November 24, 2014

Candlelight Concert on Sunday, Jan. 20: Harpsichord and a most unusual voice

Harpsichordist Bradley Brookshire and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo performing in New York at a Salon/Sanctuary Concert in September. —Courtesy Salon/Sanctuary Concerts; Erin Baiano photo

Harpsichordist Bradley Brookshire and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo performing in New York at a Salon/Sanctuary Concert in September. —Courtesy Salon/Sanctuary Concerts; Erin Baiano photoHarpsichordist Bradley Brookshire and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo performing in New York at a Salon/Sanctuary Concert in September. —Courtesy Salon/Sanctuary Concerts; Erin Baiano photo

The Candlelight Concert in Wilton on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 20, has been specially planned to celebrate the 65th year of this remarkable concert series. The audience will hear two much acclaimed but rare sounds: Bradley Brookshire’s harpsichord and the countertenor voice of Anthony Roth Costanzo. The program, with works by Handel, Scarlatti, Purcell, and Bach, promises to be an unusual musical treat. 

Bradley Brookshire, harpsichordist, has brought a new understanding of all of J.S. Bach’s work through a series of recitals that, in his words, “vivify early music and change the perception of composers like Bach and Scarlatti. 

“As a very young child, I seemed to have an affinity for Bach. It wasn’t learned. It was something I had inside me. I think that such a deep inner feeling is a requirement for a performer.”

As a pioneer in the union of early music and current technology, Mr. Brookshire helped initiate a multi-media presentation of Bach’s works. “The idea is to bring Bach’s music to audiences outside the mainstream of concert life.”

 Mr. Brookshire is a noted conductor of Baroque Opera, including Glimmerglass Opera, Virginia Opera and the New York City Opera. He has taught at Yale, Mannes College and is on the music faculty of Purchase College Conservatory of Music, where he is the Director of Graduate Studies and leads the Purchase College Camerata. 

“Long before I owned a harpsichord,” he recalls, “I collected as many harpsichord recordings as I could. Luckily, I went to the University of Michigan, where one of the music teachers, Edward Parmentiere, introduced me to the harpsichord and that sealed the deal for me. In order to play the harpsichord, one has to be interested in the way the music was performed long ago, be inspired by it, and then make the music not just museum pieces but music that’s full of life.” 

Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo explains the unique quality of his voice this way: “There are two voices, a head voice and a chest voice. Most men almost exclusively sing in a chest voice, but a countertenor sings in a head voice, in a register much higher than usual. It’s a challenging voice type, because it requires inborn talent plus special skill. A countertenor makes his vocal cords shorter by using only part of them to reach a very high register.” 

People who’ve heard countertenors say it’s an unforgettable experience and Mr. Costanzo is well equipped to achieve that. He has been performing regularly since age 11 in opera, concert, recital, film and Broadway. He has won numerous awards and has sung with the Opera Companies of Philadelphia, Boston, Palm Beach, the New York Philharmonic and New York City Opera. 

The rarity of an opportunity to hear both a master of the harpsichord and an acclaimed countertenor is precisely the kind of unusual musical experience that Candlelight Concerts are known for over its 65-year history. 

The group actually began in the 1920’s when musically active Wilton families gathered to perform chamber music in local barns. In 1947, music-loving Wiltonians decided to make chamber music concerts an annual event. The venue chosen was and still is the Wilton Congregational Church, because of the church’s historical importance, excellent acoustics and intimate atmosphere. Sunday afternoon at 4 was chosen as an appropriate time. In the beginning, candles were lit in the church at the start of each concert, which inspired the name, but fire regulations have prohibited that. (Mr. Brookshire commented that in the days of early opera, the footlights were candles and for many opera singers that was so uncomfortably risky, they suspended their opera careers.)

Candlelight Concerts have always benefitted the Wilton Library. Tickets may be purchased at the door for $25 ($10 for students.) The Jan. 20 concert, at its traditional time, 4 p.m., will take place at the traditional place, The Wilton Congregational Church, 70 Ridgefield Road (Route 33). The program includes Cantatas by Handel and Scarlatti; Handel Arias; Purcell Songs and a Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue by Bach. For further information, go to www.wiltoncandlelightconcerts.org.