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We drove over to Madison on Saturday, July 8th, for the beginning of this year’s Madison Early Music Festival. This year’s theme is “Quixotic Musical Treasures from the Golden Age of Spain” which in particular celebrates Miguel de Cervantes, and his novel Don Quixote, but also the other authors, poets, and musicians of that productive era.

The opening night concert was titled “The Musical World of Don Quixote.” Numerous pieces and types of music were referred to by Cervantes in his story, and the concert took us through events of the novel with examples of the types of music that might have been played, and that were thematically appropriate to the story.

Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, lead the concert, joined by members of the Rose Ensemble, Andrew Rader, Bradley King, Jordan Sramek, and Jake Endres; as well as soprano Nell Snaidas, and additional instrumentalists Erick Schmalz, Glen Velez, and Charles Weaver on sackbut, percussion, and vihuela and guitar, respectively. The Piffaro contingent consisted of Grant Herreid, Priscilla Herreid, Greg Ingles, Joan Kimball, Christa Patton, and Bob Weimken.

Various members of the Rose Ensemble embodied Don Quixote on vocals, depending upon the voice the piece was written for; Ms. Snaidas sang all the female parts, and put her operatic background to good use in expression and gesture.

This was a really fascinating concert, extremely well performed and very well put together. Mr. Herreid, who “conceived and curated” the program gave an interesting pre-concert lecture on how the various works performed were found and decided on.

The pre-concert lecture on Sunday night, by Peggy Murray, on historical reproduction of dance, was unfortunately cut short by technical difficulties. However, the concert, a solo performance by Xavier Diaz-Latorre, was mostly flawless. The stage lighting was on the dim side, and Mr. Diaz-Latorre’s voice did not carry well to the upper seats where we were. Nevertheless, the music was amazing. The vihuela is an instrument shaped like a small guitar, but strung and tuned like a lute. The first half of the program, played on the five-course vihuela, was mostly soft, sweet, and introspective, although the pieces played had an intricacy that called for and received intense focus.

The six-course vihuela, used in the second half, is a transitional instrument, which can be strummed as well as plucked—sometimes at the same time, as happened in the first piece, “Poema harmonico,” by Francisco Guerau. This set was faster and more fiery, which built to a conclusion lauded by a universal standing ovation, and two encores.

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