December is but a few hours away so as I rush to finish this episode of the blog, I realize that I approach December, more than any other month, like a puzzle—a puzzle that provides much delight when finished properly but that is tricky to maneuver when in motion. And it’s in constant motion.
There are three Texas Early Music Project performances to rehearse and present; a variety of services and concerts at St. Mary Cathedral (including the famed “Celtic Christmas at the Cathedral”); the St. Cecilia Baroque Festival at First Presbyterian Church in which I am performing; and, if possible, I might even catch a concert presented by other friends.
As we enter the next phase of the TEMP Christmas performances (the phase in which the performers study their music in preparation for next week’s rehearsals), I can reflect on the pieces that I chose (while mentally writing the concert program notes) and think about the many pieces I opted not to include this time around. I also reflect on the performers I get to work with and the mentors who helped me get to this moment in time. One of the biggest influences on my artistic ventures passed away last week.
Montserrat Figueras, married to viola da gamba master and conductor Jordi Savall for more than 40 years, was one of the most important figures in the “early music” movement in the 1970s and 80s. Because of her and others like her, early music hasn’t been a “movement” for quite some time; instead, it is a sophisticated, diverse, and lively art form, that transitioned from being a movement to being essential.
Montserrat, Jordi and other members of their ensemble Hesperion XX were in Austin for two weeks in the summer of 1984 for a workshop masterminded by the late Dr. Robert Snow and Dr. Douglas Kirk. It was an exhausting experience, but Jordi and Montserrat were exquisite professionals: friendly but demanding, encouraging but not too-easily swayed. The attention they gave to the students was spontaneous, human, and life-changing for more than a few of the attendees. The touching thing was that it was also important for Jordi and Montserrat: they made a few lifelong friends through that workshop. Kit Robberson took them to Barton Springs for an afternoon in preparation for the second week of classes and they bubbled for days after that.
I don’t want to dwell on these memories too much, but through that experience I became more aware of the living energy of early music, the endless sources for inspiration, and the necessity of making it available for my generation and those that follow. One of my fondest memories is going to a chamber concert Jordi and Montserrat did in Oxford in 1986 or ’87; they were so surprised and thrilled to see two Texans in the audience they had a hard time suppressing smiles while they were performing. Afterwards, we talked outside the church (I had a train to catch) and they introduced me to their daughter, Arianna, and son, Ferran, who was still a baby. Arianna and Ferran are now both respected performers in Europe. It is difficult not to see or hear Montserrat in their timbres and gestures; in fact, it is reassuring.
Thank you, Montserrat.