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In Stile Moderno’s concert: an exquisite ascent to heaven

I’m not sure how often I or anyone else comes home from a night of music and says, “Wow, that was exquisite.” We might say it was “awesome,” or “amazing,” but “exquisite”? The word seems a bit out of synch with today’s grittier, modern aesthetic.

But during In Stile Moderno’s concert at the Brattleboro Music Center on Jan. 21 (which I learned about in this paper), I not only had to dust off the word and add it back into my active vocabulary, but also recalibrate it to a higher level.

Music can be and do so much. It can move and thrill us at the deepest level. It can be powerful, tender, heartbreaking, wild, exciting, beautiful, and many other things.

The new definition of “exquisite” that this trio of musicians evoked includes all of that, but it adds one more ingredient as well, one that we don’t encounter much these days: a feeling that I can only describe as “ascending to heaven” — or something like that.

Now, I realize that this feeling might not be what everyone is looking for in a musical experience, but I can vouch that an ascent to heaven — by musical means — is worth the trip! I don’t know how much of this quality was due to the 17th-century songs and musical pieces by Monteverdi and his other wildly inventive Italian contemporaries, how much was due to Agnes Coakley Cox’s incredibly expressive and pure voice, how much was due to the fine control that Nathaniel Cox (Agnes’s spouse) had over his cornetto — a precursor of the trumpet that has a sound like mellow gold — and how much was due to the grooving licks of Simon Martyn-Ellis on guitar and theorbo (a massive, lute-like stringed instrument, also played by Nathaniel).

But whatever it was, the sum total of it all could only be described by the loftiest of words.

If this group of musicians comes back to the the Brattleboro area soon and often (which is possible, since Cox grew up here, the son of the local violin maker Douglas Cox), that will be exquisite, too.

Greg Sellei

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Originally published in The Commons issue #444 (Wednesday, January 31, 2018). This story appeared on page 0.

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