Renaissance Players - bringing music of the people across the ages
4 June 2006
The Renaissance Players' 30th Runnymede Pop Festival - a unique mix of mediaeval music and poetry performed with mediaeval instruments and in mediaeval costume - takes place on Tuesday 6 and Wednesday 7 June in the University's neo-gothic Great Hall, suitably decked out for the occasion.
"We call it a pop festival because the music and texts are by popular musicians of the day," said founding director of the group, Winsome Evans, an associate professor in the University's Arts Music program - "troubadors, minstrels and minnesingers - and it was music that was well known at the time."But as all that survives of mediaeval music is the text and melody, the colourful music that the Renaissance Players perform on over 20 instruments from the plucked psaltery to the haunting gemshorm, is very much a creative undertaking with a scholarly underpinning.
Associate Professor Evans has arranged almost all the music in what her intensive research tells her is a viable mediaeval mode, and the concert includes several new compositions written in mediaeval styles, as well as several spoken texts with instrumental backing.In fact the concert begins with a spoken piece about the sacred dance of Jesus, she said, taken from the controversial Apocryphal Acts of John.
"Most of the music in the concert is related to dance - songs that either describe dance or songs we know were used for dancing- but they encompass a huge range of tempos and moods."
The time-span of the pieces which are from five European countries, is also large. The earliest piece has been taken from Virgil's Appendix Vergiliana, dating from the 2nd century BC. The latest, dated c. 1325 and taken from the Robertsbridge Codex, is one of the earliest known pieces written for organ, which ProfessorEvans has arranged for a 14th century ensemble.
All but one of the performers for this Runnymede Pop Festival are Sydney University graduates or students, many having come back especially for this anniversary concert which features chosen favourites of the group over the years.
An unusual feature of this concert is that, apart from director Winsome Evans, there's an all-male cast of performers, amongst them distinguished contemporary music composer Ian Shanahan on recorders; Nick Wales, another composer and founder of the pop group Coda, on vielle rebec; and talented countertenor Russell Harcourt who is in fourth year at the Conservatorium and a student of the famous Graham Pushee, himself a former Renaissance Player.The other singer is baritone Christopher May, a Sydney University Arts-Law student, taking music honours,whose father David May is reader for the concert, following in the footsteps of his father, Frederick May, the University's founding professor of Italian who performed with the Renaissance Players as their eccentric, erudite reader for many years, starting with the first Runnymede Pop Festival.
Runnymede literally means a 'boggy meadow', but the chosen name has symbolic significance for the self-run group in which students have always played alongside professionals.
"It's the place where wicked King John was forced by his barons to sign the Magna Carta to restore the people's rights," Professor Evans said, "and when we started these mediaeval pop concerts in the 1970s, that was very pertinent."
"So Runnymede is a symbol of the power of people to overcome the power of the ruler - a place of celebration of all the things that civilisation should be."
Concert details: 7pm, Tuesday 6 and Wednesday 7 June, Great Hall, University Quadrangle
Tickets: donation entry-cards $20 available at the door and from Michael's Music Room (Town Hall Station)
Enquiries: 9351 2923
Media enquiries: 9351 2261