Early music stagings enhance concerts of well-chosen music

Hyde Park Herald

Staff Critic

The Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 50th St., was the site of two glorious early music concerts this past weekend. Saturday night saw the final concert of this year’s Newberry Consort season. Sunday featured Atalante, an early music ensemble founded by Erin Headley, performing an afternoon event.

The two presentations were quite different. The Newberry Consort offered a selection of music which French minstrels would have performed for royalty at the end of the Renaissance; Atalante provided music which John Milton would have heard during visits to Italy. So, the music, the time, and the place were different, but the two groups had one very interesting thing in common: They both did more than perform the music.

Both presentations used nonmusical elements to enhance the performance. The Newberry Consort had a large screen just above the players on which was projected paintings, tapestries, pages from illuminated manuscripts, and the like. These projections also included the texts to vocal pieces. It was a splendid way to convey the meaning of what was being sung while at the same time offering a peek into specific items the libraries and galleries of the era had reposed in them.

Atalante contributed to the sense of time and place with a pre-recorded set of brief spoken word segments of Milton’s reactions to what he was experiencing in Italy. In addition, Atalante made use of projections, typically of art. And the singers (but not the instrumentalists) performed in period gowns.

While the specific choices the two groups made were different, they were similar in the most important sense: They transformed a concert into a staged event, and invited the audience not merely to hear the music, but offered them a chance to enter the world in which this music was originally presented.

Read the full review on the Hyde Park Herald website