as CPE Bach and Anna Bon that sound Pre-classical and you also have composers such as Haydn and Maria Teresa Agnesi that sound Classical. Also, the genres of oratorio and opera demonstrate the abilities of the composers on a larger scale than we generally find in the 17th century,” she said.

Gutiérrez will present a pre-concert talk at 4:15 p.m. focusing on the historical background of the music and composers.

 Exploring history through music is a Houston Early Music hallmark. The group follows music from the Middle Ages through the 18th century, providing unique programming and world-class concerts performed with historical instruments and styles true to the period.

The theme for the 2011-2012 season is “Reimagining the Past.” For the five programs are on the schedule this year, Nancy Ellis, artistic director, has scouted top talent from around the country.

 “This season’s concerts will appeal to early-music devotees as well as those who have not yet experienced the energy and spontaneity of early music,” Ellis said.

 Ellis added that hearing music written 500 years ago with modern ears is a journey of discovery. “It is a great opportunity to explore the rhythmic intricacies, fascinating harmony and passion of music that is an important part of our past,” she said.