STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For 21st Century Media
Art and music will combine in a unique concert at Glencairn Museum. The vocal ensemble Les Canards Chantants performs “Echoes in the Great Hall,” which features musical works inspired by the art on display.
Glencairn, a castle-like structure in Bryn Athyn, is the former estate of Raymond Pitcairn and houses his mostly religious art collections. The concert brings his medieval assemblage to life through the music of Machaut, Isaac, Morales, Lassus, Monteverdi, Palestrina and more, according to Robin Bier, co-founder and alto.
In addition to Bier, the ensemble features: Rebecca Hoke, soprano; Katy Avery, soprano; Jeffrey Cutts, tenor; and Graham Bier, bass. The group is a solo-voice ensemble.
“We’re not a choir and we’re not a group of soloists, though each of our singers does have a solo vocal career,” Bier said. “Rather we’re the best of both worlds, with each singer bringing their soloistic chops and ensemble sensibilities to the table.”
She likened the vocal group to a string quartet.
“We’re always one singer per part, with no conductor, which leads to a wonderful artistic freedom in performance,” she said.
Bier has been studying music most of her life. She earned her masters and doctorate degrees in England, where she specialized in early music like the kind to be performed during the concert.
“The history that gave rise to that music is entirely in Europe,” she said. “The UK has an incredible choral tradition.”
She loves early music because of the incredible harmonies and the way voices come together in sacred spaces.
“The kind of music we sing in our group is certainly the sacred music developed hand in hand with the incredible architecture of the medieval period,” she said. “There were composers writing music for singers who sang in those buildings on daily basis.”
Bier is fascinated with history and architecture of the gothic cathedrals.
“Seeing the stained glass and huge high arches and hearing the echoes — the music really comes alive,” she said.
Les Canards Chantants formed in 2011 when the members were all students at the University of York in England. Bier recently returned to the states and so the group now includes singers from England on occasion and also singers from the Philadelphia region.
She’s looking forward to performing at Glencairn.
“The Great Hall is this incredible huge space that has a number of beautiful pieces of medieval and renaissance art, the sorts of things we’re connected to musically,” she said.
The Hall also has a series of stained glass windows, some that are modern replicas of medieval ones from the 12th and 13th centuries, she said. Some of the music they’ll sing is from the same era.
“The idea is to give the audience a chance to hear something that was inspired by that time period and that maybe was heard by people who worshipped beneath those windows,” she said. “It’s a musical tour of the space.”
She hopes that people will enjoy learning about the Hall, the works in it, and the music they’ll perform. She likes learning and sharing what she learns. That’s why she’s so inspired to sing.
“It’s the fascination with early music, but also a desire to help other people hear what I hear in it,” she said. “I want to find ways to make this ancient music somehow relevant and interesting and fresh for people who come to hear us sing.”
IF YOU GO
“Echoes in the Great Hall” a concert by Les Canards Chantants is held Friday, Sept. 19.
Doors open at 7 p.m.; concert begins at 7:30. Glencairn Museum, 1001 Cathedral Road, Bryn Athyn. Admission at the door (no advance sales): $15, students with ID/members $10. Call (267) 502-2600 or visit www.lescanardschantants.com.