Uniting virtuosic vocal artistry with scholarly research, The Rose Ensemble creates musical performances and educational programs that connect audiences to compelling stories of human history, culture, and spirituality from around the world.
Founded in 1996 by Artistic Director Jordan Sramek, The Rose Ensemble has achieved an international reputation as a premiere American early music ensemble. Each performance illuminates centuries of rarely heard repertoire, bringing to modern audiences research from the world’s manuscript libraries and fresh perspectives on history, culture, politics and spirituality from around the globe. With ten critically acclaimed recordings and a diverse selection of concert programs, the group has thrilled audiences across the United States and Europe with repertoire spanning 1,000 years and over 25 languages.
The Rose Ensemble is the recipient of the 2005 Chorus America Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence, and first prize winner in both sacred and secular music categories at the 2012 Tolosa Choral Contest in Spain (part of the European Choral Grand Prix). The group’s concerts and recordings have been called “first class” (Neuss-Grevenbroicher Zeitung), “impassioned and brightly alive” (Choral Journal) and “engaging . .. satisfying” (Gramophone). Founder Jordan Sramek received the 2010 Louis Botto Award from Chorus America “for entrepreneurial zeal.”
The Rose Ensemble’s recent performance highlights include appearances at Early Music Now (Milwaukee, WI), the University of Vermont Lane Series (Burlington, VT), California Lutheran University (Thousand Oaks, CA), Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), St. Quirinus Cathedral (Neuss, Germany), and the Misiones de Chiquitos Choral Festival (Bolivia). In 2014, The Rose Ensemble made their debut appearance with the Minnesota Orchestra in a special holiday program.
The Rose Ensemble can be heard regularly on American Public Media and the European Broadcasting Union (most notably with annual Christmas broadcasts) and has recently featured in special live broadcasts on Iowa Public and Vermont Public Radio.
When I started the group that would become The Rose Ensemble, while I was searching for a name, I decided that I wanted to find some sort of elemental or organic image or symbol that somehow played an important role or bore substantial significance in the worlds of the sacred and secular but also from ages past and our contemporary world. It was a tall order for certain. I started looking through medieval gardening books and first was taken by various herbs and plants, but later on by flowers. I passed by the rose many times until it finally occurred to me that the rose was indeed exactly what I was looking for. The rose (Latin, rosa, in Greek, rhodon) is a symbol that has a rich and ancient history from a number of perspectives:
The rose can also have paradoxical meanings. It is at once a symbol of purity and a symbol of passion; heavenly perfection and earthly passion; virginity and fertility; death and life. The rose is the flower of the goddess Venus but also the blood of Adonis and of Christ. It is a symbol of transmutation – that of taking food from the earth and producing a beautiful fragrant rose. Lastly, throughout history, the rose’s thorns have represented human suffering and the Fall from Paradise, but for centuries the rose garden has been a symbol of resurrection, paradise and the place of the mystic marriage.
Given The Rose Ensemble’s commitment to preserving and performing sacred and secular early music, and especially our programmatic emphasis on exploring spirituality and the human experience through enlightening thought-provoking music and texts, I believe that the rose is a wonderful and very fitting symbol!
Our visual brand features what we internally refer to as ‘the bug,’ although most people call it the ‘Rose logo.’ It was intentionally designed to evoke different images and symbolism for different people. Some people see it as a cross, others view it as a wax seal, some think of it as a celestial portal, and still others call it a shield or our very own coat of arms!”
- Jordan Sramek, Founder/Artistic Director
I have always said that the most successful concerts are those that draw strength from the programming as much as the music itself. For me, programming is an art form. And it goes far beyond the elementary process of choosing music and the order in which it appears on our stage. Indeed, the best concert programs, in my humble opinion, are those that allow the audience to enjoy the music seamlessly, with each piece contributing to the good of the complete program, and having a meaningful relationship with the other music and poetry featured in the concert.
The model I have chosen for The Rose Ensemble is what I call “thematic programming.” I select music and assemble it in such a way that allows a story to be told, whether regarding an historical event, a geographic location, a political figure or vein of spirituality. This sets us apart from the traditional classical music world, which primarily focuses attention on a piece of music (a concerto, symphony, etc.). There are always exceptions, of course, but more often than not, I choose the themes first and then the music.
Thematic programming gives us as performers the opportunity to enlighten and entertain our audience, and helps prevent the music from being received as stuffy or overly academic. Certainly, our programs are educational, and they are inventive and innovative as well (this is what so many love about The Rose Ensemble), but I make every effort to highlight the story being told (through the programmatic theme) rather than to emphasize how rare or obscure a piece is. How often have I seen others bragging about programming something “rarely performed.” (I always joke that sometimes there’s a good reason why a piece hasn’t been performed in 500 years!)
At any given time, I have a good sense of what themes will appear on The Rose Ensemble stage five years in advance. And from the time I begin working on a program, to the time our musicians begin rehearsals, it usually takes between one and three years. This is in large part due to the amount of research I must conduct, as well as the preparation of the musical scores. Sometimes the music itself is quite easy to locate (the digitization of source material is becoming more common), but the language or dialect is obscure enough to require us to bring in an expert to help with translations or pronunciation. Other times, the material itself is difficult to decipher – whether due to the age of a manuscript or discrepancies between sources and scholarly works.
My colleagues in the Ensemble and I do a lot of brainstorming about programmatic themes and we all love to share stories from post-concert conversations with audience members. Some of my best ideas actually come from this process! I also work closely with a Programming Committee (one of the many committees governed by our Board of Directors), which acts not only as a sounding board but plays an active role in developing programmatic strategies that support mission-based initiatives such as audience-building and service to the community.
- Jordan Sramek, Founder/Artistic Director