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Bloomington Early Music Festival offers accessible introduction to early music



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From seasoned professionals to college and high school students, the Bloomington Early Music Festival or BEMF will take place from May 17-25 at various venues throughout Bloomington and will offer a variety of historical music.

The festival will include music from the Renaissance, Medieval and Baroque eras as well as the early classical, said Paulina Francisco, general manager of Bloomington Early Music. Bloomington Early Music partners with the Historical Performance Institute and Early Music America to present the festival.

Highlights of the festival include a performance of “La Púrpura de la Rosa,” or "The Blood of the Rose," the first known opera to be composed and performed in the Americas. Co-presented by the IU Latin American Music Center, the one-act opera will be performed at the First Presbyterian Church at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 25.

There will also be an “instrument petting zoo” at the Bloomington City Hall atrium at which people of all ages can learn about Renaissance and Baroque instruments, such as the hurdy-gurdy, a string instrument with a hand crank.

The Young Performers Festival will present the Brandenburg Project, a high school group, the USC Thorton Collegium and the McGill Baroque Orchestra.

IU alumnus Byron Schenkman plays the fortepiano, which is an ancestor of the modern piano, and will perform selections by Clara Schumann at Recital Hall at 7 p.m. May 22.

Alain Barker, president of Bloomington Early Music, said Schumann, whose 200th birthday is Sept. 13 this year, has long been overshadowed by the work of her husband, composer Robert Schumann.

Francisco said early music was performed differently from classical music performed today. The performance groups were often smaller and the music was generally written for the church, private patrons or cultural ceremonies like weddings, but not necessarily public performances.

“Even the concert halls that exist from the beginning of concerts are not nearly sizes of opera houses today,” Francisco said.

Francisco said much of what the festival does is try to recapture the original performance modes.

Completing her doctoral work in early music, Francisco is also a soprano with Las Aves, an IU-based group which recently performed in Ecuador. The group will perform at the Monroe County Courthouse at 7 p.m. May 19.

The Bloomington Early Music Festival was founded by IU students in 1994 and has since grown to involve many more university-based and national organizations, Barker said.

Barker also said the music is accessible to all.

“If you go to any one of these performances, you’ll be surprised at how easily you can relate to this stuff,” said Barker. “It comes from a time when music was very close to community, where music drew from a lot of popular music styles, a lot of folk music styles.”

Barker said the BEMF would be the perfect opportunity for someone who wanted to try appreciating classical music.

“This will create greater enrichment for students and emerging artists in historical performance attending from across North America; and, no less, the Bloomington community will benefit considerably from these free cultural offerings,” said Dana Marsh, director of the Historical Performance Institute, in a press release.

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