NU ensemble-in-residence celebrates life of 17th-century musical icon


Courtesy of Newberry Consort

The Newberry Consort rehearses for their upcoming show, which will play music that celebrates Queen Christina of Sweden. They said they chose to focus on Queen Christina because of her reputation for breaking societal norms.

Jennifer Hepp, Reporter

After reigning for less than 10 years in the mid-1600s, Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated her throne and moved to Rome. She had always been interested in music, and there — in arguably the center of European culture — she became an icon.

The Newberry Consort, a Bienen ensemble-in-residence focusing on the early music genre, will celebrate Queen Christina’s life with a concert featuring guest artists and showcasing music from her time, opening Saturday in Galvin Recital Hall.

Newberry artistic co-director and soprano Ellen Hargis said Queen Christina was an “eccentric” public character who broke societal norms of the time by refusing to marry, wearing men’s clothing and rejecting gender roles.

Christina’s life was well-documented through court reports, manuscripts, gossip and personal letters, Hargis said. Some of these documents, as well as contemporary historians’ accounts of the queen, will be read by a narrator in accompaniment to the Consort’s performance.

Fellow Newberry artistic co-director and violinist David Douglass said the consort decided to focus their upcoming concert on Queen Christina because she was a celebrity who drew the attention of many famous composers and performers, as she stood out from other royalty through her atypical stance and attitudes.

“Christina was interacting with very powerful male characters in the (music) world in a way that wasn’t always possible for women,” Hargis said. “She’s been very much celebrated in modern times … so there’s a lot written about her contemporarily.”

The music written for her represents some of the highest quality work written and performed in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Douglass said.

One of the Newberry Consort’s guest artists for this concert is countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, who will be singing several pieces on the program, from solos and French and Italian arias to duets with Hargis herself.

“There’s a wide variety of styles of music you’ll get to hear because of all the traveling and different relationships that Queen Christina had,” Cohen said.

Cohen said the musicians performing with the consort are some of North America’s “top notch” early music specialists, including Hargis, who he met at an early music festival in Vancouver in 2013, he said.

The consort will use several period instruments in their performance, such as the lirone — a string instrument that only plays chords. Douglass said such instruments are a rarity in modern times.

Douglass added that the Newberry Consort aims to provide audience members an insight into an earlier time by performing music of that historical period. This allows audience members to make comparisons between past and modern times, he said.

“One of the great things about early music is it’s like doing new music because it’s so unknown,” Hargis said. “We know a lot, but we know a little at the same time. It’s a very exciting field.”

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