Traditional Italian Christmas Music Brightens December At Tafelmusik

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Traditional Italian Christmas Music Brightens December At Tafelmusik

Tafelmusik infuses the holiday season with the warmth of Italy's pastoral music traditions in O Come, Shepherds. This program features Toronto's Vesuvius Ensemble, one of North America's only music ensembles dedicated to the traditional music of Southern Italy, and special guest Tommaso Sollazzo, a master of the zampogna (Italian bagpipes) from Campania. The concerts take place December 4 to 8 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul's Centre, and December 10 at George Weston Recital Hall, Meridian Arts Centre. For full program details, visit tafelmusik.org.

O Come, Shepherds balances two aspects of Italian Christmas music traditions. Sparkling and elegant baroque concertos are contrasted with the unpretentious festive music of Southern Italy performed on traditional instruments such as the chitarra battente, ciaramella, and colascione.

At the heart of O Come Shepherds is the centuries-old Italian tradition of zampognari, bagpipe-playing shepherds who descend from mountains each year just before Christmas. Considered to be the custodians of the music heard at Christ's birth, zampognari are strongly associated with la novena, a period of processions and public prayer in the nine days leading up to Christmas. The word novena also refers to the music that accompanies the processions.

O Come Shepherds opens fittingly with an instrumental novena performed by Marco Cera and Lucas Harris, members of both Vesuvius Ensemble and Tafelmusik, followed by Quanno nascette ninno, a traditional Christmas novena by S. Alfonso Maria de' Liguori Francesco. Other traditional music on the program includes Sicilian carols, a lullaby from Puglia sung a cappella by tenor Francesco Pellegrino, and an improvised tarantella performed by Tommaso Sollazzo.

Taking their cue from the zampogna, many 17th century composers began to write instrumental works -lilting pastorali - that imitated the bagpipes' unique sound. Examples range from Handel's famous "Pifa" in Messiah to some of the baroque pieces Tafelmusik will perform in O Come, Shepherds, including the Concerto grosso in C Major, "Pastorale per il santissimo natale" by Francesco Manfredini; Sinfonia pastorale per il santissimo natale by Gaetano Maria Schiassi; the Pastorale from Sonata for violin in A Major by Giuseppe Tartini; the Allegro from Sonata no. 7 "La Zampogna," by Giuseppe Maria dall'Abaco; and Corelli's Concerto grosso in G Minor, known famously as "the Christmas concerto."

"Indeed, the connection between the zampogna and Handel's Messiah points to an important goal of this concert: to show how the sounds of the zampogna have come to be forever immortalized in pastorale movements by baroque composers. Whether or not they realize it, choirs and orchestras all around the world are sounding echoes of the zampogna when they program holiday favourites such as the Messiah, Bach's Christmas Oratorio, or Corelli's Christmas Concerto," says Lucas Harris.



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