Press Release: Celestial Sirens Chicago

Jan 14, 2013 | Press Release | 0 comments

The Howard Mayer Brown Memorial Concert  

Music from Italian and Mexican Convents

January 20 – 22, 2012

The Newberry Consort kicks off 2012 with Celestial Sirens, a program of music from 17th-century Mexican and Italian convents, on January 20th at Saint Clement Church.  Ellen Hargis, co-director of the 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.

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 our venues. 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.

Playing both chamber organ and the large organs in each church, renowned early keyboard specialist Frances Fitch will accompany the ensemble and perform solos works.  Chicago’s own Katherine Shuldiner with play viola da gamba, another instrument common in convent music making.

This program is dedicated to the memory of Professor Howard Mayer Brown, distinguished American musicologist and longtime resident of Chicago whose passion for early music performance inspired a generation of American performers. His copious research and valuable insights served to vitalize the field of historically informed performance until his death in 1993. Professor Brown’s legacy as a teacher lives on in his students and in the musicology department at the University of Chicago, where the Newberry Consort serves as Ensemble-in-Residence.

The program will be repeated Saturday in Hyde Park and Sunday in Evanston.

For more concert details and to purchase tickets visit:

or call: 312.890.2553

Free parking available at all venues.

$35 general/$5 student (cash only)


Friday, January 20, 2012 8:00pm

Saint Clement Church

642 West Deming Place

Chicago, IL 60614


Saturday, January 21, 2012 8:00pm

Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, University of Chicago (Hyde Park)

5850 South Woodlawn Avenue

Chicago, IL 60637-1628


Sunday, January 22, 2012 3:00pm

Alice Millar Chapel, Northwestern University

1870 Sheridan Road

Evanston, IL 60208

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