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Columbus Makes Art Presents Matthew Bester Reflecting on 15 Years of Music-Making

Sarah Hixon Sarah Hixon Columbus Makes Art Presents Matthew Bester Reflecting on 15 Years of Music-MakingMatthew Bester (far right), the artistic director of vocal ensemble Fior Angelico. Photo by Scott Sparrow.
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Sarah Hixon, program director of Early Music in Columbus, caught up with Matthew Bester, the artistic director of vocal ensemble Fior Angelico. Fior Angelico will be performing Ad Libitum: A Singer’s Choice Concert on Jan. 28, 2022 as part of Early Music Columbus’ current season.

Sarah: Tell me about how you began Fior Angelico? What has it been like starting and leading an ensemble for the last 15 years?
Matthew: I first encountered early music as an undergraduate student. The experience was revelatory, kindling in me a passion for the performance of these styles as well as a desire to pursue graduate studies in historical musicology (I earned my Ph.D. from The Ohio State University). I became a fan of some of the English early music choruses such as The Tallis Scholars and The Sixteen, and I wanted to create something similar in Columbus.

Matthew Bester, the artistic director of vocal ensemble Fior Angelico
Matthew Bester, the artistic director of vocal ensemble Fior Angelico. Photo by Scott Sparrow.

I gathered together some singer friends who shared a similar interest in early music and formed Fior Angelico in 2006. The group typically numbers between 16 and 18 singers, depending on the repertoire. For much of the group’s history, Fior Angelico has been mainly a summertime ensemble, providing a welcome outlet during the summer months when church choirs and academic ensembles are on hiatus. In recent years, as the group’s profile has increased, we have been pleased to be invited to perform as part of concert series in Columbus and Cleveland, which has sometimes shifted our work into the winter months.

Sarah: What is your favorite moment, memory or concert experience with Fior Angelico?
Matthew: I have many favorite moments through the years, but the concerts that really stand out to me are the ones that we have sung in buildings with exquisite acoustics such as St. Joseph Cathedral (Columbus), First Congregational Church (Columbus) and the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist (Cleveland). This music was made for such resonant, live spaces, and it is always a privilege to be able to perform in those types of venues. We are excited to return to St. Joseph Cathedral for our concert with the Early Music in Columbus concert series in January.

Sarah: Tell me about your upcoming concert, “Ad Libitum.” What was your inspiration for this concert?
Matthew: I always enjoy it when my singers share their suggestions with me for what they would like to sing. As I began to think about the milestone of our 15th anniversary, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to craft a concert entirely around my singers’ suggestions. I asked them to submit their favorite early music choral works to me, both ones that we already have performed and ones that they would like to do with this group for the first time. It has been both fun and informative to see which works have resonated with my singers, some of whom have been with the group since its beginning.

Matthew Bester, the artistic director of vocal ensemble Fior Angelico
Matthew Bester, the artistic director of vocal ensemble Fior Angelico. Photo by Scott Sparrow.

Sarah: What will the music be like on this program?Matthew: The program will feature some of the finest unaccompanied choral works of the Renaissance and the early Baroque. Composers will include William Byrd, Josquin des Prez, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Tomas Luis de Victoria and more. It will be a concert full of choral gems, which I hope will appeal both to those who are already fans of early music as well as to those who are new to the style. Much of the music will be sung in Latin, but complete texts and translations will be available in the program.

Sarah: What’s something you wish others knew about your art form?Matthew: I find early music to be some of the most rewarding music to sing and conduct. Each voice part has an equal role to play in this style, which puts an emphasis on teamwork and collaboration. The soaring melodies, especially when sung in outstanding acoustics, can be breathtaking.

Sarah: What’s the best thing about the Columbus art scene right now?Matthew: Columbus is blessed with so many extraordinary musicians and ensembles, many of whom have been sidelined for much of the past 18 months due to the pandemic. Seeing the many creative ways that these artists have responded to the pandemic has been inspiring. As many of us cautiously return to work, I hope that conditions will allow us to come back even stronger than we were before.

See Bester and Fior Angelico perform Ad Libitum: A Singer’s Choice Concert on Jan. 28, 2022 as part of Early Music Columbus’ current season.

Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting and advancing the arts and cultural fabric of Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art. Learn more about local artists, organizations, public art and events at ColumbusMakesArt.com.

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