The concert program “Tutto Vivaldi” by the Seville Baroque Orchestra along with the counter-tenor Carlos Mena, led by the concertmaster violinist Andoni Merceo, offers us sacred vocal music, string concerts and opera arias. It is an excellent sample of the life journey, as well as the idea that the composer held of himself, describing himself in a letter dated to 1737 as a “free enterprising man”.
Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, a violinist in the orchestra of San Marcos, had six children, among whom only the eldest, Antonio Lucio born in 1678, took up music like him. With the probable objective of providing his son with better social prospects, he guided his education towards the priesthood, while he himself taught him to play the violin. Thus, at the age of fifteen Antonio received the tonsure and at the age of twenty-five he became a priest at San Giovanni in oleo and San Geminiano.
In the same year of 1703, Antonio Vivaldi is recorded as having been hired as Maestro di violino di Choro (master of violin) at the Ospedalli della Pietà, a charitable institution for girls who were orphans, abandoned, illegitimate or destitute, where the girls were divided into figlie di commun or figlie di choro, in order to receive an ordinary education or a specifically musical education, respectively. He thus began to carry out his professional musical activity at the service of the church.
However, from the outset Vivalidi´s concerns went beyond his official activity, he served as Maestro di Concerti, playing, conducting and composing music for public and private consumption. His first publication Op.1 in 1705 consisted of a collection of trio sonatas, a well-loved genre in Italy that somehow served as a means for new composers to introduce themselves. Over the years he wrote hundreds of concertos, whose predecessors were those of Torelli and Albioni, a legacy he assumed, adding, in addition to his own style, the ritornello, a very effective resource that had an extensive impact in Europe.
By the time, eight years later, in May 1713 when Vivaldi released his first opera Ottone in Villa in Vicenza, he was already a renowned composer of sonatas and concertos. Thus, while he was making a name for himself in Italy as a composer of operas, in Europe his innovate concertos had been enjoyed for years, and many used them as a model to follow, such as the Germans J. J. Quantz and J. G. Pisendel. From then on, he incorporated the theatre into his already rich musical life, and he remained closely linked to it as a composer and as a businessman, not only with his own operas, but also with stage works composed partially or entirely by other musicians. Vivaldi put a lot of work into the production of his operas, in fact, almost all of them were staged under his direct supervision in order to ensure that the performance remained faithful to his writing and to thus guarantee its success. The widespread interest in them, in demonstrated by the many arias, such as those that we will hear today, that appeared, whether in their original form or arranged for voice and basso continuo, in various collections all over Europe.
The program begins with the Concerto in G minor, RV 155 for strings and cembalo (harpsichord), a work that is not part of any collection. This is a Ripieno concerto, that is to say, without soloists and structured around the three standard movements: Allegro-Largo-Allegro, preceded in this case by a brief Adagio of twenty-two bars. Even shorter than this, the Largo (piano and legato) is only sixteen bars long with repetitions that contrast, both due to their tonality in d minor, as well as the instrumentation without an orchestra, exclusively for violin and cello alone plus the cembalo (harpsichord). The work concludes its last Allegro with an expressive memory of the start of the Adagio, an e-flat, that we listened to as a delay of the dominant, and that Vivaldi now directly uses as appoggiatura at the start of the second bar. In the second part of the program and interspersing the four opera arias, we will hear the concerto RV 565 in D minor, for two violins, cello, strings and cembalo (harpsichord) This concerto is number eleven of the twelve that comprise the collection Op.3, known as L’estro armonico, or the harmonic inspiration. Organised into five movements, Allegro- Adagio e spiccato-Allegro-Largo e spiccato-Allegro, its orchestration for two soloist violins and cello is reminiscent of the group of concerto grosso by Corelli. This concerto transcribed for organ by J. S. Bach and catalogued as BWV 596, begins without the participation of the soloists, followed by a very brief Adagio in tutti of just three bars that keep the tonality floating, giving way to a fugue Allegro which to a certain extent takes us back to the severity of church sonatas. The Largo with a pastoral feel, leads to the seventy-three bars of the final Allegro.
At the end of the first part we will listen to the only work in the program that represents the sacred vocal music of Vivaldi, Nisi Dominus. Created using the scripture of Psalm 126, it begins with the words Nisi Dominus ædificaverit domum, in vanum laboraverunt qui ædificant eam, (If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labour). Through nine numbers organised based on the complete text, Vivaldi reinvents one of the one hundred and fifty psalms that, originally part of the Jewish tradition were later taken on by Christianity, to create, from the 4th century on, the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office.
In the second part and surrounding the aforementioned concerto RV 565 we will listen to four arias from different operas. The establishment of the Accademia letteraria d’Arcadia (Academy of Arcadia) in 1690, an institution founded by important men of letters of the era, resulted in important reflections on opera around the subject of the music/text relationship and formal unity and style. Although classical tradition dictated works in five acts, they were reduced to three following the reform of Apostolo Zeno. Each act was divided into scenes, normally between ten and twenty, organised around a regular succession of arias separated from one another by recitatives. The act would finish with an aria with the singer alone on the stage before they moved offstage, that is why this aria was named aria di sortita (the exit aria). The definitive form of the aria, provided by Alessandro Scarlatti and adopted by the composers of the era, is the tripartite ABA´, named aria col da capo. In it, the first two sections are thematically separate and the third A´, is a variant of the first, a response with normally improvised adornments that depended on the whims and the vocal talents of the singer. Over the years, the aria col da capo was structured into five parts and made longer, with the subsequent reduction of the number of arias in each scene, so that while around the period 1680-1720, an opera in three acts contained an average of 60 arias, the number was reduced to between 20 and 30.
From a dramaturgical perspective, the influence of the aforementioned Accademia letteraria d’Arcadia on opera is reflected in the preference for plots taken from ancient Greek and Roman history handled with a lot of freedom, where the ancient heroes exposed to great difficulties, are also portrayed triumphant as examples of morality and virtue.
The Seville Baroque Orchestra undoubtedly features among the top Spanish groups that specialise in the performance of early music according to historicist criteria. It was created in 1995 by Barry Sargent and Ventura Rico, and since 2001 its artistic director has been Pedro Gandía Martín.
Among the international figures who have conducted the Orchestra, some of whom are legendary, we can highlight Gustav Leonhardt, Christophe Coin, Sigiswald Kuijken, Jordi Savall, Christophe Rousset, Rinaldo Alessandrini, Monica Huggett, Harry Christophers, Andreas Spering, Diego Fasolis, Juanjo Mena, Eduardo López Banzo, Pablo Valetti, Enrico Onofri… In addition to its busy schedule of activity in Seville and the rest of Andalusia, it performs in the most important venues in Spain and Europe (Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland...).
After recording for the record labels Harmonia Mundi, Lindoro and Almaviva, the Seville Baroque Orchestra created its own: OBS-Prometeo. It has received distinctions such as the Editor’s Choice from the magazine Gramophone, “Exceptional” from Scherzo, Ritmo Parade, “Recommended” from CD Compact and Audioclásica, 5 stars from Goldberg, the Melómano de Oro (Golden Music Lover)..The latest recordings from the label are: La música en la catedral de Sevilla (“Music in the Cathedral of Seville”) under the direction of Enrico Onofri, and Adonde infiel dragón (“Where the unfaithful dragon is”) with Vanni Moretto and María Hinojosa. Recently it made the first full recording on DVD of the cello and orchestra concertos of C. P. E. Bach, with Christophe Coin.
It 2011 it won the National Music Prize, awarded by the Spanish Ministry of Culture. Likewise, it obtained the 2010 Manuel de Falla Prize, the 2011 FestClásica Prize and an Honorary Distinction from the Council of Seville. The Seville Baroque Orchestra has collaborative support from the Ministry of Culture, the Regional Government of Andalusia, the Council of Seville, and the University of Seville. The Seville Baroque Orchestra, a joint project of Ventura Rico, its co-founder, and Pedro Gandía Martín, the current artistic director, undoubtedly features among the top Spanish groups that specialise in the performance of early music according to historicist criteria.
Its artistic activity is staged in the most important Spanish and European venues, with a significant presence in Seville and Andalusia. Since it was founded in 1995 it has enjoyed collaboration with international figures such as Gustav Leonhardt, Christophe Coin, Sigiswald Kuijken, Jordi Savall, Monica Huggett, Diego Fasolis and Enrico Onofri, among others.
“The instrumentalists, in an absolute state of grace, showed why they are unanimously renowned: dizzying timings carried out with astounding transparency in collusion with delicate textures, the exciting combination of very rich instrumentation..., delicious embellishments, raw expressiveness in the slow passages... Simply, extraordinary Bach due to its brilliance and depth...The flagship of their country, the audience got to their feet to applaud the Seville Baroque Orchestra (OBS)”.
“There is little praise to offer about the Seville Baroque Orchestra that has not already been given...We are talking about one of the best historically informed orchestras in the world”.
El Arte de la Fuga
“… There is timbre work in this orchestra that goes way beyond mere layering: this is thorough planning about how to magnify feeling, a manual of good sound…”
“The Seville Baroque Orchestra brought all of its well-known flexibility to the symphonies of Mendelssohn in the deployment of very nuanced dynamic ranges, approached together with pinpoint precision”.
Diario de Sevilla
He was born in Vitoria-Gasteiz (1971). He trained at the prestigious Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (SCB) in Basel (Switzerland) under the guidance of its maestros R. Levitt and R. Jacobs, where he undertook medieval studies and studied in the opera workshops.
As a soloist he has sung under the baton of Michel Corboz, Paul Goodwin, Mark Minkowsky, Rafael Frübeck de Burgos, Ottavio Dantone, Juanjo Mena, Gustav Leonhardt, Christoph Coin and Andrea Marcon, which has led him to sing in festivals and auditoriums all over the world such as the National Auditorium of Music in Madrid, the Palau de la Música in Barcelona, Musikverein and Konzerthaus in Vienna, the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels, Grosses Festspielehaus in Salzburg, the Philarmonie in Berlin, Suntory Hall and City Opera Hall in Tokyo, Osaka Symphony Hall, Fisher Hall in Detroit, Zipper Hall and Schönberg Hall in Los Angeles, the Alice Tully Hall of the MET in New York, the Kennedy Center and Library of Congress in Washington, the Sydney Opera House, the Concert Hall of Melbourne, the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires...
From his more than thirty recitals recorded for Mirare, Sony Music, Harmonia Mundi, Glossa, Gramophon, what stands out are the recordings for Mirare: De Aeternitate, Stabat Mater by Vivaldi, Stabat Mater by Pergolesi, Stabat Mater by Sances, Magnificat by Bach, the series of Cantatas by Bach with Ricercar Consort; and for Harmonia Mundi: Et Iesum, Paisajes del recuerdo (“Landscapes of Memory”), Under the Shadow, with which he has won several prizes such as the Diapason d’Or de l’Année 2002, 2004 CD Compact prize for best Renaissance record, Classic Prize, the “10 de Répertoire” prize, the “CHOC du Monde de la Musique” Prize, the “Exceptional Record” by Scherzo and the Télérama ffff Award.
Within the opera scene, he made his debut at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie (Brussels) with La Rappresentazione (Angelo Custode) by E. Cavalieri; he was praised by the critics and public alike for Radamisto (Radamisto) by G. F. Haendel at the Felsenreitshule in SlAZBURG, in a production by the Salzburger Festspiele, under the direction of Haselboeck/Grazer, and he has also performed at the Konzerthaus Dortmund, at the Musikverein in Vienna and at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. He sang L’Orfeo (Speranza) at the Innsbruck Festwoche and at the Staatsoper in Berlin under the direction of Jacobs/Kosky, Il Trionfo (Disinganno) by Händel at the Salzburger Pfingstenfestival and Europera 5 by J. Cage at the Festival of Flanders. At the Barbican Center in London he starred in Ascanio in Alba by Mozart with Europa Galante directed by F. Biondi, he played Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream by B. Britten (Marin/Pizzi), the seminarian in The trip to Simorgh by Sánchez-Verdú (López-Cobos/Amat) at the Teatro Real in Madrid, Apollo in Death in Venice by Britten (Weigle-Decker) at the Gran Teatre del Liceu.
Carlos Mena also takes an interest in the world of the Lied and the repertoire of the 20th century (Schubert, Schumann, Bernstein, Listz, Tipett, Bernaola, Vaughn-Williams, Benjamin, Isasi, Britten…) and has premiered works composed for him by composers such as José María Sánchez-Verdú, Gabriel Erkoreka, etc. He is currently working closely with the composer Alberto Iglesias on a song cycle composed by him Les Chansons Légères.
He served as artist-in-residence of the prestigious BOZAR Festival in Brussels in 2011 and during the 2016-2017 season of the National Center for Musical Diffusion (CNDM).
Within the realm of education, he has taught courses and given master classes at the Academy of Ancient Music of the University of Salamanca and has been a guest lecturer at the Conservatory of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the Higher Conservatory of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, the Teatro Real in Madrid, the Manuel de Falla Courses in Granada, the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen and Courses at the Academy of Ancient Music in Gijón.
Carlos Mena studied choral conducting with teachers such as Laszlo Heltay, Juanjo Mena, Eric Eriksson and he currently directs the Santa María Chapel of the Santa María Cathedral Foundation in Vitoria-Gasteiz with which he designed the opera De lo divino y de lo humano (“On the divine and the human”) with stage direction by Joan Anton Rechi based on the figure of Juan de Hidalgo, and directed it at the Teatro de La Zarzuela in Madrid. He has conducted the Symphonic Orchestra and Choir of Portugal with the work Der Messias by Mozart at the National Theatre of Saint Charles in Lisbon and the City of Granada Orchestra at the Manuel de Falla Auditorium in Granada and the Principality of Asturias Orchestra at the "Príncipe Felipe" Congress Hall-Auditorium in Oviedo with Apollo and Daphne and the Messiah by Handel.
He was born in San Sebastián, where he began his violin and viola studies. He continued his studies at the Reina Sofía Higher Music School, the University of Toronto, the Hanns Eisler School of Music in Berlin and the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.
He has obtained several prizes in competitions, including the Pablo Sarasate National Prize, the Isidro Gyenes National Violin Competition Prize, the Julio Cardona International Competition Prize in Portugal, the Florence International Chamber Music Competition "Premio Vittorio Gui" and the “Premio Bonporti”, International Baroque Violin Competition in Rovereto (Italy). Andoni Mercero has directed, from the role of concertmaster, the City of Granada Orchestra, the Burgos Symphony Orchestra, the Salamanca Baroque Orchestra and the Seville Baroque Orchestra. He regularly acts as concertmaster for the Seville Baroque Orchestra, Al Ayre Español and the Basque National Orchestra, and has been guest concertmaster at the Opera of Oviedo, the Accademia Bizantina, I Barocchisti, the Gran Canaria Philharmonic Orchestra, the Vallès Symphony Orchestra, the Capilla Real de Madrid, La Cetra Barockorchester Basel and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. Likewise, he regularly collaborates with groups such as Café Zimmermann, Le Concert des Nations, Le Parlement de Musique, Il Complesso Barocco and The Rare Fruits Council.
Andoni Mercero has always been very active within the field of chamber music, and has been a member of several groups such as Cuarteto Casals and Mensa Harmonica. He is currently director of the group Musica Boscareccia, with whom he recently recorded a CD devoted to the work of Francesco Corselli.
Andoni Mercero has performed as a soloist with the City of Granada Orchestra, the Burgos Symphony Orchestra, the Seville Baroque Orchestra Orchestra, the Camerata Strumentale di Prato (Italy) and the Mantua Chamber Orchestra.
He also collaborates as a teacher with the Spanish National Youth Orchestra (JONDE) and the Academy of Ancient Music of the University of Salamanca. Andoni Mercero is currently string quartet teacher at Musikene (Higher School of Music of the Basque Country).