Rose Ensemble opens Logan Chamber Music Series


Across 19 seasons, Jordan Sramek’s Rose Ensemble can claim awards, record deals and performances across Europe and America, but a gig at Chautauqua Institution has always eluded him.

“It’s about time,” he said in jest about the group’s first performance on the grounds.

Sramek and the rest of the Rose Ensemble will open Chautauqua’s Logan Chamber Music Series at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. The series is endowed by the Harry A. Logan Jr. Fund for the Performing Arts.

The Rose Ensemble is a group of vocalists dedicated to highlighting and performing early music from before 1750. This is distinct from many ensembles, particularly symphonies, which regularly feature repertoire considered standard and recognizable. According to Sramek, the group’s founder and artistic director, it’s unlikely the audience will recognize a familiar tune.

“I always say, especially at Christmas time, you will never see ‘Jingle Bells’ on a Rose Ensemble program, and you need to be okay with it,” he said.

Sramek is true to his word. Today’s program, titled “Land of Three Faiths,” explores Jewish, Muslim and Christian vocal pieces originating in Spain before it expelled the Jews and Muslims after the 1492 return to Catholic rule. Spanning six languages and various rhythmic traditions, it captures the range of cultures coexisting in Spain at the time.

Audience members may not recognize any of the songs, but Sramek said that’s part of the Rose Ensemble’s mission.Through performance and conversation, he said the group can educate and bring context to the blind spots in an audience’s awareness of the world.

“These programs oftentimes provide people knowledge — historical, contextual knowledge — in such a way that makes sense for some really complex issues that maybe comes across at a contemporary level,” he said. “I think music has a way of changing people’s minds and how people think and hopefully how they see the world and history and people.”

Despite the music’s age, soprano Kim Sueoka agreed the program’s diversity holds lessons for those struggling to coexist today. If the Muslims, Jews and Christians of the Spanish Renaissance figured out how to get along, so should we, Sueoka said.

“In our current United States, there’s this whole idea of what it means to live and work together when we are so different, and we want to celebrate those differences while still having a functioning society,” Sueoka said. “That is the constant struggle, it seems like, of all time.”

Sueoka said she’s excited to communicate this idea onstage. A 12-year member, she said the connection with the audience is something she enjoys most about performing with the Rose Ensemble. That connection, however, is harder to make for her than others.

“I have really bad eyesight,” she said. “So I can’t hardly ever make eye contact with anyone, but just reading the audience’s energy is something I really love to do even if I can’t see their faces. That sense of exchange of energy is so important to me.”

Eye contact or not, Sueoka said the variety of emotions — joyous, tragic, mournful — are bound to make the audience feel something. The sheer range of songs, she said, makes “Land of Three Faiths” one of her favorite concerts to perform.

“This particular program feels so emotionally rich,” she said. “I’m very thankful for it.”