Mercury Welcomes Lauren Snouffer in A BAROQUE CHRISTMAS, 12/7 & 8


Mercury is elated to welcome a Mercury-favorite, soprano Lauren Snouffer, to A Baroque Christmas on Dec. 7 & 8 at the Wortham Center, Cullen Theater. The repertoire is entirely Baroque, featuring both popular and unique Christmas favorites!

Lauren is a critically acclaimed soprano and graduate of both Juliard and the Rice Shepherd School of Music. Her bio is below; details about the program follow.

Lauren Snouffer graces the holiday season and the Mercury stage with vocal excellence that accents any season. In previous appearances with Mercury Lauren sang in Rameau’s opera-ballet Les Indes Galantes (Zima) and presented the roles of Phénice and La Gloire in the modern adaptation of the Lully opera Armide. Critical acclaim has greeted Lauren on many occasions. She performed as a New Horizons Fellow at the Aspen Music Festival. The New York Times noted that in her performance of the arias in Handel’s Judas Maccabeus she was “adept at Handelian filigree and gave beautiful accounts” alone and together with the mezzo-soprano. In fact Lauren was a finalist in the 2012 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, selected to represent our region in the Grand Finals Concert and thereby securing a reputation as among the very best. By the way, the video of a Brahms Requiem with The Texas Medical Center Orchestra is well worth a listen and establishes a bit of Houston home-town pride.

In fact Lauren has performed many times with Houston based groups, among them the Bach Society and the Houston Grand Opera where she is currently a member of the Opera Studio. She appeared recently with the Opera as Rosina in IL Barbiere di Siviglia, as Lucia in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, and as Thibault in Verdi’s Don Carlos. International credits include performance at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, with more overseas engagements scheduled soon. Her modern repertoire includes Conrad Susa’s two-act opera Transformations (as Princess). She embraces musicals as well; she appeared as Minnie in Annie Get Your Gun, and is scheduled in 2013 for Ellie in ShowBoat with The Houston Grand Opera.

Lauren did her undergraduate work in music at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music, and holds a master's degree from the Juilliard School. She is a native of Austin, Texas, which is currently home base. On a national level, she sings soprano with Conspirare's Company of Voices, "a dream team of singers from around the country" headquartered in Austin, Texas. Coincidentally, Lauren has performed in a number of works associated with Christmas or the Christmas season, including Hansel and Gretel (Dew Fairy), Saint-Saens' Christmas Oratorio and of course Handel's Messiah.

The program features:

Corrette Noel Symphony No. 4
Bernhardt Christmas Concert: “Be Not Afraid”
Corelli Christmas Concerto
Scarlatti Christmas Cantata
Torelli Christmas Concerto
Handel Gloria

With so much music written over the past several centuries focusing on the Christmas season – everything from “Silent Night” to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” – it is easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of holiday- oriented material.

Fortunately, A Baroque Christmas! provides a refreshing alternative to this typical sort of holiday fare, presenting a selection of seasonal gems from the 17th and 18th centuries by composers Michel Corrette, Christoph Bernhard, Alessandro Scarlatti, Arcangelo Corelli, and George Frideric Handel.

Michel Corrette (1707 – 1795) was known as a virtuoso organist and distinguished pedagogue. He wrote over 20 volumes of instruction, including method books for violin, cello, bass, flute, recorder, bassoon, harpsichord, harp, mandolin, and voice, amongothers. These instruction books contained more than just musical exercises, featuring humorous observations on the position of musicians in contemporary English and French society. Additionally, these books provide scholars with valuable information regarding performance practices during the 18th century.

Corrette wrote a great deal of music, though it has been observed that he was perhaps a better arranger than composer. His concerts comiques were based on popular songs of the day, scored for three melody instruments and continuo. Similarly, the Christmas concertos, one of which is included on this program, included melodies from Christmas carols. Corrette also wrote dance music for the stage, concertos for a variety of instruments, sonatas, chamber works, cantatas, and sacred vocal music.<

Christoph Bernhard (1628 – 1692) held a number of kapellmeister posts in Dresden and Hamburg during his career. He worked primarily in the sacred realm but also wrote a few secular pieces, along with a number of musical treatises. His cantata “Fürchtet euch nicht' (the title translates as “be not afraid”) is based on the scriptural account of the angel’s visit prior to the birth of Christ.

Recognized as one of the founders of modern opera, Alessandro Scarlatti (1660 – 1725) was always a forward-looking composer, hinting in many of his works at musical developments which would take place during the Classical era. He wrote over 60 operas and over 600 cantatas, in addition to a number of sinfonias which are still in the repertoire.

In Rome, during the late Baroque period, it was customary for the citizenry to engage in festive celebrations during the time between the first Vespers of the Nativity and the Mass on Christmas Eve. A typical evening would begin with a lavish dinner, followed by a concert. Scarlatti’s Christmas Cantata was commissioned for one of these soirees. The work, scored for soprano, strings, and continuo, premiered on Christmas Eve in 1695.

Arcangelo Corelli (1653 – 1713) has been called the world’s first great violinist. His fame and reputation were comparable to that of Niccolo Paganini (1782 – 1840) in the early 19th century. Corelli was regarded as a virtuoso, but in the 17th century, the primary criterion for that sort of accolade had more to do with a player’s tone rather than his dexterity on the instrument. Corelli moved in aristocratic circles and, like his Italian countryman Scarlatti, was a favorite of Queen Christina of Sweden.

Corelli was the first player to comprehensively codify the rudiments of violin technique. He was a respected teacher, counting violinist-composers Francesco Geminiani (1687 – 1762), Pietro Locatelli (1695 – 1764), and Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) among his pupils. Corelli’s compositions also influenced Johann Sebastian Bach, who based an organ fugue on one of his themes.

As a composer, Corelli was not extremely prolific, but he made a significant contribution to music by expanding and developing the concerto grosso. This musical form utilizes two groups of instrumentalists, in the case of Corelli a string trio (two violins and a cello) and a string orchestra. The concerto grosso became the one of the most popular types of composition during the baroque era, with composers such as Geminiani and Locatelli exploring the territory staked out by Corelli.

Corelli’s Christmas Concerto is taken from his Op. 6 set of twelve concerti grossi, a collection which represents the pinnacle of the form. This set was published posthumously, but Corelli began composing the music early in his career, refining the  works over the years after numerous concert performances. The Christmas Concerto gets its name from its final movement, which is marked Pastorale, the term taken from the Italian word pastori, which refers to the shepherds who visited the manger in Bethlehem. During Corelli’s time, it was a custom in Italy for shepherds to travel to the nearest town on Christmas Eve and play their pipes at a nativity scene. Typically, these shepherds would play a sicilianoin 12/8 time, and Corelli utilized this form as a musical reference to Christ’s birth.

While George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759) is abundantly represented on holiday stages by his oratorio Messiah, his cantata Gloria offers a Christmas-themed alternative to the more well-known work. Gloria, scored for coloratura soprano and strings, was probably composed in 1706, but not performed until 2001. The manuscript was found in a collection of arias by Handel in the library of the Royal Academy of Music in London and subsequently authenticated by Hans Joachim Marx of the University of Hamburg.

Marx said, “The music is fresh, exuberant, and a little wild in places, but unmistakably Handel.” Soprano Emma Kirkby, who was featured in the first recording of the work in 2001 commented, “The piece has individuality and charm, good bravura moments, and, more important, some moments of depth, beauty, and poignancy.”

Program Notes by Tom Richards