By EVAN HAMIN
The Newberry Consort will kick off its 2017-18 season with the first of a three-part series of concerts. The three themes for this season are: “Sacred Love,” “Forbidden Love,” and “Dangerous Love.” The second performance in the “Sacred Love” series will be held on Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St. at 8 p.m.
“Sacred Love,” the first installment in the series, will focus on the music of Sephardic Jews in Renaissance Spain. The Newberry Consort is one of the premier groups specializing in early music. The group is co-directed by Ellen Hargis and David Douglass.
In order to put out an authentic and captivating program, the Consort tapped Nell Snaidas as a guest curator for the first concert. Snaidas is an expert in Sephardic music from this time period.
“They had been thinking about doing this kind of a program for quite some time,” Snaidas explained. “She [Hargis] said ‘I know you’re the person to come to for help on this because it’s not something we specialize in.’”
Snaidas drew on her knowledge of the Sephardic music tradition to compile the pieces for the concert. However, arranging music from this unique tradition is sometimes difficult.
“The Christian music from Spain, which was very popular and written down at the time, is easy to find because you go to a library and print out a pdf,” Snaidas said. “The music of the Sephardic Jews was not notated, it was passed down through oral tradition.”
While the oral tradition of Sephardic music makes it difficult to pluck a piece out of a library, it does offer the chance for musicians to improvise and give the music a personal touch.
“I arranged some of it, but these are tunes that are known,” Snaidas said. “I’ve been specializing in this for many years, and a lot of the time nobody gives you a piece of music. The cool thing about that is then you know it forever.”
The music of Sephardic Jews was uniquely shaped by the confluence of different cultures and religions in Spain at the time. Snaidas pointed out that this cross-pollination of cultural and musical themes influenced her research as well, and she discovered some modern implications along the way.
“When you think about Spain in that part of time you have to investigate the culture of the Muslims at the time and the Christians and the Jews. They lived very close together at that time and influenced each other,” she said. “In a way it’s pretty timely, I think, with all of us trying to live together today.”
A few Chicago artists will also be performing with the Consort this season. In addition to Douglass and Hargis, Ronnie Malley will be featured on the oud, and baritone Eric Miranda and tenor Matthew Dean will join the vocal ensemble.
Tickets range from $5 for students with ID to $50 for those opting for preferred seating. General admission tickets are available for $40. Individual tickets and season passes are available on the Consort’s website at www.newberryconsort.org/tickets/.