The Washington Early Music Festival, which had its final performance of the year Sunday in St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill, has become a significant part of the city's musical life.
The cover of the program booklet for the initial series of 12 concerts in 2004 labeled it the "first annual" festival. That may have been optimistic for a low-budget enterprise staffed by volunteers and lacking the structures for publicity, ticket sales, etc., which are essential to the survival of a musical organization. But, says Constance Whiteside, the festival's founder and director, the optimism was borne out. This year's series raised the number of performances to 17, and organizers expect next year's festival, already well along in its planning, to do even better.
The theme of this year's program, which opened June 3, was "Spain and the New World." Next year's theme will be Italy, and some of the city's major musical organizations will take part. The Folger Consort, the city's oldest and best-known early-music ensemble, will launch it; the last program of the Folger's season will be the first of the 2006 festival. The National Gallery will have an exhibition related to the festival's theme, and two of its Sunday evening concerts will be part of the festival.
Performers in this year's event included such internationally known groups as the Baltimore Consort, Piffaro, Camerata Trajectina and Hesperus as well as many excellent local groups -- Chantry, Suspicious Cheese Lords, the Palestrina Choir, Modern Musick and the Countertop Quartet. Besides music, there were programs of Renaissance dance given by the Court Dancers, four richly costumed performers accompanied by the Renaissonics instrumental quartet, which came down from New York for an evening of pavanes, galliards and other dances with a rich array of props: a fan, a spear, swords and shields.
The festival's early concerts were given in a variety of religious venues, including the Franciscan Monastery, but the last 10 were at St. Mark's, the host of the festival. Performers included the Carmina chorus; I Bambini di Parnaso; the Hudson, Ikeda and Whiteside trio; the Cordelion vocal ensemble with La Rocinante instrumentalists; two voice and lute duets, Elizabeth Baber with Charles Weaver and Barbara Hollinshead with Howard Bass; Armonia Nova; and Trefoil, three singers (Drew Minter, Mark Rimple and Marcia Young) who accompany themselves on medieval harps and other instruments.