San Francisco Early Music Society Presents West Coast Debut of Les Sirenes, Now thru 11/18

San Francisco Early Music Society Presents West Coast Debut of Les Sirenes, Now thru 11/18

The San Francisco Early Music Society's 2012/13 season continues this weekend, November 16-18 with the West Coast debut of Les Sirènes, one of the most promising young ensembles to appear on the early music scene in recent years.

Sopranos Kathryn Mueller and Kristen Watson are joined by harpsichordist Michael Sponseller and baroque cellist Cora Swenson, in an enchanting program titled "Virtuosi Italiani: The Florid Style of Monteverdi and Handel." The program highlights the gorgeous arias and duets of two of the greatest baroque masters of song, George Frideric Handel and Claudio Monteverdi.

Standing at opposite ends of the baroque era, Monteverdi (1567-1643) and Handel (1685-1759) each developed the vehicle of coloratura or decorated melody, often accompanied by painfully beautiful harmonies, to express both the earthly and divinely spiritual passions of the human soul. Les Sirènes' concert presents a bouquet of this heady, florid music assembled from the composers' trove of cantatas, operatic arias, and madrigals.

Monteverdi was perhaps the single greatest creative force driving the revolution in European music during the early 1600s, both reinventing older forms such as the madrigal and motet and pioneering the New Medium of opera. Les Sirènes' program will feature selections from his Scherzi musicali, including the joyous duet "Zefiro torno," celebrating the arrival of spring; "Ohimè, dov'è il mio ben?" and "O come sei gentile," from the Settimo Libro de Madrigali; and "Pur ti miro," from his late opera L'incoronazione di Poppea.

Writing at the end of the baroque era, Handel distilled the fruits of the past century's musical developments and made the Italian style completely his own. His many arias, cantatas, and operas show a confidence, directness, and ease of expression that were prized by his contemporaries as they are today. Mueller and Watson will perform a selection from the glorious solo cantatas and duette da camara, including some of the composer's earliest works and others from the early 1740s that are early versions of what became famous numbers in his 1742 Messiah.

Cellist Swanson and harpsichordist Sponseller each will take the spotlight in solo pieces for their instruments. Sponseller will be heard in an elaborate passacaglia by the keyboard pioneer Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643), and Swanson will play a sonata by the great 18th-century, baroque string composer Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762).

Only three years old, Les Sirènes was named one of six finalist groups in Early Music America's 2012 Baroque Performance Competition. Members of the young, Boston-based quartet are acclaimed soloists in their own right. Sopranos Mueller and Watson have sung with American Bach Soloists, and harpsichordist Sponseller played at the San Francisco Early Music Society's September concerts with Les Délices, bringing the house to its feet with his interpretation of Antoine Forqueray's diabolically challenging La Morangis.


Friday, Nov. 16, 2012 | Palo Alto
8pm @ First Lutheran Church
600 Homer Avenue

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 | Berkeley
7:30pm @ St. John's Presbyterian Church
2727 College Avenue

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 | San Francisco
4pm @ St. Mark's Lutheran Church
1111 O'Farrell

Individual tickets: $35 General/ $30 Seniors. Subscriptions: $196 for the full 7-concert series ($168 for SFEMS members). Choose 3 concerts for $89.25 ($78.75 for SFEMS members). Tickets may be purchased at

Formed in Boston in 2009, Les Sirènes is composed of acclaimed sopranos Kathryn Mueller and Kristen Watson, joined by Michael Sponseller on harpsichord and Cora Swenson on baroque cello. Les Sirènes has been praised for the "exquisitely matched style and phrasing" of its sopranos (The Boston Musical Intelligencer). They were named one of six finalist groups in Early Music America's 2012 Baroque Performance Competition. Les Sirènes has collaborated with emerging baroque violinists Beth Wenstrom and Adriane Post as well as chamber groups such as Cambridge-based Sarasa. Past performances include concerts in Tucson, AZ, Brattleboro, VT, Cambridge and Concord, MA, and at Trinity Wall Street in New York City.

Soprano Kathryn Mueller has appeared as a soloist with American Bach Soloists, the Washington Bach Consort, Santa Fe Pro Musica, the New Mexico Symphony, Phoenix Symphony, and Winston-Salem Symphony. She was a 2011 Carmel Bach Festival Adams Fellow and a finalist in the 2012 Oratorio Society of New York competition. Kathryn has made two Grammy-nominated albums with Seraphic Fire and is featured on recordings with New Trinity Baroque, the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, and Tucson Chamber Artists.

Soprano Kristen Watson has made solo debuts with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Mark Morris Dance Group, Boston Baroque, Handel & Haydn Society, and Emmanuel Music at such venues as the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Boston's Symphony Hall. Recognized by the Concert Artists Guild, Oratorio Society of New York, American Bach Society, and Louisville Bach Society competitions, other solo performances include the Boston Early Music Festival and the Carmel Bach Festival.

Harpsichordist Michael Sponseller holds degrees from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague. Winner of the American Bach Soloists Competition, Jurow International Harpsichord Competition, and Festival of Flanders International Harpsichord Competition (Bruges), he can be heard on recordings from Electra, Vanguard Classics, Naxos, Delos and Centaur. Sponseller is the founder of Ensemble Florilege, dedicated to the performance of lesser-performed repertory of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Cellist Cora Swenson has a BM in Cello Performance from the Eastman School of Music and an MM in Cello Performance from Boston University. She is a member of Boston Baroque and the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra, as well as a substitute cellist with the Handel and Haydn Society and the New World Symphony. Swenson has attended the Aspen and Pacific Music Festivals, performing under the baton of David Zinman, Fabio Luisi, Leonard Slatkin, and Nicholas McGegan. She has also worked with distinguished musicians such as James Dunham and Rachel Barton Pine. Swenson's primary teachers have been Alan Harris and Marc Johnson.

For more information about Les Sirènes including high-resolution photos, audio and video samples, visit

Founded in 1975, SFEMS is the leading early music community-based service and membership organization in the US. Under the direction of Harvey Malloy, it is the focal institution in Northern California for the advancement of historically informed performance of early music. Through its concert series, publications, outreach activities, affiliate support and educational programs, SFEMS encourages the development of amateurs, supports professionals, and increases public involvement and participation in early music. SFEMS is the lead presenter of the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition of early music.

Photo Credit: Karla Pelz