The Newberry Consort is pleased to announce that it is presenting “Four Queens and a Joker” on April 23 and 24, a concert featuring two hilarious cantatas from the 17th and 18th centuries in which four singers, eight instrumentalists, and one stage director variously sing, dance, play and recreate games from the period.
These concerts will be the final performances for husband-and-wife team Ellen Hargis and David Douglass as co-artistic directors of the Consort, retiring from the Consort at the end of the season.
I had the opportunity to ask them some questions about their music and building a fine arts organization.
DZ: Can you explain why you each were drawn to this type of music?
DD: This music always spoke to me. It really seems to evoke the time and social context it comes from. The use of harmony and rhythm was so different from the symphonic traditions I knew as a modern violinist, and I loved the creativity of the composers. EH: I loved the way that texts were treated in these repertoires, emphasizing rhetorical expressivity over vocal virtuosity. And of course, the poetry is exquisite. DZ: I see from the press release that David has been involved since 1986 and stepped into the Artistic Director position years later. Why did you want to take on the greater responsibilities of running the company?
DD: The creative opportunities were irresistible. To have the chance to create whatever you want with the colleagues you wish to was an amazing gift. Was Ellen involved with the group before stepping in to be Artistic Director? EH: Yes, she was a regular guest artist from the second season and a core member of the group from 2000 before joining the directing team. Is there a favorite moment from a concert that will always stay with you?
DD and EH: We performed at a festival in Durango, Mexico, a few years ago. Our rehearsal space was a 17th-century room in the cathedral where volumes of music that had been untouched for hundreds of years were stored. Making music in the space where that music was conceived was amazing. DZ: Sometimes we learn more from our mistakes than we learn from our successes. Are there any examples of that in your careers?
DD and EH: Honestly, we wouldn’t change a thing. We never underestimated our audience’s curiosity about the unknown and the unexpected, which could have been an error – but we gambled and won. DZ: What pleasure do you take from building an arts organization? Were there opportunities you passed up as performers so you could concentrate on building the organization?
DD and EH: No. The Newberry Consort has always been art-driven; thanks to the trust that our Board had in our mission, we could program to our own strengths and not worry excessively about whether programs would “sell.” DZ: What is next for the two of you and for the company?
DD and EH: For us, continued creativity in other areas, publishing, teaching, travel. Our new Artistic Director is a wind player, and I think you’ll see a new soundscape in her programming. She is committed to the same mission we followed, and we expect great things!
PERFORMANCE DETAILS Four Queens and a Joker Saturday, April 23, 2022, at 8 p.m. International House, University of Chicago, 1414 E. 59th St., Chicago Tickets $50 Sunday, April 24, 2022, at 3 p.m.
Galvin Recital Hall, Northwestern University, 70 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston Tickets $50 Free reception to follow the concert Tickets are available at https://www.newberryconsort.org.
About the Newberry Consort:
Directed by David Douglass, Newberry Musician-in-Residence, and early music diva Ellen Hargis, the Newberry Consort plumbs the Newberry Library’s vast music collection and assembles a star-studded roster of local and international artists to bring you world-class performances of music from the 13th to the 18th centuries…and occasionally beyond! Affiliated with the Newberry Library Center for Renaissance Studies, the Consort also serves as an ensemble-in-residence at Northwestern University. In addition to an annual concert series in Chicago, the Consort has an active touring schedule.