Press Release: Isabella’s Renaissance


For the final concerts in its 2022-23 season, Les Délices honors the influential patroness of the Renaissance: Isabella d’Este. Isabella’s Renaissance offers Ohio concertgoers the rare opportunity to hear exquisite 16th century music performed by the world’s leading interpreters, including guests from Boston’s Blue Heron, international artists Anna Danilevskaia and Emma-Lisa Roux, and homegrown talents soprano Elena Mullins and LD Artistic Director Debra Nagy. Performances will take place on Friday, April 21st at 7:30 pm at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Akron; Saturday, April 22nd at 7:30 pm at Lakewood Presbyterian Church in Lakewood; and Sunday, April 23rd at 4:00 pm at Herr Chapel, Plymouth Church UCC in Shaker Heights.

Isabella d’Este (1474-1539) was a prominent noblewoman in 16th-century Mantua who cut a fascinating figure at court. She was a generous and astute patron of music and art, a brilliant military strategist, a humanist scholar, and a fashion trendsetter and her beneficence supported many influential painters, sculpturists, and composers. d’Este herself played the lute and (unusually) hired professional women singers to perform at the Mantuan court. The musicians whose careers Isabella supported included the singer-lutenist Marchetto Cara and wind-player Bartolomeo Tromboncino who were famous for their improvisation skills as well as their frottole (a popular song form that preceded the madrigal).

Les Délices’ artistic director Debra Nagy summed up the program, “it’s a fun mix of heady polyphony, light songs (the frottole are earworms, really), and vivacious dance music.” In addition to lute solos and improvisations, the program also includes works by the greatest composers of the day, Johannes Ockeghem, Heinrich Isaac, and Josquin Desprez.

Nagy has long wanted to feature virtuosic instrumental music from the Renaissance on Les Délices’ concert series but bringing together the right instruments and players was essential. She explained, “When we ask ‘What did music sound like in the decades around 1500?,’ we have to confront many more questions ranging from ‘What instrument is appropriate for this bass part?’ to ‘How can we imagine or reconstruct the repertoire of a great improviser of the past – when little to no music has been left to us?”  For Isabella’s Renaissance, Cleveland audiences will have a unique opportunity to learn from and be inspired by two of Europe’s leading performers – vielle player Anna Danilevskaia and lutenist Emma-Lisa Roux (pictured left) – on Renaissance plucked and bowed string instruments.

Danilevskaia directs Switzerland’s acclaimed Solazzo Ensemble and is one of the few players of the vihuela d’arco (pictured right), a unique bowed string instrument that is not related to either the viola da gamba or violin families. One of the most widely-used instruments in the 15th and early 16th centuries, the vihuela d’arco remains one of the least understood yet it  is essential to play the virtuosic bass parts of music from around 1500. Emma-Lisa Roux is a rising star on the European stage, specializing in both plectrum and finger technique on the lute as well as self-accompanying as a singer.

In addition to instrumental polyphony and songs featuring soprano Elena Mullins, music for dancing occupies an important place in the program. For these performances, Nagy and guest artists will collaborate to create original performances that incorporate both improvisation and composition in historical style. Nagy explained, “The music that survives is often just a single line melody but evidence suggests that it was performed in at least three parts, so that prompts questions about improvisation.”

Isabella’s Renaissance also builds on a history of successful collaborations with Boston’s acclaimed Blue Heron that focus on Medieval and Renaissance music. Since 2015, Nagy and Blue Heron director Scott Metcalfe have co-created four programs (including Machaut’s Remede de Fortune, recently released to acclaim as a CD) for both Cleveland and Boston audiences and performed in many other concerts together. Their previous collaborations have focused on 14th century music for voices and instruments; Isabella’s Renaissance marks the first time the pair will create a mostly-instrumental program poised at the fulcrum of the Renaissance.

Les Délices’ 2022-23 Season Renewal comprises two concurrent series: their ticketed Concert Series and a third season of SalonEra, their free early music-focused web series. Les Délices will announce plans for their 15th Anniversary Season in 2023-24 at performances of Isabella’s Renaissance.