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Still from Ars Nova Singers Rebirth Virtual Performance Review by Marc Shulgold

Marc Shulgold Review: Streaming Becomes a New Art

Review originally published by Marc Shulgold for The Scen3: “Singing in Zoom Time – Streaming Becomes a New Art for Ars Nova”

Yes, we know: The past year has been tough for performing arts groups forced to cancel concerts, find new revenue sources and struggle to stay afloat. But most have survived (so far). Thank goodness, the wonderful Ars Nova Singers have weathered the pandemic storm – a fact demonstrated in a sort-of retrospective delivered through the group’s Youtube channel this past weekend.

In a generous program of pre-recorded unreleased selections, and offered admission-free, Director Tom Morgan and his chamber chorus reminded viewers of the group’s velvety sound and its easy command of early music as well as its commitment to invigorating modern-day compositions. “Ars Nova,” after all, means New Art.

Streamed on the first day of Spring, the 80-minute program was fittingly titled “Rebirth” – a name with multiple meanings, Morgan explained in a brief video introduction. The word is a translation of “Renaissance” (the prominent era in the program), as well as an expression of his commitment to lead Ars Nova into a rejuvenated, post-Covid 19 world.

The majority of warmly recorded audio selections were drawn from concert performances over the past decade, accompanied by pretty scenes of melting ice (John Tavener’s Quemadmodum), photos from the Hubble space telescope (the Scottish hymn Our Father God Celestial) and shifting cloud formations, performance photos of Ars Nova and interiors of cathedrals (an intriguing blend of various early and recent Mass movements). Missing, alas, were video views of concerts with live audiences. Remember those?

There were refreshing human touches, however. Chorus singers were filmed introducing some of the works. For example, bass Andrew Carr (the singer with the gigantic beard) said of the Tavener, “to sing it is intoxicating.” Tenor David Nesbitt, a 34-year Ars Nova veteran, introduced a work by Gesualdo, taking time to recount the gruesome double murder committed by the Renaissance composer.

In addition, there were several contributions from two note-worthy guests: tenor Nicholas Phan and gamba player Ann Marie Morgan, performing together via Zoom, though separated by thousands of miles (Phan was in San Francisco, Morgan in Broomfield). Their chatty interplay proved a charming touch, just as their superb traversal of music from the 1500s added a much-needed view of performers …performing.

Will Ars Nova’s live concerts with live audiences return this year? In an earlier conversation, director Morgan (no relation to the gamba player) told me that a public outdoor program might be offered in August. Financially, he said, the group is managing well, relying on contributions from loyal fans and sponsors. Among the latter, it should be noted, is a company prominent in the time of Covid: Pfizer.

Ars Nova “Rebirth: Spring Equinox Concert”: audio credits, Glenn Short (Crystalline Acoustics); video and photography credits, Tom Morgan; photography credits, Lisa Ferrante of Lisa Mia Studios. Concert stream can be viewed here, with donations gratefully accepted here.