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Features / Monteverdi to close classical season

Dunedin Consort will be performing with five vocalists and two instrumentalists.

Shetland Arts’ Classical Season for 2016-17 has covered a lot of ground – from graphical scores to Finnish tango. The upcoming final performance of the season may be just as unusual, as the award-winning Dunedin Consort performs an evening of madrigals by Baroque composer Claudio Monteverdi.

Love’s Fire, Love’s Ashes is part of the Dunedin Consort‘s current tour, which encompasses Aberdeen, Shetland and Edinburgh before finishing up at the Bath Festival.

The Dunedin Consort, founded in Edinburgh in 1995 and specialising in the Baroque and Classical styles, will be performing in Shetland for the first time. They have been nominated for numerous awards – including the Grammy for Best Choral Performance in 2015 for their recording of Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor. They have also been the recipients of two Gramophone awards (2007 and 2014, for Handel’s Messiah and the aforementioned Mozart).

Madrigals, which originated in Renaissance Italy, are a secular, multi-vocal composition; the forerunner of the operatic aria. Often haunting and powerful in turn, madrigals usually have little to no musical accompaniment, the focus being on the lyrics being sung (fortunately, there will be a programme of English translations to accompany the performance).

The Dunedin Consort will be performing as an ensemble of five vocalists and two instrumentalists playing organ and theorbo (a long-necked Italian lute).

Shetland News spoke to the concert’s Director and tenor, Nicholas Mulroy, about the upcoming concert.

“[We are] playing some of the well-known ones,” he said. “Although music from the early 17th century is a niche within the niche of classical music.”

Nicholas noted that he was not keen on using the word ‘madrigal’ due to people’s perceptions: “For some people it has the connotations of being old… it’s a flimsy word.”

Nevertheless, Nicholas described Monteverdi as “the absolute master of the form.”

“He dealt with real, human emotions… anger, grief, rapture. He wasn’t interested in things sounding beautiful, although they did sound beautiful… He shows us to feel these extreme emotions.

“[Monteverdi] was absolutely obsessed with bringing the words he set to life; very vivid life.”

Monteverdi’s madrigals are described by the Dunedin Consort as ‘full of beauty, love and heartbreak; teeming with tangible innovation, inspiration, and imagination’.

The programme covers over a dozen such pieces, including the evocatively-titled Shall I speak, miserable, or remain silent? (Parlo, misero, o taccio?), No more war (Non piu Guerra) and The Nymph’s Lament (Lamento della Ninfa, which Nicholas described as ‘almost like a pop song’ in terms of composition).

“There’s no greater composer in lots of ways,” Nicholas said. “The level of his writing was consistently very high. [The] music still speaks to us about what it means to be alive.”

The Dunedin Consort will be performing in Mareel on 19 May. Tickets are available from Shetland Arts at Mareel or online at:

Alex Garrick-Wright