Wednesday, July 16, 2008

William Byrd Festival: August 10-24

The William Byrd Festival is surely one of the most spectacular events in the choral arts in the United States, and, for lovers of early music, this event is just essential. This is its tenth anniversary. It occurs August 10-24, 2008, Portland Oregon. As always, it features the best concerts, lectures, liturgies all with the music of William Byrd, "Renaissance England's Greatest Composer."

Actually, the whole idea seems implausible, even impossible, and perhaps for that reason it has really worked. The numbers that attend lectures and services approach the 1000 mark, if you can believe it. It seems that many people are willing to travel long distances and stay a very long time in order to experience excellence in music.

This is due to the dedication of the organizing force Dean Applegate, along with conductor Richard Marlow, as well as Byrd scholars such as Kerry McCarthy, William Mahrt, Richard Turbet, David Trendell, and others. Organists contribute as well. I've personally never attended but the music and fun is legendary. Among all the serious Church musicians I know, the Byrd Festival is the time of the year in which everything else must stop. In other words, it is a real institution and it has made a big difference.

The Latin Church music is covered of course, but also the English music, sacred and secular. In some ways, it makes sense that Byrd would become the subject of so much attention. His music is breathtakingly wonderful and holds up to centuries of examination and study. It has the depth of Mahler, the clarity of Bach, and the complexity of Beethoven (or feel free to random mix those traits among all those names). Also, he lived a fascinating life, carefully surviving and thriving as a composer during the most intense period of religious upheaval in England. During a long period, he lived double life: public loyalty to the Queen while privately composing Masses for private estates and even assisting in the hiding of priests.

It makes for wonderful romance and storytelling -- an inspiring life to go along with his eternally inspiring music.

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