Newberry Consort releases new music collection, brings new life to Juan de Lienas’ 17th century collection


Courtesy of Ellen Hargis

Shown above are the performers of the Newberry Consort’s soon-to-be-released VESPERS CD. After a week of intensive practice, the collection was performed in Saint Clements Catholic Church. Soon, the whole performance will be available for streaming online.

Ella Weaver, Reporter

The Newberry Consort is swapping out church steeples for your Spotify playlists.

Northwestern’s ensemble-in-residence will release their newly recorded collection of music on Friday, February 5 over Zoom. This new collection,“VESPERS,” will feature the music of the “mysterious” Mexican composer Juan de Lienas. Originally composed in the early 17th century for convents, this collection has been restructured and directed by soprano and Newberry Consort director Ellen Hargis.

This album is nearly 10 years in the making. The original sheet music is part of the Newberry Library’s collection and originates from a convent in Mexico. Some songs were in separate books, requiring Hargis to pore over the library’s collection.

The lack of modern music marks posed a challenge for Hargis. There were missing vocal parts, no tempo or dynamic markings and no indication as to whether the chords were major or minor. However, these roadblocks only motivated Hargis to utilize her specialization in historical performances.

“I think the music’s fantastic, and nobody does it because it’s not out there,” Hargis said. “So to me, that is a very exciting discovery and one that I wanted to bring to audiences and also musicians.”

Some of the inspiration for the collection was drawn from Candace Smith, an alto singer who flew in to practice from Italy for the initial performance. Smith has known Hargis for decades, and she was involved with performances before “VESPERS.”

“There was a song (during a previous performance). I think that one of the things was a Psalm, and I said, ‘God, you know, it would be really fun to do a Vespers,’“ Smith said. “And I don’t even remember saying this, but Ellen swears that I said it, and that was what put her on to doing ‘VESPERS.’”

“VESPERS” performer, soprano and classical guitarist Salomé Sandoval, has also known Hargis for years. Sandoval met Hargis while studying at the Longy School of Music in Massachusetts, when she attended a masterclass on 17th century song at the Boston Early Music Festival.

Haris remembered Sandoval years later when gathering singers for “VESPERS.”

”I was really honored to be a part of this, because she chose quite a group of female instrumentalists and singers, including one of my mentors, Frances Fitch,” Sandoval said. “So you can imagine that being on the stage and recording this with one of my teachers was quite exciting.”

The 13 women assembled before the pandemic to perform as a group. Not all of the performers hailed from Chicago — some traveled across the country or around the world to be a part of “VESPERS.” This resulted in a very intense week of rehearsal, practicing six hours a day for four days, followed by a weekend of performances, Hargis said.

Instead of being lost to time, the collection is being given new life through the Newberry Consort. Sandoval said she hopes that listeners will experience some of the magic that she felt while singing.

”When we’re exalting, it takes you to a different dimension,” Sandoval said. “It’s a very nice combination of sounds, and makes you transport your mind and soul to a different place.”

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Twitter: @EllaWeav2023

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