2014-15 Season Brochure

Our 2014-15 Season Brochure is now available to view online or to download.

Posted in Newberry Consort

Program notes for Celestial Sirens II by Ellen Hargis

  The sound of an all-female vocal ensemble, by turns earthy, sensual, angelic and otherworldly, has fascinated listeners for centuries. Nowadays, we love Anonymous 4, female barbershop quartets, and The Supremes. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Concerte delle

Posted in Newberry Consort

Spanish Latin: gilding the lily

One of the best tools in a singer’s arsenal is text.  Words convey meaning, of course, but how we sing them give us endless possibilities to make articulation, color, phrasing, and rhythm beyond the musical notation.  In the field of

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Newberry Consort

Putting Humpty-Dumpty Together Again

I’ve been reveling in visual and aural beauty while transcribing the music for our upcoming concert “Celestial Sirens II” from the original manuscripts at the Newberry Library.  Every page of the vellum tells a story.  There are lovingly repaired rips

Posted in baroque, Mexican, Newberry Consort, Vocal

Press Release: Feast of the Peasant

Feast of the Pheasant

  Famously extravagant 15thcentury feast re-created through music, texts, and imagery with The Feast of the Pheasant CHICAGO (January 6, 2014) — The Newberry Consort will present a multi-media concert of the music performed at the famous party thrown by

Posted in Press Release

Press Release: Rarely performed masterworks of the Polish Renaissance to Chicago’s Polish-American community

For additional information, contact: Stephanie Malmquist, Little Light Marketing [email protected]     60 West Walton Street, Chicago, IL 60610 www.newberryconsort.org    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE The Newberry Consort brings rarely performed masterworks of the Polish Renaissance to Chicago’s Polish-American community CHICAGO

Posted in Press Release

Press Release: Celestial Sirens Cleveland

nuns concert image cecilia

For Immediate Release Contact:     Beverly Simmons 216-401-2485   The Church of the Covenant presents Celestial Sirens: Music from Italian & Mexican Convents The Newberry Consort, Ellen Hargis, director March 20, 2013 at 7:30 pm The Newberry Consort of Chicago

Posted in Press Release

Press Release: Celestial Sirens Chicago

The Howard Mayer Brown Memorial Concert   Music from Italian and Mexican Convents January 20 – 22, 2012 The Newberry Consort kicks off 2012 with Celestial Sirens, a program of music from 17th-century Mexican and Italian convents, on January 20th at

Posted in Press Release

A work in progress…

We’ve completed day 2 of rehearsal, and find ourselves at once elated, frustrated, moved, and challenged!  What a repertoire – exquisitely beautiful, fiendishly difficult, and endlessly fascinating. We’ve been unknotting rhythmic kinks, drawing on Mark Rimple’s understanding of the notation.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in medieval

Medieval Strings Part II: Plucks

The Wonderful World of Medieval Stringed Instruments:  Part II Plucked stringed instruments also abounded in the Middle Ages. The most popular one was without a doubt the harp.  Our idea that angels play harps came from the many depictions of

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in medieval, Newberry Consort, Strings
2013-2014

TICKETS

Reviews
chicago tribune

Consort performs ‘the subtle art’

The Newberry Consort's debut concert 26 years ago was devoted to an exploration of ars subtilior (the subtle art), a school of composition that flourished in France in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Directors David Douglass and Ellen Hargis and their colleagues returned to that seldom-heard medieval repertory for their first concerts of the season over the weekend.

This was the avant-garde music of its day, marked by a rhythmic, polyphonic and chromatic complexity that sounds modern even to our jaded ears. The composers included in the performance I caught Saturday in the Performance Penthouse of the University of Chicago's spectacular new Logan Center for the Arts set melismatic vocal lines over three or more instrumental parts moving more or less independently. Performers of the highest virtuosity are needed to sort through the intricate polyphony.

If this makes the music sound overly intellectual, the subject matter – love songs, evocations of bird song and other pastoral scenes – is pure, sensuous delight.

The Newberry players were fully inside various rondeaux, virelais and ballades by Jacob de Senleches, Jean Vaillant and others, and the intimate concert room proved an ideal place for them to bring this secular music to life. Hargis sang the pieces with a still and delicate subtlety of expression, qualities mirrored by the equally sensitive instrumentalists – Shira Kammen, Tom Zajac, Mark Rimple and Douglass, playing vielle (medieval fiddle), rebec (bowed lute), harp, recorder, flute, bagpipe and lute.

The Newberry season will continue Jan. 25-27 (songs and poems of Robert Burns); and May 3-5 (early music from Poland); 773-669-7335, newberryconsort.org.
2012-10-30T16:40:56+00:00
chicago tribune
If this makes the music sound overly intellectual, the subject matter – love songs, evocations of bird song and other pastoral scenes – is pure, sensuous delight.
madison early music festival

Newberry Consort runs gamut in Madison Early Music Festival

JULY 14, 2012 6:00 AM  •  JESSICA COURTIER | SPECIAL TO THE CAPITAL TIMES

 The Madison Early Music Festival has explored a range of programmatic themes in its 13-year history. The last two years' focus on North and South America has been a refreshing stretching of the boundaries of what is traditionally thought of as defining the category of "early music," and perhaps no concert in this year's festival stretches that boundary more than the one given by the Newberry Consort.

In a program titled "Beautiful Dreamer: Music of Lincoln's America," David Douglass (violin) and Ellen Hargis (soprano), joined by Paul Hecht (narrator), Michael J. Miles (banjos and guitar), and David Schrader (piano), worked through a repertoire of mid-19th century songs and instrumental works that reflected experiences of pioneer life on the plans, minstrel shows, religious experiences, pianistic showmanship, and the Civil War.

The pieces ran the gamut in style. In some numbers, Miles and Douglass went to town showing off their instrumental prowess. Douglass fiddled faster and faster through several choruses of "The Devil's Dream," giving a nod to old story of the devil giving musicians special gifts. Miles's banjo and guitar playing were a reflection of the importance of those instruments in a number of southern and southeastern American folk and popular traditions, and he had a fine singing voice as well. Toward the end of the concert, he pulled out a fretless, wood-framed banjo for a few numbers, including Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer"; this instrument had a lower, warmer sound that was truly lovely.

Hargis sang many of the more sentimental songs, and her trained voice was a good reminder that 19th century recitalists almost always mixed classical and popular materials in the same concert. Schrader largely held a background position during the songs, but had his turn in the spotlight with several solos. Among these was "The Banjo," written by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, a Louisiana-born virtuoso pianist whose compositions often drew on vernacular styles but were designed to reflect his own abilities.

Especially moving were the narrated passages drawn from 19th century newspapers, magazines, diaries, and the like. Among other things was a poignant description of the physical and social costs posed to a newly married young woman leaving her home, family, and friends on the east coast to go settle on the plains. With such narrative contexts, we are reminded of the very real cultural reckoning that informed even partially comic songs like "Sweet Betsy from Pike."

If there was a quibble to make, it's that nearly all of the music on the program was familiar. Individually, each song was a cogent choice for the program, and there is obviously pleasure at being able to internally sing along with those tunes that we know well. Nevertheless, I couldn't help wishing that they had also thrown in a few pieces that were less well known. In that way, the performers could have affirmed the fundamental familiarity of the music while also expanding the knowledge base of the audience.

Despite that, I respect their choice to end with Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More." It is a song that nearly always puts a lump in my throat and, in its content, challenges the monolithic image of Foster as always and only a southern apologist. Judging from the number of people around me who sang along to the chorus, there's clearly something about this music that is "ours," and for that reason, it's our job not to forget it, in all its wonder and complexity.

2012-07-14T16:47:55+00:00
madison early music festival
Perhaps no concert in this year's festival stretches that boundary more than the one given by the Newberry Consort.
danse

Dancing Back in Time with the Newberry Consort

Friday, April 13, 2012

“In order to play dance pieces correctly, you must learn to dance it.” Thus spoke my recorder teacher this past Friday. A tall order, considering that Baroque dance has become a specialized and rarely-performed art inaccessible to most people. Thankfully, the next day, I had the thrilling privilege to “get up close and personal” with this alluring and elegant art form by attending the season finale of the Newberry Consort’s 2011-2012 season. Entitled Les Caractères de La Danse, this outstanding and highly memorable event not only featured some of the nation’s best period instrument players, but also two of the nation’s foremost Baroque dancers, Paige Whitley-Baugess and Thomas Baird.

In this most delightful and enlightening program which masterfully rotated dance numbers with exquisite and rarely-performed French Baroque vocal cantatas, Whitley-Baugess and Baird most definitely captured the hearts and attention of all those present, greatly unveiling many of the mysteries surrounding Baroque dance to me. Daintily skipping and sweeping across the stage in in historical choreography and vibrant, elaborate period costumes, they proceeded to impersonate a wide spectrum of colorful characters, ranging from cheeky pre-teens to vivacious sailors and stately court dancers. The costumes proved especially attractive; they were neither hokey nor stuffy, but tasteful and delicate. Because I had been expecting court costumes – complete with powdered wigs and for Baroque dancers, the variation of the characters and their costumes pleasantly surprised me, giving me a whole new perspective on Baroque dance as an art that was also one of all 18th-century folk, not just the upper-class.

Even more noteworthy, Whitely-Baugess and Baird constantly engaged their audience by interjecting more “human” aspects into their performance, especially in the form of gesture, pantomime, and facial expressions. Disgust, infatuation, sneakiness, and even flirtation were so realistically portrayed the audience often giggled and burst into laughter. Especially hilarious was the dancers’ delightful harlequin parody on the classic Greek tale of Pygmalion and Galatea, which was later modernized by George Bernard Shaw and then transformed into the musical classic My Fair Lady. In this masterful farce, Whitley-Baugess and Baird – clad in colorful harlequin costumes – frequently interacted with the audience and constantly emphasized the comic, over-exaggerating their pantomime/ facial expressions and making use of grotesque – or, in layman’s terms, inverted and exaggerated for the sake of comedy – Baroque dance moves. To add the finishing comic touches to this most noteworthy number, Whitley-Baugess and Baird made use of unexpected minor props such as a fake sausage and live daisy – highly brilliant and pleasantly surprising, yet only accenting the routine and rhetorical messages without distracting from the main focus of the dance.

The most delightful dancing was accompanied by some of the most delicate and dancelike period instrument playing that I have ever heard in person. Led by energetic and technically brilliant Baroque violinist David Douglass, the small yet potent ensemble of Baroque strings, oboe/recorder, and harpsichord all blended together perfectly for a tinkling and mesmerizing period instrument sound. Dance rhythms, crisp articulation, and the elusive, hard-to-grasp notes inegales technique were masterfully executed, complementing the dancers’ steps and fusing the music-dance connection into my musically bewildered and knowledge-hungry mind. Especially notable was the exquisite oboe-playing of Debra Nagy – who performed her instrument with such perfect, smooth tone reminiscent of ice cream melting in one’s mouth – and the crystal-clear, agile soprano voice of noted Baroque diva Ellen Hargis – which sparkled to its fullest during the rare French Baroque vocal cantatas in which she starred. For the finishing touches, young harpsichordist Mark Shuldiner also provided a thoroughly sparkling continuo accompaniment which conjured up images of a clear, fresh summer night complete with a gentle breeze and twinkling stars. So subtle and delicate an effect, yet so noticeable and a perfect complement to the pleasant spring night outside. Overall, this evening not only proved most enchanting and worthwhile, but it more importantly served as a hugely inspirational, life-changing experience to me in further revealing to me the secrets of the art of Baroque dance and of historical performance in general. Perfect timing for such a concert in my life, and a perfect finale to the Newberry Consort’s 2011-2012 season. Bravo to all!
Submitted by Kristina Powers on 17th April 2012
2012-04-13T17:10:24+00:00
danse
Overall, this evening not only proved most enchanting and worthwhile, but it more importantly served as a hugely inspirational, life-changing experience...
Thomas Arne

Baroque Britisher Thomas Arne rules in Newberry Consort season opener

Mon Oct 04, 2010 at 9:11 pm

By Dennis Polkow

Though not as high on the cognoscenti radar as the Chopin and Schumann bicentennials, the tercentenary of composer Thomas Arne (1710-1778) was celebrated Sunday afternoon by the Newberry Consort in their season-opening program at Northwestern University’s Lutkin Hall.

If the name of the British Baroque composer doesn’t ring a bell, just strike up the first few notes of his most famous song, the patriotic air Rule Britannia! still known around the world as an aural icon of the British Empire and which has been quoted, paraphrased and reworked by no less than Handel, Beethoven, Wagner, Johann Strauss I, Gilbert & Sullivan and Elgar, among others.

Thomas Arne



But there is far more to Arne, as this exploration of his vast output demonstrated with considerable style and panache. The most prolific theater composer of the 18th century, Arne composed music for nearly 90 stage works that included plays, pantomimes, masques, burlesques, afterpieces and operas.

Arne wrote incidental music and songs for several Shakespeare plays and the best known of these, Where the bee sucks from The Tempest, was given a spirited rendition by tenor William Hite in a set that also included a colorful duet between mezzo soprano Judith Malafronte and flautist Anita Rieder as they antiphonally traded cuckoo emulations in When daises pied from Love’s Labour’s Lost. At one point Malafronte, who also selected and arranged the day’s program from Newberry holdings of Arne’s music, even paraphrased Mozart’s Queen of the Night rage aria from The Magic Flute to show the influence that Arne would have.

Likewise, the excerpt from Arne’s 1771 masque The Fairy Prince revealed a similar sound world to Handel oratorios, and Arne and Handel would often compose for the same singers; soprano and now Newberry Consort co-artistic director Ellen Hargis and Malafronte blended exquisitely and were punctuated by Hite’s tenor in the trio Now all the air shall ring which climaxes in Arne’s own alternative setting of God save the King.

Most revealing was a significant section of Thomas and Sally, which though written as an “afterpiece,” to be heard folllowing a play, is credited with being the first through-composed opera to have no spoken dialogue whatsoever. Basically Thomas (Hite) politely hits on Sally (Hargis), Thomas is musically slapped and rebuffed. He wallows and cajoles, she outwits him and has the last word in love and song.

In addition to supplying a lively instrumental Scottish Gavotte for Thomas and Sally, the first-rate Baroque ensemble of violinists David Douglass (Newberry co-artistic director) and Brandi Berry, cellist Craig Trompeter and harpsichordist Jason Moy, the group also performed an Arne Trio Sonata as well as supplied stalwart support and accompaniment for the singers all afternoon, often joined by Rieder on flute.

No concert of Arne’s music would be complete without a rendition of Rule, Britannia! It was especially illuminating to hear the patriotic air in its original context and performance style as the finale chorus following a generous selection of excerpts from Arne’s 1740 masque Alfred about Alfred the Great. The chorus itself was printed in the program in four-part harmony, and with proper cues from the stage, the small audience did manage to harmoniously join in at the appropriate points.
2010-10-04T09:11:33+00:00
Thomas Arne
Mon Oct 04, 2010 at 9:11 pm By Dennis Polkow Though not as high on the cognoscenti radar as the Chopin and Schumann bicentennials, the tercentenary of composer Thomas Arne (1710-1778) was celebrated Sunday afternoon by the Newberry Consort in
Sirens

“Celestial Sirens” at the Church of the Covenant (March 20)

ClevelandClassical.com Previews, News & Reviews
promoting classical music in Northeast Ohio

by Nicholas Jones

celestial-sirens-chicagoThe overlapping musical talents and resources of Cleveland’s early music community were in full multi-tasking mode at the Church of the Covenant last week — with some help from Chicago and Tennessee.

The occasion was one event in celebration of the church’s magnificent new tracker organ, modeled on north German 17th-century organs. The organ was built by the Tennessee firm of Richards, Fowkes and Company and installed only this January. It replaces a small gallery organ in the back of the church. A stop-action video documenting the organ’s installation is online at YouTube.

The organ is still being adjusted, but from what I heard, it has a lively delicacy that suits both early solo music and the accompaniment of singers. Boston-based organist Frances Fitch played it to great effect.Oberlin’s James Christie will perform a dedicatory recital on Sunday afternoon, May 12, where no doubt the full range of the organ will be revealed.

The singers were the esteemed Newberry Consort, based in Chicago and directed by the excellent early music vocalist and CWRU faculty member Ellen Hargis. In this concert, eight accomplished singers — many of them Clevelanders — took on the roles of nuns from the Renaissance, singing music that would have been heard in convents in Italy and Mexico in the 16th and 17th centuries. (Pictured above: Celestial Sirens as performed in Chicago).

In the first half the group highlighted two big Italian motets for eight voices, performed with organ and viola da gamba accompaniment. The all-woman choir created a full, rich, and unusual sound, several of the mezzos diving deep into the baritone range to support their treble colleagues.

Especially delicious was a trio by the Vicenzan composer Leone Leoni. It was set in the lower register of the women’s voices, which made the most of the liquid metaphor of the Song of Solomon text, “Anima mea liquefacta est” — “my soul melted when my beloved spoke.” Quite a text for a convent!

Interspersed among the vocal numbers throughout the concert were organ solos, which Ms. Fitch played with elegance and variety. Particularly wonderful was a jazzy villancico (a kind of carol) by Gaspar Fernandez, which she registered entirely on a clear high stop. In another interlude, gambist Katherine Shuldiner took the lead in a virtuosic set of variations by Angelo Notari, a Paduan who spent much of his life in England. Oddly, the theme on which this sober and introspective piece was based is a satiric song, “La Monaca,” about a nun who didn’t want to be a nun.

The organ pieces in the first half, several of them by members of the Gabrieli family, were earlier in period and more conservative in style than a number of the vocal compositions, in which the “modern” expressivity of the Baroque was evident.

Especially beautiful among the vocal pieces was “O superbi mundi machine,” a rich meditation on the vanity of the world by the late 17th-century Ursuline nun Maria Xaviera Perucona. The text has that unabashedly metaphoric eclecticism of Marvell and Crashaw: “Our life is like a flower in which death alone reigns; a sighing breath is an ash which fades away like the dew.”

The second half of the concert featured music from a remarkable collection at the Newberry Library at the University of Chicago, the six choirbooks of the Mexico City convent of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación. From these 17th-century choirbooks, the consort sang four rich motets for eight voices, making it clear that life as a nun did not necessarily mean musical asceticism, whatever other forms of abstinence it did involve.

In the first of these, a Magnificat by one Fabián Peréz Ximeno, the otherwise secure vocal ensemble of the consort did not quite cohere. But in other pieces, the singers showed good rhythmic coordination and admirable accuracy of pitch (tuning to the organ in “temperament-modified meantone” must not have been easy).

The Church of the Covenant may have to make some adjustments in how to use the reconfigured space around the organ. The narrow gallery in which the singers were spread out does not allow for as much visual contact amongst them as would be found on a larger stage, though the Newberry singers coped well.

More seriously, the singers stand some four or five feet below the floor on which the organ is built. Thus, they are significantly lower than the organist, who had to turn around and look down to catch the beginnings and ends of phrases, with some inevitable lapses in ensemble at the cadences. There seems to be no mirror or video camera installed as yet to help with visual cueing. These issues will no doubt get worked out before long.

The audience, on a snowy night in midweek, was small but appreciative. At the end, after warm applause, the singers generously gave an encore performance of the first choral piece of the evening, an expressive “Cantabant sancti” by Giovanni Battista Cesena.

Nicholas Jones is Professor of English at Oberlin and a keen amateur musician.

Published on ClevelandClassical.com March 25, 2013
2013-03-28T13:33:52+00:00
Sirens
ClevelandClassical.com Previews, News & Reviews promoting classical music in Northeast Ohio by Nicholas Jones The overlapping musical talents and resources of Cleveland’s early music community were in full multi-tasking mode at the Church of the Covenant last week — with
sirens

Review: Newberry Consort’s Singing Nuns

11:03 a.m. CDTMay 5, 2014

Choral music from an earlier period and of a far more specialized sort made up the season finale of the Newberry Consort.

Co-director Ellen Hargis and colleagues presented the second in a series of programs devoted to music from the trove of musical manuscripts at the Newberry Library known as the Mexican choirbooks. These priceless volumes include works by Old World and New World Spanish and Mexican composers, written for the use of nuns singing the mass and worship services in the former Convent of the Incarnation in Mexico City.

While the six surviving choirbooks contain known pieces by such familiar Renaissance figures as Tomas Luis de Victoria, a good many works are by obscure 17th century composers such as Juan de Lienas, Fabian Perez Ximeno and Fray Jacinto. All four composers figured in the absorbing concert heard Friday at St. Clement Church in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood.

Researching, editing, transcribing and (in some cases) reconstructing these hymns, motets, antiphons and polychoral pieces for performance required a great deal of industry on the part of Hargis and her assistants. But the musical results, sung by a total of 10 women's voices in various-sized configurations and accompanied by women playing chamber organ, viola da gamba, vihuela (early Spanish guitar) and bajon (a buzzy-sounding baroque bassoon), were fascinating, opening a window on a forgotten era.

The generous reverberation of St. Clement Church, like that of the chapel at Loyola, challenges the efforts of choral singers to communicate texts clearly. Still, one could follow the Latin words in the program book, and the ethereal effect of pure-toned female voices floating in a large, airy acoustic was atmospheric compensation.

The nuns of the Convento de Nuestra Senora de la Encarnacion (to revert to the cloister's Spanish name) must have been well-trained musicians to master pieces as challenging as these.

The nicely blended Newberry vocalists did a fine job of balancing spiritual and temporal emotions, most notably in Ximeno's lively setting of the bellicose psalm "Dixit Dominus." The four instrumentalists made the most of their accompanimental and solo duties.

It's good news that the consort plans to release the program, "Celestial Sirens II," as a commercial audio recording.
2014-05-06T11:48:04+00:00
sirens
The nicely blended Newberry vocalists did a fine job of balancing spiritual and temporal emotions, most notably in Ximeno's lively setting of the bellicose psalm "Dixit Dominus." The four instrumentalists made the most of their accompanimental and solo duties.
slide-ensemble

Vividly imaginative Renaissance program a Newberry Consort delight

BY KYLE MACMILLAN

For Sun-Times Media, February 8, 2014

A concert program doesn’t necessarily need a theme to be successful, but sometimes a contextual format can provide a helpful entry point, especially if the music is little known, and enliven the overall experience.

That is certainly the case if the theme is as exotic and imaginative as the one that wonderfully animated the Newberry Consort’s 90-minute concert of Renaissance music Friday evening at the Newberry Library – “The Feast of the Oath of the Pheasant.”

The Chicago-based period-instrument ensemble delved into history and built a concert around a 1454 banquet hosted by the Duke of Burgundy, skillfully incorporating projections of period artworks and narration from an evocative memoir of the event by an attendee, Olivier de la Marche.

Given that de la Marche describes such extraordinary happenings as a backward-walking horse and a giant pastry filled with 24 musicians, it is hard to know what was fact and fancy. But what is clear is that this lavish party must have been an event for the ages, and it was vividly recalled in this concert.

Aside from three pieces mentioned in the memoir by Guillaume Dufay (ca. 1398-1474), the leading composer of the time, little is known about the music that was played at the dinner. So, Newberry co-director David Douglass expertly assembled a program of what might have been heard, emphasizing Dufay and incorporating pieces by other composers of the day like Gilles de Bins (called Binchois) and Robert Morton.

The result is a series of two dozen selections, none more than a few minutes in length, arranged in the order of events at the dinner. Although these pieces are surprisingly sophisticated, given that they are more than 500 years old, they possess a simplicity and directness that gives them considerable appeal.

Among the highlights are three works by Dufay: “Hé, compaignons, resvelons nous,” a spirited party song with the evening’s first appearance by the trombone; “Je ne vis onques la pareille,” with lovely duos by the soprano and countertenor, and the moving lamentation, “Lamentatio sanctae matris ecclesiæ Constantinopolitanæ.”

The six performers, who sang and played an impressive assortment of Renaissance instruments, were all first-rate. A particular stand-out, heard to advantage in Binchois’ fetching love song, “De plus en plus,” was soprano and Newberry co-director Ellen Hargis, whose gentle, faraway voice is ideally suited to this repertoire.

Also deserving mention was Rachel Barton Pine, a nationally acclaimed soloist who usually performs on a modern violin but showed herself to be equally adept on one of that instrument’s ancestors, the earthier-sounding rebec.

The only strike against the evening was the venue, which was more a meeting room and in no way a concert hall. The acoustics were adequate at best, and because the performers were seated at the same level as the audience, it was almost impossible to see them or their unusual instruments.

That said, Douglass writes in his accompanying notes that that he expects this thematic program to remain in the Newberry’s repertory for a long time, and there is every reason that it should.
2014-03-08T08:58:58+00:00
slide-ensemble
BY KYLE MACMILLAN For Sun-Times Media, February 8, 2014 A concert program doesn’t necessarily need a theme to be successful, but sometimes a contextual format can provide a helpful entry point, especially if the music is little known, and enliven the
Feast of the Pheasant

Chicago Tribune – Review: Newberry Consort looks back 460 years

By Alan G. Artner, Special to the Tribune


9:48 AM CST, February 8, 2014

FeastFriday night at the Newberry Library the Newberry Consort celebrated one of the most spectacular and outlandish banquets in history.

Almost 460 years to the day, the ensemble presented a 90-minute program of music, projections and narration to commemorate the Feast of the Oath of the Pheasant. This party, given by Philip, Duke of Burgundy, was to urge a crusade against the Ottoman Turks who nine months before had taken the holy city of Constantinople.

The early-music community has for decades presented such commemorations, purporting to recreate aural events associated with coronations, funerals, masses and weddings. Spiritedly played and sung, the evening devoted to The Feast of the Oath of the Pheasant is the Newberry Consort's modest entry to an ever-growing catalog.

Always such programs have involved varying amounts of research and conjecture. There is more than one written account of Philip's feast but only a single unhelpful image. So David Douglass, co-director of the Consort, had his musicians read aloud from the most vivid description, by chronicler Olivier de la Marche, and perform 22 short pieces assembled around the three by Guillaume Dufay that many (but not all) scholars think were included.

The visual backdrops, often accompanying translations of vocal texts, were brought together from illuminations and tapestries having no connection to Philip's party. In consequence, many details differed from what was described orally, though in the main the images complemented the texts to fine effect, amply conveying extravagance.

De la Marche's account cites at least 28 musicians, implying several more. Six made up the Newberry Consort, and they narrated and sung sometimes less pleasingly than they played. The primary vocalist was Consort co-director Ellen Hargis, whose authority shone not only in lively pieces but also Dufay's great "Lamentatio sanctae matris ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae," the banquet's conjectured high point

Thinness of texture was the chief disappointment, especially in more militant and festive pieces such as Conrad Paumann's "Fanfare." But to hear the ease with which Tom Zajac alternated among nearly a dozen instruments (including bagpipe and hurdy-gurdy) and the vigor with which Rachel Barton Pine attacked the rebec, a Renaissance ancestor of the violin, was to experience early music at its committed best.

Tom Zajac - winds, bagpipe, and percussion

Tom Zajac - winds, bagpipe, and percussion



Rachel Barton Pine, rebec

Rachel Barton Pine, rebec



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

2014-02-12T23:19:40+00:00
Feast of the Pheasant
By Alan G. Artner, Special to the Tribune 9:48 AM CST, February 8, 2014 Friday night at the Newberry Library the Newberry Consort celebrated one of the most spectacular and outlandish banquets in history. Almost 460 years to the day,
ema-logo-color

Early Music America – Fall 2013

ema-logo-colorA highlight of the (BEMF) festival was a superb multimedia presentation by the Newberry Consort in Jordan Hall on Thursday afternoon drawn from the 13th-century Cantigas de Santa Maria,a manuscript attributed to Spanish ruler and arts patron Alfonso X. This stellar Chicago ensemble, directed by David Douglass (vielle and rebec) and Ellen Hargis (soprano), performed a dozen richly multicultural cantigas, while projecting the brightly colored illustrations that originally accompanied them onto an overhead screen, along with translations of the lyrics. The effect was near total immersion in these stories devoted to Mary, with intricate polyphony improvised by the skilful ensemble, which was assisted by guest artists from the Exsultemus vocal ensemble.
2013-08-21T11:32:31+00:00
ema-logo-color
A highlight of the (BEMF) festival was a superb multimedia presentation by the Newberry Consort in Jordan Hall on Thursday afternoon drawn from the 13th-century Cantigas de Santa Maria,
The-Newberry-Consort-courtesy-BEMF

‘Cantigas’ Bloom Like Roses at Boston Festival

 

The Newberry Consort (courtesy BEMF)

The Newberry Consort (courtesy BEMF)

By Ken Keaton

There are few places on earth where an audience can enjoy a purely magical performance of Medieval song in a glorious hall. The Boston Early Music Festival is on that short list. The music: Cantigas de Santa Maria, by Alfonso X. The performers: the Newberry Consort with the vocal ensemble Exsultemus. The place: New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall.

The Cantigas de Santa Maria consists of 420 poems set to music, attributed to Alfonso X, King of Castile, Leon, and Galicia during the 13th century. Alfonso was known as El Sabio, “The Wise,” and was not only a great political leader but also one of the finest scholars of his age, learned in all aspects of his world including poetry and music. His treatise on law became one of the guides for our nation’s founders, and he wrote an extensive history of Spain. These works, and the Cantigas, were unique to the age as the first major scholarly works written in the vernacular, rather than Latin.

Whether he directly wrote all of these poems and set them to music, or whether he supervised their assembly, he very likely contributed a major amount. And that actually has little bearing on the fact that these are uncommonly beautiful works, particularly in the hands – and voices – of brilliant scholar/performers such as the Newberry Consort and Exsultemus.

Musician,'Cantigas de Santa Maria' illumination

Musician,’Cantigas de Santa Maria’ illumination, E Codex

What survives of the music is just the melody and text – set in an evolving notation in which it is not clear exactly how the rhythms should be interpreted, nor how the words line up with the music. Some scholars feel that the music should be presented without any instrumental accompaniment, but there are ample indications from that instruments were used. Indeed, some of theO illuminations in the manuscript for the Cantigas show instrumentalists playing with singers. That which is played, however, must be reconstructed (would conjured be a better word?), in this case by the scholars and players in the Newberry Consort, experts who have lived with this era’s music for a long time.

Soprano Ellen Hargis

Soprano Ellen Hargis

All the players doubled instruments, so the accompaniment varied from piece to piece. Ellen Hargis‘ clear, expressive soprano was the leading voice telling each story, with the singers of Exsultemus joining in at recurring choruses.

The language is medieval Portuguese; the performance was enhanced by projecting the English translations of the text, each –against a background of art of that time, whether illustrating the stories of each song, or perhaps showing musicians at work. That was frankly a touch of genius. Most of the settings are strophic, and many narrations were quite extensive. This way the audience could be fully involved and follow the nuances of the performers.

The performers chose sixteen of the Cantigas (all of which celebrate Mary, Mother of Jesus). Two were performed purely instrumentally. Others told mystical stories, like the saint who listened for 300 years to a bird song after he asked Mary to show him what the bliss of heaven would be like. Some were more earthy, like the tale of a pregnant abbess who was saved when Mary took her child far away, so there was no evidence that she had become pregnant. We also heard the tale of the visit of the three kings at Jesus’ birth, and that of his ascent into heaven.

Musicians, 'Cantigas de Santa Maria' illumination

Musicians, ‘Cantigas de Santa Maria’ illumination, E Codex

But the final Cantiga, “Rosa das Rosas,” the most ethereally beautiful of all, was again in praise of the Virgin Mary, “Rose of Roses, Flower of Flowers, Lady of Ladies.” Each verse was sung with rapt devotion. For the final verse, the instrumentalists put down their instruments and joined in one final a cappella stanza. It would not have been surprising if halos of light had encircled each of their heads. It was a truly memorable, inspired ending.

For the record, here is the artist roster:

The Newberry Consort: David Douglass and Ellen Hargis, artistic directors; David Douglass, vielle and rebec; Ellen Hargis, soprano; Matthew Dean, tenor and recorder; Shira Kammen, vielle and harp; Mark Rimple, lute and citole, and Tom Zajac, flute, recorder, bagpipe, hammered dulcimer, and percussion.

Exsultemus: Shannon Kanavin, soprano and artistic director, with Shari Alise Wilson, soprano; Pamela Dellal, mezzo-soprano; Martin Near, counter-tenor, and Michael Barrett, tenor.

Ken Keaton is a professor of music at Florida Atlantic University. He is the author of The Mystery of Music, published by Kendall Hunt. As a music critic, he writes for American Record Guide and the Palm Beach Daily News.

King Alfonso X 'El Sabio' in his court, as depicted in the Cantigas de Santa María E Codex

King Alfonso X ‘El Sabio’ in his court, as depicted in the ‘Cantigas de Santa María’ E Codex

Exsultemus (exsultemus.org)

Exsultemus (exsultemus.org)
2013-08-07T08:45:18+00:00
The-Newberry-Consort-courtesy-BEMF
  The Newberry Consort (courtesy BEMF) By Ken Keaton There are few places on earth where an audience can enjoy a purely magical performance of Medieval song in a glorious hall. The Boston Early Music Festival is on that short