Thursday August 1, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- The last time he performed in Brattleboro about 10 years ago, Nathaniel Cox was pretty sure he was going to be an orchestral trumpet player.

That all changed as he was studying modern trumpet at Oberlin College and Conservatory

"I began to see that life as an orchestral trumpet player was looking somewhat limiting," said Cox, who grew up in Brattleboro, where his trumpet skills were nurtured by Jim Kurty, Steve Rice and Dan Farina, and he performed and clowned with Stephen Stearns at New England Youth Theatre.

To free himself from what he saw as the limitations of life in the trumpet section of a symphony orchestra, Cox eventually found himself traveling back four centuries, where he discovered the surprisingly innovative and experimental baroque music composed in the early 17th century in Italy.

Dubbed "In Stile Moderno" (in the modern style), this music was created by composers in Italy who were interested in breaking loose from the older, polyphonic style. Championed by royal patrons in Italy, it quickly spread across Europe. Ultimately, it caught Cox’s attention.

"Early music really kind of attracted me. There’s so much flexibility. There’s so much you can do," said Cox.

If that seems counter-intuitive to you, it did to me, but Cox explained that in classical composition, "there’s a whole movement toward specifity."

Early music leaves more up to the musician in terms of instrumentation, ornamentation and improvisation and that appealed to Cox.

On Sunday, Cox will be returning to his hometown to perform music of the early Italian baroque with his ensemble, In Stile Moderno. The concert, which will feature the old and evocative sounds of cornetto, theorbo, soprano voice and harpsichord takes place at 4 p.m., in the sanctuary of St. Michael Episcopal Church, 16 Bradley Ave.

The program, titled "Un Concerto per Barberini," brings together music composed under the patronage of Cardinal Francesco Barberini, the nephew of Pope Urban VIII. This concert will feature the works of two of the musicians in his patronage -- Girolamo Frescobaldi and Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger, both of whom were virtuoso musicians.

Founded in 2012 in Basel, Switzerland, where Cox lives, In Stile Moderno features soprano Agnes Coakley and cornettist/theorbist Cox and is devoted to exploring the music of the "new style" that had its origins in late 16th century Florence. They will be joined by Benjamin Katz on harpsichord.

In addition to playing this music because they’re passionate about it, In Stile Moderno strives to champion both these two composers, who are less well-known than other contemporaries like Monteverdi, and to champion this music in general, which has retained an excitement and electricity through the centuries.

"There is kind of a double meaning in the name ‘In Stile Moderno.’ ... I think we want to bring a fresh approach to this music. We’re not just picking up 400-year-old fossils, we’re making this music alive now," said Cox. "We’re trying to bring freshness to the music.

"In my experience, contemporary music and early music tend to attract the same kind of people, and there’s a surprising number who do both," he added.

In exploring this music, Cox discovered two new instruments. One is the cornetto, a natural step for a trumpet player since it is a wooden horn wrapped in leather, with finger holes like those of a recorder.

Cox described it as being "like if you merged a trumpet with an oboe with a flute" and added that in the 17th century, it was the instrument "best able to imitate the sound of the human voice."

The other instrument is the theorbo, and it represents a new direction entirely for Cox.

He described the theorbo as a bass lute -- with the six regular strings of a lute and eight additional bass strings. It’s ideal for bass accompaniment. Knowing of Cox’s affinity for early music, a friend in Basel recommended he try playing one.

"In Basel, it’s not hard to find. You walk down the street and trip over a dozen theorbo players," Cox said.

The concert the ensemble will play in Brattleboro is also scheduled to be performed in the Boston area on July 30-31 and Aug. 1, under the sponsorship of the Society for Historically Informed Performance.

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church is handicapped-accessible. Admission to Sunday’s concert is by donation, with $15 suggested. For more information, contact Doug Cox at 802-257-1024 or dcox@sover.net.