King’s reliquary inspires Rose Ensemble’s concert series

| February 9, 2016 | 0 Comments
Sainte-Chapelle, the reliquary King Louis IX built in Paris, France, is the inspiration for the Rose Ensemble's Feb. 18-20 concert series. iStock

Sainte-Chapelle, the reliquary King Louis IX — aka St. Louis — built in Paris, France, is the inspiration for the Rose Ensemble’s Feb. 18-20 concert series. iStock

The 13th-century French king who would become a saint went to great lengths to acquire relics from Christ’s life and Passion, including the towel Jesus used to wash his disciples’ feet, pieces of the cross from his crucifixion and his crown of thorns.

Jordan Sramek, artistic director of the Rose Ensemble, also went to great lengths to find period music for the group’s Feb. 18-20 concert series “Sainte-Chapelle de Paris: A King’s Quest for the True Cross.”

The concerts commemorate the 1248 consecration of Sainte-Chapelle, the chapel King Louis IX built in Paris to house his collection of relics.

“We’re talking about a building — a church — that now has specific liturgies, and this is where the story unfolds, so to speak,” said Sramek, who founded the Twin Cities-based Rose Ensemble in 1996. “[The concert] really sheds light on this man, and this building and this idea of . . . taking the scene of the Passion and the life of Christ in a very literal way and bringing it to Paris in this reliquary.”

Sramek explained that at the time, King Louis IX essentially mortgaged France in order to buy Jesus’ crown of thorns from the cash-strapped emperor of Constantinople. Under heavy guard, a group of Dominicans brought the crown to Sens, France, where King Louis is said to have processed barefoot through the city with it before it was transported to Paris awaiting the completion of Sainte-Chapelle, its intended reliquary. For centuries, it remained there unseen by the general public. Among the other relics King Louis acquired are items said to be the rod of Moses, part of the head of St. John the Baptist, baby Jesus’ swaddling clothes, and the lance and reed from his crucifixion.

“And there’s music for all of these,” Sramek said, referring to Gregorian chants associated with individual relics that the ensemble will sing.

Dedication to the Passion

The concert is primarily vocal but will include string instruments for accompaniment: a copy of a 12th- century harp, a vielle (medieval French for “fiddle”) and a psaltery.

“The idea is to demonstrate the musical heritage of Sainte-Chapelle as the building as well, so there’ll be music way into the 17th century,” Sramek said, adding that the chapel had a prolific musical life and housed numerous composers who remain virtually unknown. One lends his requiem to the Rose Ensemble’s concert series.

“In our research, we learned that St. Louis heard the chanted requiem Mass every day at Sainte-Chapelle. This was how dedicated he was to the idea of the Passion,” Sramek said. “The audience is really going to get a sense of St. Louis not only as a human, but also as a very dedicated Christian. And then they’re going to hear almost 500 years of really beautiful music that’s very specific to this building.”

“Sainte-Chapelle de Paris: A King’s Quest for the True Cross”

• 8 p.m. Feb. 18 at Holy Cross Church, 1621 University Ave. NE, Minneapolis
• 8 p.m. Feb. 19 at Incarnation Church, 3817 Pleasant Ave. S., Minneapolis
• 8 p.m. Feb. 20 at the St. Paul Seminary’s St. Mary Chapel, 2115 Summit Ave., St. Paul

Tickets are $10 (student-rate with ID) to $37; free for children age 0-12. Performances include a pre-concert talk at 7 p.m.

Sramek hasn’t been to Sainte-Chapelle, but his work as director entails partnering with linguists, historians and musicologists in order to give the Rose Ensemble’s audiences an experience true to the concerts’ themes. That’s why he’s just as intentional about the venues.

“We need to be — in a historically mindful way — attentive to that sonic aspect, to the best of our ability, of what Sainte-Chapelle might have offered this music,” he said. “When we know about the space for which the music was written, what an opportunity.”

For the Sainte-Chapelle series, the ensemble will perform at Holy Cross Church in northeast Minneapolis, Incarnation Church in Minneapolis and the St. Paul Seminary’s St. Mary chapel in St. Paul.

“One of my favorite spaces in the whole Twin Cities is the St. Paul Seminary Chapel — the St. Mary Chapel . . . it’s just so beautiful,” said Sramek, who cantors at Holy Cross Church. “It’s small and it’s intimate, and the acoustics are perfect.”

In addition to the Twin Cities performances, a Feb. 21 performance will be held in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Each concert will include a pre-performance talk to provide context for listeners. Yossi Maurey, senior lecturer at the Department of Musicology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, will be the guest lecturer. Sramek, who’s previously worked with Maurey, said his work with medieval manuscripts, including the different liturgies that were celebrated at Sainte-Chapelle, is a bonus for attendees.

Two events featuring only the lectures will take place 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Merriam Park Library in St. Paul and 12 p.m. Feb. 17 in Courtroom 317 of the Landmark Center in St. Paul.

Sramek said the performances are especially appropriate during Lent.

“We knew this was a Passion story because of the significance of the relics,” he said. “But I think St. Louis’ . . . usage of the requiem Mass as a very personal, prayerful tool comes beautifully into play during the season of Lent. For all Christians, certainly, but this in a lot of ways is a very Catholic story. It sheds light on the Passion of Christ in a very literal way, in a very concrete way.”

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