Carnegie Hall offers ancient music for a modern world with a new series this season titled Early Music in Weill. The jewel-box-like Weill Recital Hall, with its warm, chandelier-lit ambience and friendly acoustics, has always been a favorite venue for chamber musicians and solo recitalists. Now it will also be the home of today's top early-music performers. On December 10, Carnegie Hall inaugurates this new series with the rising sensation Trio Mediæval.
In the eight years since its founding, Trio Mediæval has found fame with three recordings, a judiciously paced touring schedule of 50 to 60 concerts a year, and dozens of rapturous reviews. The group was openly greeted by the New York Times as the legitimate successor to Anonymous 4, which hung up its touring spurs for good last season.
"Even though this music is very, very old, and hardly ever heard," says Linn Andrea Fuglseth, the Trio's founder, "it is clean, clear, and direct: very right for modern audiences. In itself, it is interesting that we can actually find manuscripts from the 12th and 13th centuries‹and more so when we find that the music sounds so fresh and is really astonishing."
Early music was first officially invited into the sound world of Carnegie Hall last season, with the new Zankel Hall series Baroque Unlimited. Says Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall's Executive and Artistic Director, "The immediate success of our inaugural baroque series has greatly encouraged us to expand upon our early-music programming. The wonderful intimacy and vibrant acoustics of Weill Recital Hall are perfect for smaller early-music ensembles and recitals."
With musicianship skills honed in years of music-making throughout chorus-mad Scandinavia and northern England, plus an openhearted appreciation of the new and unusual, Fuglseth was well-suited to found Trio Mediæval. She was eager to try out some medieval pieces that she discovered in a Hilliard Ensemble workshop, so she approached singer Torunn Østrem Ossum, whom she had known for years through choral circles in Norway. To complete the threesome, Fuglseth contacted Anna Maria Friman, a Swedish soprano whom she had recalled encountering in a previous project with the Norwegian Soloists' Choir.
Ossum was teaching kindergarten and raising children when she got the call. She admits that she always wanted to sing but never believed she was "good enough." Numerous critics have by now singled out her rich low tones for special praise, although she also has an easy top range. A self-taught guitarist, Ossum also loves jazz and vintage rock.
Medieval and modern music companionably share space on Trio Mediæval concert programs. Fuglseth, whose master's thesis focused on the "mad songs" of the English Restoration lyric theater, says, "I think I always really wanted to do music that nobody else did. I always look for the very old, or the contemporary." These days, in fact, the Trio finds that contemporary music comes looking for them. "Many times we just receive pieces in the mail from composers," says Fuglseth.
Responding to the avid interest shown by modern composers (including Fuglseth's husband, Andrew Smith), the Trio has begun to commission works from such composers as Norway's Trygve Seim. And programming decisions are based not so much on historical themes as on all three singers' resolution never to do a piece they do not unanimously love.
The Trio glories in the creative freedom afforded by medieval music. "With mainstream repertoire, people have expectations about how it will sound," says Friman. "With the music we do, nobody expects anything. They hear it with unprejudiced ears. We can fiddle with tempos and allow ourselves to be very creative."
Popular culture has veered recently toward a fascination with myth and allegory, a longing for connection with the unknown past. Could there be a better time to discover medieval music through a group as fascinating as this trio?
Marcia Young is an early-music performer, journalist, and classical-music announcer for Sirius Satellite Radio. She hosts Siriusly Baroque each weekend on Symphony Hall 80.