Seraphic Fire welcomes guest conductor, unearths Baroque madrigals

Written By Miguel Sirgado
March 14, 2024 at 12:04 PM

Guest conductor Rubén Valenzuela and Seraphic Fire present “The Fountains of Israel, ” a Baroque masterpiece composed by German musician Johann Schein, in a series of concerts beginning Wednesday, March 20. (Photo courtesy of Gary Payne)

Although conductor Rubén Valenzuela was more than 2,000 miles away in San Diego, the Miami performance group Seraphic Fire stuck with him.

“I briefly met Patrick (Quigley, founder and artistic director of Seraphic Fire) a few years ago… but I have observed how for a long time we have shared a very similar trajectory in terms of growing our institutions,” said Valenzuela, who is the founder and artistic Director of the Bach Collegium in San Diego.

Now, Valenzuela will guest conduct Seraphic Fire in a concert series of “The Fountains of Israel,” a collection of madrigals composed in 1623 by Johann Schein, and being presented for the first time in Florida. The concert series will take place from Wednesday, March 20 to Sunday, March 24 and in Miami, Naples, Coral Gables, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami Beach.

Patrick Quigley is the founder and artistic director of Seraphic Fire. (Photo by Curtis Perry, courtesy of the National Arts Centre)

The collaboration between Valenzuela and Seraphic Fire originated from the 52-year-old Mexican-American conductor ‘s fascination with Baroque music and the respect he says he feels for Seraphic Fire. This South Florida-based, Grammy-nominated ensemble brings together professional vocal and instrumental artists from throughout the world to perform and record a repertoire ranging from medieval chant and Baroque masterpieces to commissions by leading contemporary composers.

“I believe that this synergy and my admiration for the work and quality of Seraphic Fire have ultimately led to this collaboration that feels very organic,” says Valenzuela.

For his part, Quigley believes that the decision to invite Valenzuela will have an impactful reception among the South Florida audience. “Rubén is one of the leading American lights in the field of Baroque music. His programming is exciting, his interpretations are fresh, his point of view is invigorating.”

The premiere of “The Fountains of Israel,” with its emotive renditions of texts from the Lutheran Bible, offers the local audience a window into Schein’s genius: his exquisite combination of elements of Italian Baroque and German traditions.

“Schein is one of the big names of the Baroque and certainly of the 18th century. I wanted to create a program that would illustrate the river of ideas that shapes Baroque music and leads to Bach’s greatness,” says Valenzuela.

Guest conductor Rubén Valenzuela is the founder and artistic director of Bach Collegium San Diego (BCSD). (Photo courtesy of Gary Payne)

For Quigley, this type of program is important for the evolution and overall development of his company’s repertoire. “Seraphic Fire has had a special relationship with the Baroque period since its founding, and we are always interested in performing new works and composers for us, which are often also new to the South Florida region. Both ‘The Fountains of Israel’ and Johann Schein debut with the company in this program.”

A century before Bach, the music of northern Germany came under the influence of a powerful new musical language originating in Italy and perfected by Claudio Monteverdi. Obsessed with eloquence, rhetoric, and the union of text with music, the Italian madrigal was the musical form par excellence of the time.

“The Fountains of Israel”—the highlight of Seraphic Fire’s program—”is Schein’s most important collection in the vocal realm, often described as spiritual, magical. People tend to think of (his madrigals) as secular music, but undoubtedly they are a very interesting combination of something sacred and secular at the same time,” explains Valenzuela, who is also a musicologist and keyboardist.

Accompanying Schein’s masterpiece in Seraphic Fire’s program is the music of Johann Christoph Bach, another significant figure of the Baroque era and cousin of J.S. Bach. “We are performing music from earlier members of the Bach family, (in this case) from Johann Christoph Bach. And this was my way of making people understand that someone like Johann Sebastian Bach is not someone who fell from the sky,” says Valenzuela.

The conductor explains that this program, because of its concentration on Baroque, is one of the most accessible even for audiences who shy away from classical music.

Seraphic fire artists, Nola Richardson, foreground, along with John Buffett, Amanda Crider and Alexandra Colaizzi. (Photo by Peter Vahan, courtesy of Seraphic Fire)

“. . . Because of the intention (since Monteverdi) that this music exaggerates everything: gestures of anger, sadness, sorrow, and peace, all of these things are very obvious in the Baroque . . .”

Quigley says that Miami audiences are accustomed to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and the composer’s familiarity.

“But his music does not exist in a vacuum,” explains Quigley. “In fact, J.S. Bach was one among a long list of fantastic musicians who were part of the remarkable environment of Leipzig, Germany, during the 17th and 18th centuries. It is an honor for Seraphic Fire to (present) ‘The Fountains of Israel’ by Johann Schein, which truly shows the genius of one of Bach’s predecessors,” he says.

The invitation for Valenzuela to premiere “The Fountains of Israel” alongside Seraphic Fire is a part of the group’s guest conductor program that Quigley says offers something not only to the performers but to the audience.

“Every season, Seraphic Fire invites two or three conductors with a specific specialty, both to offer the public a new perspective and to work with our musicians in a way that is different from that of our artistic director and associate director. The guest conductor program has been very successful . . .”

WHAT: Seraphic Fire presents “The Fountains of Israel” with guest conductor Ruben Valenzuela 

WHEN AND WHERE: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 20, St. Sophia Greek Orthodox, 2401 SW 3rd Ave., Miami; 7 p.m.,  Thursday, March 21, Vanderbilt Presbyterian, 1225 Piper Blvd., Naples; 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 22, St. Philip’s Episcopal, 1121 Andalusia Ave., Coral Gables; 7:30 p.m., March 23, All Saints Episcopal, 333 Tarpon Drive, Ft. Lauderdale; Sunday, March 24, All Souls Episcopal, 4025 Pine Tree Drive, Miami Beach.

COST: $53, general admission, free for students with valid ID

INFORMATION: 305-285-9060 or 

RELATED EVENT: A pre-concert is one hour before each concert discussing the work with soprano Molly Quinn. 

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