Friday, December 27, 2013

Commissioned by Concerts at The Cloisters at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and recently toured in New England under a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, GEMS’s production of The Play of Daniel features a cast of two dozen singers, dancers, and musicians under the direction of celebrated early music interpreters Drew Minter and Mary Anne Ballard. 

Age-old issues of politics and power will resonate with modern audiences as the Play tells two stories from the Old Testament Book of Daniel:  a wise man, alone, reads “the writing on the wall” warning of the fall of corrupt leaders.  He dares to speak “truth to power” and his readings prove correct.  Under a new leader he is framed by advisors jealous of his status, and he is thrown to the lions.  But his integrity is rewarded by being saved by an angel.

“For modern audiences—both adults and children—the play is an engaging and entertaining elaboration of timeless themes,” says Gene Murrow, Executive Director of GEMS, “as well as an important moment in the history of musical story-telling that would ultimately lead to the development of opera.  Engaging the diverse, abundant talents and resources available in New York’s early music community, GEMS’ production of The Play of Daniel is becoming a part of the City’s annual holiday musical traditions, and a welcome complement to Handel’s Messiah.

The one-hour performances are in historic Trinity Wall Street Church, close to the 9/11 Memorial, allowing audiences time to experience two important City landmarks.

Dates/Times: Friday evening, December 27, 2013 at 8 pm

Saturday afternoon, December 28, 2013 at 3 pm

Sunday afternoon, December 29, 2013 at 3 pm

Tickets:          $20 / $40 / $60 All seats reserved

Call, online, or at the Door

Background of “The Play of Daniel”:

The New York Pro Musica’s 1958 modern premiere of the Play of Daniel (Danielis ludus) was arguably the single most important early music event in the United States in the twentieth-century. Not only did Noah Greenberg and his forces bring a great work of medieval musical art to life in the excellent transcription by the Rev. Rembert Weakland, O.S.B.—but they also set a new standard for the performance of early music altogether, inspiring future generations to enter the field and spawning perhaps hundreds of new Daniel productions that followed.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Greenberg’s production, Metropolitan Museum of Art Educator Nancy Wu joined with musicologist and ensemble director Mary Anne Ballard and Gotham Early Music Scene’s Gene Murrow to create a new production for 2008.  Four performances were given at The Cloisters on December 20th and 21st, with musical direction by Mary Anne and stage direction by Drew Minter.  The new production allowed still another group of committed early musicians to experience the beauty of the work and to grapple with its interpretive questions.

The creative act that brought our Play of Daniel into being—the inventio of the “youth of Beauvais”—occurred sometime in the latter part of the twelfth century. The play appears to be a collaboration of a brilliant redactor and perhaps his students, who assembled a sequence of pre-existing processionals and a variety of newly-composed music. The resulting Danielis ludus stands as a festive anthology, drawing from genres familiar from within the Church and without. Each processional (conductus), usually accompanying the entrance or exit of a main character, tells a story that comments on the drama rather than participating in it. In medieval times, the men and boys who originally performed the play, perhaps at the Feast of Fools on January 1st, would have switched back and forth between their roles as dramatis personae and their usual functions as choristers of Beauvais Cathedral.

Although instruments are mentioned a little in the rubrics and the song texts, the notation is far too early to include a special part for instruments. (The notation doesn't give anything but pitch--we don't even know what rhythms they used in the original performance.)  There are no references to instruments in the stage directions (rubrics) except for "cytharistae" (cithera players) which are coming "before King Darius" and also in the same rubric for the Darius processional, "psallentes" an adjective modifying "Principes"  from the verb "psallare" -- Darius's nobles are playing or singing to the cithera.  

Beyond the rubrics, there are other instruments mentioned within the conductus texts of the Play of Daniel, and the language usage is that of the psalms, but instead of praising the Lord, the singers are praising a king:  "Simul omnes gratulemur; resonent et tympana; Cytharistae tangant cordas; musicorum organa resonet ad ejus praeconia."    Tympana = drums / cytharistae= stringed instrument players /  cordas = strings  /  musicorum organa = instruments of music

We also find words for dancing, applauding, and singing.  Dancing is especially interesting because we are not used to the concept of liturgical dance any more.  The word "tripudium" is found in the same Darius processional that uses "cytharistae, cordas, musicorum organa, and tympana."  The Oxford Latin Dictionary defines the noun "tripudium":  In religious service, a measured stamping, leaping, jumping, dancing, exultant dance, solemn dance." It is also a verb--tripudio, tripudiare--to beat the ground with the feet, leap, jump, etc.  Drew Minter, in his staging, has added dance to the processionals.


Music Director - Mary Anne Ballard
Stage Director - Drew Minter

Belshazzar/Habakuk - Peter Walker, bass
Daniel - James Ruff, tenor
Darius - Jose Lemos, counter-tenor
Magus I/Soldier I/Lion I - Michaell Hoffman, baritone
Magus II/ Soldier II/Lion II - Jeffrey Johnson, baritone
Prince I - Christopher Thompson, tenor
Prince II/Envious Counselor I - Scott Mello, tenor
Prince III/Envious Counselor II - Sorab Wadia, tenor
Queen/Habacuc's Angel - Sarah Pillow, soprano
Satrap I/Angelus (with sword) - Melissa Fogarty, soprano
Satrap II - Amaranta Viera, soprano
Satrap III – Zahrina Brown, soprano
Satrap IV/Medieval lute - Amy Bartram, soprano

Instrumentalist - Harp - Marcia Young
Instrumentalist - Lute/Gittern/Psaltery - Mark Rimple
Instrumentalist - Percussion - Rex Benincasa
Instrumentalist - Rebec - Dongmyung Ahn
Instrumentalist - Recorder/Shawm - Daphna Mor
Instrumentalist - Recorder/Shawm - Rachel Begley

Lighting Director - Brian Barnett
Wardrobe Director - Sasha Richter
Scenic Designer - Stephen Dobay
Stage Manager - Joe Gladstone

About the Directors:

Well-known to international opera and early music audiences as a countertenor for four decades, Drew Minter (Stage Director) now teaches voice, opera, and chamber choir at Vassar College.  With over 60 recordings, Drew sang leading roles in opera companies such as Brussels, Santa Fe, Wolf Trap, Washington, and others, and with symphonies such as Philadelphia, San Francisco and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.  He began his directing career fifteen years ago; he was director of opera for Boston Midsummer Opera and at Göttingen Handel Festival for a number of years.  Other directing credits have included St. Luke’s Orchestra, Lake George Opera, Opéra de Marseilles and numerous university productions.

Mary Anne Ballard (Music Director/rebec/vielle) performs music from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. In the 1970's she toured with the Le Jeu de Robin et Marion and mounted the Play of Daniel with her Collegium Musicum at Penn. She has recorded the music of Purcell, Jenkins, and Lawes with the Oberlin Consort of Viols, and now tours and records with the Baltimore Consort (CDs of English, Scottish and French renaissance and traditional music), and with Galileo's Daughters. In 2012 she created a program “All that was Good of Its Kind” for Soundscapes of Jefferson’s America at Monticello. Ms. Ballard has taught viol and directed early music at Penn, Princeton, and the Peabody Conservatory, and at Oberlin’s summer Baroque Performance Institute. 

About GEMS:

Gotham Early Music Scene (GEMS) is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation founded in 2007 to support and promote early music in New York.  Among our component projects are Midtown Concerts, a series of weekly free daytime concerts; S’Cool Sounds, providing weekly music instruction in elementary school classrooms; GEMS Live!, a booking agency securing paid concert engagements for New York-based ensembles; GEMS Concert Services, serving over 160 organizations and ensembles with marketing, box office, and front-of-house functions; Notes on the Scene, a semi-monthly newsletter emailed to over 6,500 subscribers; collaborations with major New York cultural institutions on special events such as The Play of Daniel and the GEMAS series of early music in the Americas concerts; and fiscal sponsorship and administrative services to emerging ensembles. GEMS is supported by fees for services, the pro bono work of our management and volunteers, and grants from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, private foundations, and generous individual donors.  We invite your interest and support; please visit our website at www.gemsny.org or follow us on Twitter at @earlymusicscene.


Purchase tickets