The vocal-instrumental ensemble Magnificat is one of the few American groups to have emphasized the repertory of the late Renaissance and early Baroque, from Victoria and Palestrina forward through Monteverdi and Schütz. In performance, the group has often focused on the music of women composers.
Also known as the Magnificat Baroque Ensemble, Magnificat (not to be confused with the British vocal ensemble Magnificat) was founded in San Francisco in 1989 by Baroque cellist Warren Stewart and harpsichordist Susan Harvey; Stewart has remained the group's musical director. The group has, however, followed a chamber music aesthetic in which all the players are theoretically of equal status. Magnificat has benefited from the fact that the San Francisco Bay Area has been one of the centers of early music performance in the U.S. In addition to its own concert series, Magnificat has appeared at the Berkeley Early Music Festival and other events up and down the outdoor music-friendly West Coast. The group has also backed opera, performing in Stradella's Il trespolo tutore and then, in 2009, in Francesca Caccini's La liberazione di Ruggiero, the first opera written by a woman. Magnificat has often performed music by women, including Caccini, Barbara Strozzi, and Isabella Leonarda. At the center of their repertory lie major choral works of the early Baroque: Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610, which they have performed repeatedly starting in 1994, and often Schütz's Musikalische Exequien and other Schütz works. Magnificat has collaborated with the historical-performance-oriented Jubilate Orchestra in larger works. In addition to opera, Magnificat has performed in theatrical incidental music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and, more unusually, in puppet operas in both the French and Sicilian tradition. The group has recorded for the Musica Omnia and Koch International labels; their recordings include three releases of music by the extremely the rarely performed composer Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-ca. 1677), as well as works by Carissimi and Emilio de' Cavalieri.