“An Italian Jesuit makes a map of the world (including the Americas) in Beijing in 1602, in Chinese,” writes map specialist Ann Waltner.
“Thousands of copies are printed. In 1608, the emperor asks for a copy of the map; new blocks are carved and copies are printed on silk for the emperor. None of the silk copies survive, and only six of the paper copies survive.”
Of all this a concert audience in Auer Hall was informed late Monday afternoon in printed notes by Waltner. She also addressed such matters during an enlightening program, one that will place her and a group of musical colleagues on stage at the China National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing on Dec. 12. Monday’s event was a tune-up.
Waltner is director of the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota, where one of those old maps survives. She’s teamed with a Chinese language narrator, Qin Fang, and an Indiana University musical cast: Sacabuche, an Early Music ensemble of singers and instrumentalists from the Jacobs School; two distinguished members of its faculty, violinist Stanley Ritchie and violist da gamba Wendy Gillespie, and Baroque trombonist Linda Pearse, artistic director of Sacabuche.
Their multimedia performance is called “Matteo Ricci: His Map and Music.” It tells of the Jesuit’s journey to and life in China, features an array of fascinating maps, portrait, and illustrations dating to the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and is enriched by music both of the time and the present.
The old music comes from Ricci’s Italian contemporaries, the likes of Andrea Gabrieli, Giovanni Nanino, Giovanni Palestrina, Bartolomeo de Selma and Girolamo Dalla Casa. Mood setting that music was in substance and as played bewitchingly on period instruments.
The songs of faith, based on words from the Old and New Testaments and reflective of Ricci’s Jesuit ties, were hauntingly voiced by tenor Benjamin Geier and soprano Christine Buras.
Two 21st century pieces added an unusual twist. Written by Huang Rao, they resound in a totally different musical language and yet fit into the elastic tapestry of the program. They’re meant, says Waltner, to give timelessness to the program by weaving “past and present together in a richly textured way.”
One, a “Fisherman’s Sonnet,” pays homage to an entertainment popular in China at the time Ricci lived there, “kun” opera. The other replaces lost music for lyrics written by Ricci which express the Jesuit’s view of life. Consider these words, in translation: “The situation of people is the opposite of trees. A tree’s roots are in the ground, so it receives its nourishment from the earth . People’s roots incline towards heaven, thus they receive sustenance from heaven . The heart of God only shows great sympathy for the common people and seldom allows rumbling thunder to harm people.”
A few issues of sound needed adjustment in this trial concert. Otherwise, all things musical, verbal and visual seemed at the ready. The package is an unusual one and, without doubt, compelling.