Photo courtesy Ben Rezendes and Elise M. VanderKley
Margaret Hjaltested plays the viola.
By Tammy Scileppi

These days you don’t come across many musicians who have a particular interest in Italian baroque music and have the ability to play period baroque instruments at baroque pitch.

But it seems clear that the conservatory-trained musicians in the group Queens Consort do.

Three members come from the Juilliard School in Manhattan and the group has performed this style of European classical music for years.

“We are inspired to bring authentic period instrument performances to the Queens community,” founding director and baroque violinist Claire Smith Bermingham, said. “We value historically informed performance practices to study and recreate the original intentions of the composers and strive to reflect this in our music.”

The Jackson Heights resident formed the group earlier this year, along with longtime Sunnyside friend Margret Hjaltested, who plays baroque viola. They asked the other members — Dan McCarthy, Aya Hamada and Anneke Schaul-Yoder — to join them.

Now the core group contains two violins, one viola, one cello and harpsichord. Their stringed instruments have gut strings and are set up in the traditional baroque style, and the musicians play with baroque bows, which are shorter and have different strengths for the repertoire they perform than bows for modern stringed instruments.

Smith said they are all looking forward to the group’s evening Yuletide concert on Dec. 19 at St. Mark’s Church in Jackson Heights, where they can share their love of ancient music with the community.

“We feel the concert – requested by St. Mark’s Church and community – will be a beautiful way to help celebrate the spirit of the holiday season, and just days before Christmas,” Smith said. “For the performance, we will include two recorder players as guest artists, friends Daphna Mor and Lewis R. Baratz. The addition of the recorders will add a nice texture for the music we are programming.”

Audiences will hear ancient music, specifically written for Christmas by Arcangelo Corelli, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Johann Christoph Pez and Giuseppe Torelli, as well as early Christmas carols.

During the baroque era (between 1600 – 1750), church music featured the contrasts of solo voices, chorus, and orchestra. And in instrumental music, the period saw the emergence of the sonata, the suite, and particularly the concerto grosso, as in the music of Corelli, Vivaldi, Handel and Bach.

All professional musicians, both on baroque and modern instruments, the close-knit members of Queens Consort regularly perform together in chamber music and orchestral settings in many different ensembles. Over the years, they have given performances in Queens, Manhattan and beyond: at concert halls, including Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, on Broadway; on television; and in professional recordings. In fact, Smith has been concertmaster of the Astoria Music Society orchestra for the past 10 years.

The group’s inaugural concerts took place in mid-October, when 90 people came to their Manhattan concert and 120 attended their Queens performances, according to Smith. There folks got a taste of what early music was all about when they experienced a hauntingly beautiful performance of 17th century Venetian baroque composers, or composers who influenced the Venetian baroque composers living at the time. The concert program was inspired by Smith’s then-recent travel to Venice and other regions of Italy.

With television performances on “Late Night with David Letterman,” “Saturday Night Live,” “The View” and others under her belt, Smith has been featured in a variety of venues on both modern and baroque violin. Cellist Schaul-Yoder appeared in a televised performance of Lincoln Center’s, “American Songbook” series on PBS.

“We were overwhelmed by our audience support at our first two concerts, and felt incredible support and enthusiasm from the audiences in both boroughs,” Smith said. “It was particularly important to us that we had a good turn-out in Queens because our intent is to bring early music to this borough where we live. We are committed to bringing quality baroque performances to this community and consider ourselves the first early music group for the borough.”

If You Go

The Queens Consort, Yuletide Celebration Concert

When: Saturday, Dec. 19, 7 pm

Where: St. Mark’s Church, 33-50 82nd St., Jackson Heights

Cost: $15/general, $10/students, wine and food reception in the Parish Hall after concert

Website: www.queensconsort.com

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