All About Piffaro: Our 25 Years
Piffaro, the nation’s finest Renaissance wind band, enjoys a dynamic full year season performing both in the US and globally in a variety of public and private venues. World-renowned for its highly polished performances as the pied-pipers of Early Music, Piffaro is also active in education and workshops, as collaborators in the research and making of historically based instruments and programs, and as experts in reed-making and Renaissance performance practice.
Piffaro’s ever-expanding instrumentarium includes shawms, sackbuts, recorders, krumhorns, bagpipes, lutes, guitars, harps, and a variety of percussion — all careful reconstructions of instruments from the period. Piffaro’s Directors are very involved in researching model historic instruments and working with the finest instrument makers to realize beautiful and accurate reproductions that give way to authentic Renaissance sounds. Indeed, Piffaro is known by players and listeners in the USA and across the globe for its role in redefining the Renaissance shawm sound. Founded in 1980, Piffaro recreates the rustic music of the peasantry, as well as the elegant sounds of the official, professional wind bands of the late Medieval and Renaissance periods. The group is modeled after the official civic, chapel and court bands that were the premier professional ensembles from the 14th into the early 17th centuries.
Under the direction of Artistic Co-Directors Joan Kimball and Robert Wiemken, Piffaro appears globally, having debuted at Tage Alter Musik in Regensburg, Germany in 1993. They performed there again in 1996 as part of a tour of summer music festivals in Austria, Germany, France, Belgium and Italy, and in 1997 and 1998 appeared at festivals in Hamburg, Berlin, The Czech Republic, Belgium, Spain and Colombia, South America. Between 2000 and 2003, they returned to Regensburg for a third time, performed two summers in a row at the Spoleto Festival in Italy, made their English debut at the York Early Music Festival, and performed at the Utrecht Early Music Festival. The group continues to have a strong global presence with two recent returns to Regensburg, making them one of the most frequently invited groups there, Barcelona, a return to Utrecht, NDR Studios in Hamburg, and Southern Austria. Piffaro’s most recent and enlightening performance in 2010 in Bolivia during that country’s prestigious cultural event, the 22-town International Renaissance and Baroque Festival. Their experiences, especially with the talented youth of the country, are the point of departure for an upcoming recording in 2011.
Piffaro appears at many of the major Early Music festivals (EMFs) throughout the USA, including Boston, Berkeley, Indianapolis, and Madison, for which Robert is Artistic Advisor and Board Member. Piffaro is also active in many of the USA’s Early Music series, having been presented by Music Before 1800, The Cloisters Museum and Gardens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Seattle Early Music Guild, the San Francisco Early Music Society, Milwaukee’s Early Music Now, and the Pittsburgh Renaissance & Baroque. Piffaro also appears at special events in museums such as The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the National Gallery in Washington D.C.
Piffaro produces its own five-concert series, bringing the finest global talents in Early Music performance to its home city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Dancers, singers, choirs, viols and plucked strings, narrators, actors and mimes all delight audiences of new listeners and aficionados alike. Excerpts from these concerts are regularly broadcast throughout the USA on National Public Radio’s Performance Today from American Public Media, and the group can be heard on major digital radio stations, as well.
Piffaro’s new offerings such as youth competitions, electronic media and internet happenings, and community celebrations and events are building the next generation of Early Music lovers and performers. Its Protégé Series is helping to identify and mentor new talent, and Ren Today articles are helping to build connections to Renaissance history and life.
In addition to its concert and recording efforts, Piffaro is active in the field of education. Members of the ensemble perform regularly throughout the year for elementary, middle and high school students, and hold master classes and workshops for college students and adult amateurs, pre-professionals and professionals alike. The group has also been involved in weeklong residencies, working with small groups of students on recorders, or their modern band instruments, and teaching Renaissance dance. Piffaro was awarded Early Music America’s annual “Early Music Brings History Alive” award in 2003.
Piffaro has a significant discography, beginning with two recordings for Newport Classics in the early 1990’s. The ensemble’s European debut in Regensburg in 1993 caught the attention of the director of the prestigious label Deutsche Grammophon/Archiv Produktion, who promptly signed Piffaro to a recording contract. The four Archiv discs, Canzoni e Danze (1995), Chansons et Danceries (1996), Los Ministriles (1997), and A Flemish Feast (2000) helped garner the group’s international reputation, and led to the many European engagements in the following years. In 2000, Piffaro returned to the USA for its next recording projects, and signed with Dorian Recordings in Troy, New York, which released a succession of three CDs: Stadtpfeiffer (2001), Music from the Odhecaton (2002), and Trionfo d’Amore e della Morte (2003).
Since then, Piffaro has issued six recordings, including two highly regarded collaborations: in 2005, with the renowned Belgian vocal group, Capilla Flamenca, yielding, The Music of Jacob Obrecht, on Eufoda, and second, a commissioned work, Vespers, by composer Kile Smith with the Philadelphia chamber choir, The Crossing. The latter CD, released on the PARMA/Navona label in 2009, was received with critical acclaim — “a masterpiece of the deepest kind,” said Audiofile Audition. On its own in-house label, Piffaro has issued three recordings, two of which are live music from its concert programs, both released in 2005: Piffaro Live! in celebration of its 20th anniversary, and Nowell’s Delight. Recordari, released in 2007, is a compilation of favorite pieces for recorders, and the most recent project from 2010 on the label PARMA/Navona, Waytes: English Music for a Renaissance Band, has received much celebration from critics and listeners, alike.