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Music review: Ceciliaís Circle
Program features music by and about women
By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer, Bloomington Herald-Times
May 19, 2008

The performers were women. Their theme was women, more specifically, music about and by women.

Ceciliaís Circle, an ensemble of three -- soprano Janet Youngdahl, violinist Julie Andrijeski and harpsichordist Vivian Montgomery -- offered "Pious and Profane: The Female Figure in Music 1600-1850" to a Bloomington Early Music Festival audience at the Unitarian Universalist Church Saturday evening. Playing right along was guest cellist Shelley Taylor.

The fare switched back and forth from vocal to instrumental as they dug into music, first, about the Virgin Mary, written by the only men allowed into their program: a caressing and sometimes intricate "Salve Regina" by Handel and one of the Heinrich von Biber Rosary Sonatas, the number 14, "The Assumption of Mary."

Vocalist Youngdahl, properly controlling vibrato while maneuvering athletically through extensive range and mercurial runs, emerged as an eminently suitable exponent for the Handel and seemed to toss off its difficulties without problem, this as her instrumental colleagues added the necessary ambiance. Andrijeskiís passionate fiddling was at its tonal best in the Biber, one of those glorious sonatas this undervalued 17th century Bohemian composer wrote in celebration of Mary.

The remainder of the concertís music was written by women: one a French composer, another Italian, a third English, a fourth American.

The most substantial fare came from the French source, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729), represented by a Prelude for harpsichord, dexterously played by Montgomery; a Sonata in D Minor contributed by Andrijeski with flair but occasional deficiency in intonation, and -- most interestingly -- a cantata about Judith and Holofernes, quite dramatic in the vocal line and expressive in the instrumental. With Youngdahl providing full emotional authority and her colleagues adding the atmospheric filler, the cantata emerged as a most telling piece.

From the 17th century Italian, Barbara Strozzi, the musicians, led by vocalist Youngdahl, chose a pair of songs, one languorous about love lost and the other spirited, this about a woman whose "ardor burns" and who asks for action from her "lazy lover."

An early 18th century trio of songs by a little known British composer, Elizabeth Turner, dealing with everyday life and soulful love, and a caustic one about preferred spinsterhood by Faustina Hasse Hodges, a 19th century American, wound up the program. They were performed with ardor and true to period character.

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Cecilia's Circle
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Donald Rosenberg
Plain Dealer Music Critic

Works by male composers so dominate our concert life that we need to be reminded of the creative contributions that women have made.

Cecilia's Circle, an expert early-music group of female artists, lobbies with utmost care and imagination for its own. The captivating program the ensemble gave Saturday on the Chapel, Court & Countryside: Early Music at Harkness series at Case Western Reserve University's Harkness Chapel even contained works by Georg Friderich Handel and Heinrich von Biber.

Never mind that their pieces were about women. The music was fully in sync with the program's theme, "Pious & Profane: The Female Form in Music 1600-1850," which included luminous and often humorous pieces by Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre, Barbara Strozzi, Faustina Hasse Hodges and Elizabeth Turner.

Handel and Biber began the evening on sacred notes. The former's "Salve Regina" conveys its subject through phrases of pleading beauty and blissful exuberance. Soprano Janet Youngdahl brought a voice of pristine clarity and expressive versatility to Handel's demands, and she merged her artistry seamlessly with her colleagues - Baroque violinist Julie Andrijeski, harpsichordist Vivian Montgomery and viola da gamba player Ann Marie Morgan.

Andrijeski picked up a second violin, tuned alternately by way of the technique known as scordatura, for Biber's Rosary Sonata #14: "The Assumption of Mary." The violin part is extravagant in the extreme, with scampering lines and lavish ornamentation that Andrijeski tossed off with elegant flair.

The night's bloodiest moment came in Jacquet de La Guerre's cantata "Judith," which recounts the seduction and ultimate beheading of the Assyrian tyrant Holofernes by the indomitable Israeli widow. The music is richly descriptive, sometimes surprisingly sprightly for the topic, always closely attuned to the emotions in the text. It sounded gripping as sung so vividly by Youngdahl, who even did a mean Holofernes imitation, and catapulted by the sterling instrumentalists.

Two Strozzi pieces took the program into secular territory. "Moralita amorosa" exudes ardent yearning, while "Hor che Apollo" moans of unrequited love. Youngdahl's pinpoint virtuosity put both works in fresh, vital perspective.

Jacquet de La Guerre's Sonata in D minor for Violin abounds in abstract meaning throughout its many changes of tempo and mood. The emphasis isn't only on the violin, which Andrijeski played with fiery and poetic depth, but also on viola da gamba, which had a penetrating champion in Morgan.

The atmosphere lightened considerably in American composer Hodges' "The Indignant Spinster," a parlor song that Youngdahl inhabited to quivering, hilarious effect. And two charming Turner songs, "To Heal the Wound a Bee Had Made" and "Happy Man, The Gods Outvying," were further examples of superb music by a female composer who certainly doesn't warrant neglect.

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University of Colorado at Boulder
College of Music
Voice Area
18th & Euclid
Campus Box 301
Boulder, Colorado 80309-0301

Robert J. Harrison, D. Mus. A
(303) 492-6341
FAX (303) 492-5619
EMAIL: harrison@spot.colorado.edu

August 16th, 2000

Vivian Montgomery
2508 Euclid Height Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44106

Dear Vivian:

When I received your e-mail yesterday or so, informing me of your (new?) address, I was reminded to write you a note to tell you and everyone in Cecilia's Circle how impressed I was with every part of the program which you presented at the recent Midwest Historical Keyboard Society meeting. As someone who has spent a great deal of time studying and listening to music prior to the 19th-century, and I might add, someone who is not easily gladdened by so many who "play" less-than-serious games with early music, I so much wish to repeat to you and the group how simply outstanding your presentation was. How proud Cecilia, our patron saint of the musical arts, must be of your organization which presents a wide variety of early musics with flare, intelligence, and with an unmatched accuracy similar to hers. Know how honored and pleasured I was, as well as the MHKS membership, to have heard the three of you in the very best of "musical action." My only hope is that it will not be long before I might hear you again.

With my very best wishes to all of you, and for the future of your circle.

Very truly yours,

Robert J. Harrison

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Ohio's Greatest Home Newspaper
The Columbus Dispatch

Vocals dominate Early Music show

Music Review

May 2, 1998

By Ralph O' Dette
For the Dispatch

Likenesses: Portraits of Women was the intriguing title of a program last night by Cecilia's Circle, an ensemble of three instrumentalists and a singer who specialize in music composed before 1800. The four gifted young musicians were presented to an appreciative audience in the Huntington Recital Hall at Capital University as the season finale of Early Music in Columbus.

Cecilia's Circle consists of Janet Youngdahl, soprano; Vivian Montgomery, harpsichord; Julie Andrijeski, violin and vielle, and Julie Elhard, viola da gamba.

The program, which spanned six centuries of music,, counting from the birth year of the earliest composer to the death of the latest, included vocal and instrumental music by four women composers and two major vocal works centered on women by Henry Purcell.

The ensemble focused on conveying the message of each piece. The nature of the selections meant that vitality was almost always foremost.

The instrumentalists were first rate, but vocal music was dominant.

Youngdahl began with two songs by Hildegard von Bingen, 12th century poet, composer, mystic and religious leader who 900th birth anniversary is this year. The first, Quia ergo, was sung without accompaniment; with the second, O quam pretiosa , Andrijeski added a second voice with her vielle, the medieval predecessor of the viola.

Preparing music of that era for performance, including such basics as choice of pitches, rhythms and accompaniment, if any, requires considerable informed speculation. These performances were convincing.

Youngdahl's voice is pleasing to the ear. It is also larger and more expressive than many early music singers, but she was always stylish.

She had for example, simplicity for A Chantar, a song by the 13th century woman troubadour, Comtesse de Dia, and a dramatic intensity for Purcell's The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation.

Every piece on the program merits commendation, but a special word is needed for the Violin Sonata in D Minor by Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre. The piece is actually a trio in which the viola da gamba and harpsichord are individually important. More important, however, is that the audience got to hear some wonderful music by the 18th century girl child prodigy.

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Boise Early Music Society
Serving the Boise Early Music Community for Nearly a Year
December 1996 Vol. 1 No.7

....a review
by Linda Yordy

If you missed Cecilia's Circle on November 1, you missed a gem of a concert. Cecilia's Circle, who takes its name from St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, is comprised of members Janet Youngdahl, soprano; Vivian Montgomery, harpsichord; Elisabeth Reed, baroque cello; and Boise's own Julie Andrijeski, baroque violin and dance.
Focusing their performance on the baroque era, Cecilia's Circle opened the program with a suite of dances by Andre Campra. Not only did their opening number offer an aural delight, but also offered a visual treat with the baroque dancing of Julie Andrijeski. Dressed in period costume, Ms. Andrijeski skillfully executed period dance with grace and enthusiasm. Several pieces, including composers Henry Purcell and Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, feature the voice of Janet Youngdahl. Her sweet soprano sound was crystal clear and her musical interpretation demonstrated both knowledge and enthusiasm of the baroque era. She expressed the full range of emotion in the pieces, from sorrow, to anger, to joy. Elisabeth Reed gave an impressive performance on her 13th century baroque cello. Her wonderfully phrased basso lines offered a musical foundation on which the ensemble could build. Her technique in complex passages were extremely clean but maintained the passion so often lost by lesser musicians. Vivian Montgomery offered the glue to pull the ensemble together. So often the harpsichord merely blends into the background, but her musical interpretation brought her to the forefront. Ms. Andrijeski was again featured in the program as the baroque violinist in Sonata for Violin and Basso Continuo by Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre. Her technical skill as well as her musical abilities demonstrated her knowledge and passion for the baroque era not only as a dancer, but as a fine musician as well. As individuals, each member is an excellent musician; but as an ensemble, the whole is truly more than the sum of its parts. Intonation was impeccable (something that is difficult on baroque instruments). In fact, all the technical aspects of the performance were impeccable. But this group took it one step beyond to prove that music of the baroque era is a passionate and emotional genre. Cecilia's Circle played to a nearly full house. Support from the members of the Boise Early Music Society is greatly appreciated.

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University of Idaho
Lionel Hampton School of Music
Moscow, Idaho 83844-4015
Dec. 1, 1998

To Whom It May Concern:

FROM: Mary DuPree
Professor of Music

SUBJECT: Cecilia's Circle

Cecilia's Circle was in residence on the University of Idaho campus for three days, giving a delightful concert as part of our Auditorium Series, and providing four different residency activities. These included a lecture/performance on Baroque music and dance to about 50 undergraduate music majors, a presentation on the music of Hildegard von Bingen to the Moscow High School Choir, a discussion of the life and music of Hildegard with a senior-level history course at the University, and a lecture/performance on women composers throughout history for the University's Women's Center. All these activities were done with thorough professionalism, a thoroughly engaging manner and were appropriate to the level of the audience. We had many enthusiastic responses to their presentations!

The members of Cecilia's Circle are truly fine musicians, articulate and thoughtful advocates for their music, accommodating, and a pleasure to work with. I highly recommend them for residencies such as we sponsored.

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'Women of Baroque' a real discovery


It's a rare concert that can elicit a sense of discovery as strong as I felt Sunday at the little Reformed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the city's still quiet Old West Side. There, a quartet of experienced early music performer's played a refreshingly unusual program billed "Women of the Baroque: Music by Female Composers, 1620-1790."

The discovery lay in three elements: the repertory, the performers, and the place. Although the music came from composers virtually unknown in the hallowed halls of the standard repertory, it was often expressive and always interesting- from the horrifying musical and textual imagery of Corona Schroter's "Das Madchen am Ufer" (The Maide on the Shore), to the tour de force of baroque musical rhetoric in Barbara Strozzi's "Lagrime Mie" (Tears of Mine), to the gentle whimsy of the two songs by Elizabeth Turner that concluded the recital.

If such music looks promising in score, some of it is close to revelation in the hands of these performers. Led by the polished, ingratiating, and thoroughly professional soprano Janet Youngdahl (a University of Michigan alumna who's a doctoral candidate at Case Western Reserve University), the group delivered this mostly vocal program with obvious commitment and pleasure.

Youngdahl sang behind a music stand, but that didn't get in the way of her warm and engaging stage presence, her beautiful early-music soprano voice, and her obvious sensitivity to every nuance of text-music relations. She also showed considerable grace and agility in rendering tasteful, expressive ornamentation in each song. At the terrible climax of Schroter's song- where the maiden sees that "suddenly on the white waves a pale white corpse was swimming"- the accompaniment stopped and Youngdahl floated a little roulade that had something of the spirit of a melancholy jazz break.

The instrumentalists (harpsichordist Vivian Montgomery, viola da gambist Carlene Stober, and recorder player Beth Gilford) provided a firm accompanimental foundation and often injected apt ornamentation of their own.

In the only purely instrumental piece on the program, Montgomery perormed classical-era keyboardist Marianna D'Auenbrugg's "Sonata," which ended in a playful rondo spiked with an unmistakably Haydn-esque caprice.

The third elements of "discovery" at the concert was the church itself. Rarely if ever used by local performers, this tiny church at the corner of Jefferson and Fourth provided the perfect space for this intimate entertainment. It has six rows of fixed pews angled to face the small platform that serves as the altar (or stage). It could easily seat over 100, and there's not a bad seat in the house. If the group performs a few concerts next year, perhaps more than the 40-50 in attendance on Sunday can discover this music, these musicians, and this church for themselves.

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