by Rebecca Clemens
In July 2019, two years after the original project, UNC trombone professor Michael Kris returned to Salzburg with UNC graduates, Katie Rose Hand (2019) and Becca Clemens (2014), for an early music collaboration in the Salzburg cathedral. Having written and received multiple grants, Kris was able to organize an ensemble of trombone and cornetto players hailing from Salzburg, Basel, Bremen, Canada, and the United States.
The project could not have been better timed, happening during the famed Salzburg Festival in its 99th season. The group provided the music for the July 28th Sunday mass in the Cathedral.
When asked what gave Kris the idea to start this project he stated that: “After several small performances at the Salzburger Dom, the Domkapellmeister, colleagues from the Universität Mozarteum and I decided to try for something really big. The challenge was finding the right early music specialists, a great choir, and an appropriate space to perform in. Due to its central location and history, Salzburg makes a perfect place to find all three!”
Once in Salzburg, the instrumental ensemble rehearsed independently before being joined by two combined choirs; the Salzburger Cathedral Choir under the direction of Jànos Czifra, and the München Cathedral Choir under the direction of Lucia Hilz.
The primary work performed was Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s Missa Bruxellensis, but smaller instrumental works were also featured; prelude music Paul Peuerl, an offertory by Giovanni Gabrieli, and the final work, Giovanni Buonomente’s fantastic Sonate á 6.
The collaboration was a huge success and plans are already underway to try for another performance in 2021. Unique to this project was the combination of choirs from both Munich and Salzburg. München Cathedral Choir Director, Lucia Hilz was so enthused with the outcome of the project that she has committed to the 2021 collaboration and plans to bring everyone to Munich for a second performance.
The early music tradition is not readily embraced in the United States, and one almost has to make the pilgrimage to Europe to truly understand the context in which this music was meant to be played. It can be seen in the scale of the cathedrals and their design, and in the way the music is so integrated into the liturgy and the culture of the place. To quote Kris, “immersing yourself into a place and experiencing the living history of its language, culture, and art is contextual learning at it’s very best”.
In many ways, this is the perfect project for a trombone professor researching the roots of the trombone in its early stages. In early music, there are rich choral traditions of using the trombone in colla parte with voices and many of the most remarkable instrument works of the period would have featured trombones. This makes the 16th- and 17th-centuries a golden age for the trombone and the significance of this early repertoire continues to influence brass music, even today.
“I am proud to see students develop a passion for playing early music. It means they finally have the context to fully appreciate its beauty, influence, and meaning” said Kris.
Spearheading this project of historical importance was certainly a labor of love for Kris, but it’s broadened his students’ global perspective and given them some incredible learning opportunities through the travel and work with dedicated early musicians.
“There are lots of reasons to love a collaboration like this,” Kris said. “For me, it’s giving my students, past and present, a chance to broaden their worldview, engage with a new community and culture, and work together to make something beautiful.”