The Newberry Consort of Chicago performs Celestial Sirens, a program of music from 17th-century Mexican and Italian convents, on March 20th at 7:30 pm at The Church of the Covenant, 11205 Euclid Avenue in University Circle, to celebrate the Newberry Organ, now being installed in the historic church.
Ellen Hargis, director of the Newberry Consort, will lead an ensemble of eight women’s voices, organ, and viola da gamba, performing the music of Cozzolani, Tressina, Victoria, as well as repertoire from the “Newberry Choirbooks,” manuscripts from the Covento de l’Incarnación in Mexico City that are currently housed in the Newberry Library.
Celestial Sirens explores the musical traditions of cloistered nuns, who not only played and sang music by prominent male composers, but also composed music themselves.
The luminous sound of the all-female choir was as wildly popular in the 17th century as it is today, often causing the nuns to be censured for their fame in the secular world. This program features works for small ensembles of two or three voices, as well as double-choir works for eight voices in the Venetian tradition, perfect for the resonant acoustics of the Church of the Covenant. Although the traditions are similar, the music reflects the compositional tastes of each culture. The Italian music is forward-looking, virtuosic, and highly expressive. The Mexican music has a joyous, dance-like use of syncopated rhythms reminiscent of popular song, and stretches the ranges of the singers to create fantastic sonic effects.
The renowned soprano Ellen Hargis, whose exquisite voice and expressive interpretations have been celebrated throughout the world, is beloved by Cleveland audiences from her appearances at Chapel, Court & Countryside, and the Lute Society of America Seminar; she has been a Kulas Visiting Artist at CWRU since 1999. The other singers are sopranos Elena Mullins, Sian Ricketts, and Josefien Stoppelenburg, and mezzo-sopranos Tracy Cowart, Debra Nagy, Beverly Simmons, and Angela Young-Smucker.
Built by Richards, Fowkes, and Company (of Ooltewah, Tennessee), the Newberry Organ is modeled after north German pipe organs from the late 17th-century with mechanical key and stop action, flexible winding, and historic tuning.
Playing the Newberry Organ, renowned early keyboard specialist Frances Fitch will accompany the ensemble and perform solos works. Katherine Shuldiner, a student of Catharina Meints at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, will play viola da gamba, another instrument common in convent music making.
Tickets are available in advance online and at the Church of the Covenant office. They will also be available at the door. Free parking is available; the venue is wheelchair accessible.