By Tammy Scileppi
The baroque period – from around 1600 to 1750 – was an interesting time.
A music revolution was underway in Europe. You could say it was like the rock ‘n roll revolution of the sixties when the Beatles took America by storm.
During that musical renaissance, non-religious and instrumental century music exploded on the scene after the church released its grip, and folks could now enjoy concertos, sonatas and operas written by composers like Bach, Vivaldi and Handel, who were the superstars of that enlightened time.
Other Baroque creatives sought the limelight as well. Born in Paris into a family of artists, French composer Jean-François Dandrieu was a gifted child who became a well-known harpsichordist and organist. He gave his first public performance at age 5, when he entertained and delighted France’s King Louis XIV with his harpsichord.
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber became best known as a composer of violin works. Some say he was rather avant-garde for his time. If you listen to his Vivaldi-like works, you’ll find that they are both relaxing and energizing.
Over in Milan, Italy, Giovanni Sammartini – widely regarded as “the father of the symphony” – was that city’s most famous composer back in the 18th century, and creating awesome chamber music was his thing.
This Saturday evening, you can enjoy his revival-worthy sounds and relax to heavenly works written by Dandrieu, Biber, and others, to celebrate the season, that will be authentically performed by The Queens Consort.
This temporary escape from reality will take place in an intimate candlelit concert setting at St. Marks Church, located at 33-50 82nd St. in Jackson Heights. This is the group’s third “Music for Yuletide” concert, as they are currently in their third season.
Two local musicians have made such unique experiences possible, and it all started with their passion for early music.
First violinist Claire Smith Bermingham, is a Jackson Heights resident. She plays Baroque Violin and performs with Sunnyside-based Baroque violist Margret Hjaltested. The two friends made their joint vision a reality when they founded The Queens Consort in 2015.
“We love our audiences and appreciate their support,” said Bermingham, who is joined by other professional city musicians in the group, who also play instruments that were used during the baroque period. Dan McCarthy, Baroque Violin; Anneke Schaul-Yoder, Baroque Cello; Aya Hamada, Harpsichord.
“I choose the repertoire for our concerts based on studies I am doing on certain composers and based upon things I see on my travels that inspire me to want to explore certain composers and compositions in more depth, and to find musical connections between them,” Bermingham said.
“We find pieces of music that were written in the Baroque era to celebrate the season and perform them on period instruments and in period style, so that people can feel closer to the music as it was originally written and played.”
As the first early music ensemble for the borough, The Queens Consort has managed to skillfully adopt and share the flavor of that special period in musical history with modern day audiences, who are curious and wish to find out more about early composers and their works.
“While I play and enjoy a wide variety of styles of music from different periods and regions, playing early music is my greatest musical joy. I feel deeply connected to the music of this period and I greatly enjoy looking at a manuscript, free from later editorial markings, trying to find the original intention of the composer and give it new life for an audience,” said Bermingham.
“I love researching the history behind the works we program and finding the musical connections between the composers and pieces chosen.”
What better way to celebrate the holiday season than with beautiful, almost otherworldly, music from a bygone era? Concert-goers can enjoy wine and food (in the Parish Hall) during the festive reception, which follows the “Music for Yuletide” performance.
“The holidays for me have always been about family, and also about music. I have lived far away from my family for all of my adult life in order to pursue my musical career. But I do travel home each year at the holidays. But the way I celebrate and connect with the season is through music,” Bermingham said.
“I love creating the “Music for Yuletide” programs for the people of Queens, and the fact that I get to play it with my close friends is very rewarding to me.”
Early music lovers can look forward to upcoming concerts in the spring: March 24 at 7 pm – Musica Reginae Concert Series – “Dance Music for the Sun King” at Church in the Gardens, Forest Hills.
And on April 28 at 7 pm – “The Arne Project” at St. Mark’s Church. “This is a special concert and we have done much fundraising work to produce it. We are bringing a musicologist and scholar, Dr. Paul Rice, down from Memorial University in Newfoundland, to discuss the historical context around little-known cantatas of English Baroque composer, Thomas Arne. These pieces will be Queens and North American premieres of the works which were written in the 18th century,” Bermingham noted.
“It promises to be a marvelous experience for our audiences to be the first North Americans to hear these engaging works.”