KC’s Nelson-Atkins and Bach Aria Soloists team up for ‘An Evening of Fierce Women’

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In the Book of Judith, Holofernes, an Assyrian general, is sent by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar to wreak vengeance on Israel. Judith, a beautiful and brave Jewish widow, sneaks into the tent of Holofernes while he’s drunk, and beheads the warlord with her own hands.

Judith was one fierce woman.

In conjunction with the current exhibit “Fierce Women: Artemisia Gentileschi and the Women Worthies” at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Bach Aria Soloists will present “An Evening of Fierce Women” June 9 at the Atkins Auditorium.

The program will include works by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Barbara Strozzi and Hildegard von Bingen performed by violinist Elizabeth Suh Lane, harpsichordist Elisa Bickers and soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson. Artwork from the exhibit will be shown on screen, and there will be commentary by the exhibit’s curator, Aimee Marcereau DeGalan

One of Gentileschi’s paintings in the exhibit is “Judith and the Beheading of Holofernes.” She painted the subject four times. Lane, founder and artistic director of Bach Aria Soloists, has long known and admired this particular painting, and she knew the perfect piece of music to pair it with.

“I was talking to Julián (Zugazagoitia) the director of the Nelson about Artemiso Gentileschi’s painting of ‘Judith’ and I said it would just be magnificent if you could get this painting on tour,” Lane said. ‘I told him we could pair it with the cantata ‘Judith’ by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre. A couple of years went by, and I contacted him again, and he said, ‘This is going to happen, we’re getting a painting.’’

For the “Fierce Women” exhibit, the Nelson-Atkins was able to borrow Gentileschi’s “Judith” from the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum. Painted sometime between 1623 and 1625, it’s a graphic depiction of Holofernes’ bloody demise. The Book of Judith is not included in the Protestant or Jewish Bibles and is part of the Apocrypha, although it can be found in both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles.

The subject of Judith and Holofernes has been popular for artists through the ages, but it surely had a special meaning for Gentileschi.

“Apparently when Artemisia was a young lady, she was raped, but then she rose above that,” Lane said. “Aimee gave me a private tour of each piece in the exhibit, and she said that pretty much every one of the female artists had to fight off these men all the time and persevere and win over all these male figures.”

In addition to the complete “Judith” cantata, Bach Aria Soloists will also perform a movement from Jacquet de la Guerre’s violin sonata and excerpts from her cantata “Esther.”

“Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre played harpsichord for Louis XIV when she was 4 years old,” Lane said. “He was so taken with her that he invited her to be part of the court. Louis’ mistress at the time took a real shine to Elisabeth, so she helped to guide her and raise her and encourage her. When Louis moved to Versailles, he let Elisabeth stay at the palace in Paris. That’s how special she was to him.”

Barbara Strozzi was a 17th century Italian composer, who supposedly had more secular music in print than any other composer of her time. Anderson will sing one of those arias, “L’Amante Segreto,” while one of the Nelson-Atkins’ own paintings, St. Cecilia by Bernardo Strozzi, is shown.

“It’s a beautiful song about unrequited love,” Lane said. “If you ask Aimee, she’ll say that Bernardo and Barbara are not related, but I’ve actually read that they could have been related. Even though she was considered an illegitimate daughter of Giulio Strozzi, Bernardo could be a relation.”

Another extraordinary woman whose music will be performed is the 12th century abbess Hildegard of Bingen.

“She was a real supernova,” Lane said. “Hildegard was a mystic and so creative and artistic. Popes and princes consulted her. Sarah’s going to start the program singing Hildegard’s chant ‘Hodie aperuit’ a cappella, and then we’ll do it again later with harpsichord and I’ll be playing drone on the violin.”

The concert promises to be celebration of brilliant female talent, from composers and artists to the musicians themselves.

“I think this will be such a unique event for people who have not come to a Bach Aria Soloists concert before,” Lane said. “Having the actual curator there will be really valuable. I think it will be a great high art occasion for anyone who wants something different but really deep.”

6 p.m. June 9. Atkins Auditorium, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak St. $20-$40. bachariasoloists.com.

Musica Vocale — Modern Madrigals

Madrigals are secular vocal works most often associated with Renaissance composers like Monteverdi or jolly old England and lots of fa-la-las. But creative and delightful madrigals are still being written.

Musica Vocale, conducted by Ryan Olsen, will present “Modern Madrigals” June 4 at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral. The program will include “Six Fire Songs on Italian Renaissance Poems” by Morten Lauridsen, “Suite Remembrance” by Melissa Dunphy and “Color Madrigals” by Joshua Shank.

Composed in 2007, “Color Madrigals” is a setting of poems by John Keats. Each madrigal features a different color and uses various Renaissance harmonic and rhythmic techniques.

3 p.m. June 4. Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 W. 13th St. Free. musicavocale.org

You can reach Patrick Neas at patrickneas@kcartsbeat.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.