Strawberry Fields features Ruckus with soloists Emi Ferguson, flute, and Rachell Ellen Wong, violin, in joyful dialogue with the rustic pastoral traditions of 18th-century New England and London. The recital is structured around The 12 Country Dances for the Year 1779 by Ignatius Sancho, trio sonatas from George Handel, instrumental hymns from William Billings and Daniel Read, and a new work from Celeste Oram.
Trio sonatas from George Handel and Thomas Arne are the archetype of pastoral bliss and yearning, each with their own unique blend of elegantly woven counterpoint and rustic dance. These fanciful abstractions are balanced by the earthy country dances of Ignatius Sancho. Country dances in the 18th-century were among the most available and widely used music of their day, firmly rooted in the real day-to-day world of pubs and the main attraction at social dances – today the descendents of this repertoire lives on in ’old time’ folk music across North America and Europe. In this program, our country dances come from Ignatius Sancho: a once-enslaved person living in London in the late 18th-century who, upon gaining his freedom, lived a vibrant life as a shop owner, musician, and abolitionist. Sancho published many books of dances that offer a glimpse into social life in 18th-century London, and his 12 Country Dances for the Year 1779 are a brilliant collection of works filled to the brim with a rough joyous energy.
Intermixed amongst all this exuberant pastoral dancing are the spare and everlasting hymns of the First New England School. Born out of a unique mix of ‘folk’ melody and Handellian counterpoint, these works were, at one point, known to be performed by small “gallery orchestras” in certain churches across New England. Classics such as Billings’ Rose of Sharon and Reads’ Sherburne are presented alongside lesser known, yet iconic works.
With a language that is uniquely modern, yet deeply rooted in early polyphony, Celeste Oram’s A Tuning Tune is a functional tuning ritual for the ensemble that alternates between meditative improvisation and a raucous dance. It premiered at the 2022 Ojai Festival in Ojai, California.