This Week in Classical Music: December 27, 2021. Happy New Year. This was a difficult year, in more ways than one. The Covid pandemic overwhelmed all aspects of our lives and hit classical music very hard. As concert halls closed, musicians tried to migrate to the Internet only to find that in most cases it didn’t work – the viewership was very low. There are many reasons for that, the most obvious being the difference between the ambience of a live concert and the remoteness of listening to a recorded performance on your phone or computer. But there are other reasons: the Internet had been chock full of good performances even before the pandemic. Some, uploaded from CD, had the advantage of being engineered and scrubbed of all technical imperfections. It’s one thing to hear (and dismiss) an occasional wrong note in a concert hall, where the intimacy of the performance compensates for some errors; it’s another to hear the same mistake while listening to a recording on YouTube. To have one’s performance noticed in this environment was almost impossible. Despite the enormous help from foundations, private individuals, the states, and the Federal government, it still is a mystery how some musicians have managed to survive the past two years.
Another tsunami that hit classical music in 2020 was what could be called “wokeness”; it continued into 2021 practically unabated. We’ve written several times how we abhor the new race- and gender-based approach to classical music. We can only wish that normalcy is restored in 2022 (we think we can detect some signs that things are moving in the right direction, however tentatively). To state once again: we are for musicians expanding the standard repertoire, which in some quarters stays narrow and stale (this is our cry for diversity); we are for a bigger place for classical music in our culture (which, unfortunately, is diminishing); we are for musical education, which is so lacking today; we are for high quality, which is still there and being achieved by so many musicians and orchestras. But we’re against music being judged in political and woke terms.
With this is mind, and in the spirit of the season, here are three pieces that we don’t hear often. First, the motet Justorum animæ by Orlando di Lasso. It’s performed by the Magnificat Ensemble (here). Then comes Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s motet Nigra sum sed formosa (Dark am I, yet lovely, daughters of Jerusalem), performed by the Hilliard Ensemble (here). And finally, a motet by Tomás Luis de Victoria, Alma Redemptoris Mater. It’s performed by The Sixteen under the direction of Harry Christophers (here).