Sometimes you come across a rare gem whose radiant glint catches your eye by chance. You take notice and immediately gravitate towards its allure, only to discover upon closer inspection that its light has the power to open up a window into a new way of seeing. This has been the case for me with the New York-based early music duo, Asteria.
About two months ago, I joined GEM's (Gotham Early Music) mailing list, and a program at The Kosciuszko Foundation on 65th Street caught my attention. It was for a show called My Body Must Depart—My Heart Remains with You: Medieval songs inspired by Arthurian legend. The romantic in me knew I had to attend when I read the following description:
Asteria’s Eric Redlinger and Sylvia Rhyne perform 15th-century love songs by Gilles Binchois, Antoine Busnoys, and Guillaume Dufay. These French and Burgundian gems, each expressing facets of courtly love’s joys and agonies, were inspired by the 12th-century French poet Chretien de Troye’s story of Yvain, one of King Arthur’s knights.
On Thursday, March 17, 2016, I made my way to the Upper East Side and experienced this profoundly memorable concert which spiritually transported me to a far-away, long ago time and place - a place of refined ideals, of beauty, and of love. Listening to Sylvia Rhyne's exquisite soprano voice accompanied by Eric Redlinger's courtly lute-playing was made all the more enchanting by their eloquent stage presence and mutual tranquility, which imbued their performance with a singularly unique artistic expression. Their musicianship and stage rapport were so wedded with this gorgeous music that one could not help listening in contemplative wonder that what was being performed originated on an Earth of 700 years ago. And yet, here it was on this night, so immediate, so focused, so suspended in time.
Sylvia Rhyne truly does have a beautiful voice. Its luminous flexibility caresses the text, as she radiates a serenity that fills the whole room with a quiet, intense absorption in the story being told. And Eric Redlinger's soothing tenor voice and dulcet lute playing further enhances the ensemble's range of rich sonorities. The combination of their two interweaving voices along with the lute's meditative mystique creates a musical and dramatic presentation of significance.
I had the pleasure of speaking to the artists after their concert, and found out they are just as lovely as people as they are performers. I also learned they are married, making the theme of courtly love and their sincere musical chemistry all the more lyrical and poetic. I was impressed to ascertain that although Rhyne had a Broadway career, starring internationally, for instance, as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, she is now the expressive incarnation of resplendent Medieval love songs. She told me that they do this kind of music because it is what they love, and they spend a lot of time researching in order to present their shows. I find Asteria to be inspiring and fascinating, and look forward to learning more about their artistry. In the meantime, I've been listening to their CD, Soyes Loyal on repeat.