What's Old Is New

The Folger Consort offers Christmas chamber music from ''New Spain''

Looking for a different spin on holiday music? ”It won’t be your usual list of holiday songs and carols,” Jennifer Bowman avers about the Folger Consort’s annual holiday program. ”It’s really interesting to take a look at how other cultures over time commemorate this time of year.”

Over the next week the renowned early music ensemble presents Christmas in New Spain: Early Music of Mexico and Peru featuring musicians and vocalists. Bowman, the consort’s manager, explains. ”We’re basically doing music by composers who were European, but really made their names once they came over to the New World in the 16th through 18th centuries.” The Western-rooted music they created incorporates regional influences from indigenous Americans — think Aztecs and Incas — as well as enslaved Africans.

The annual holiday program is a good entry point into this style of chamber music — so old it’s new to many listeners. ”This is a genre of music that isn’t the most well-known,” Bowman says, referring to the early classical music period that stretches all the way from the medieval to the baroque, stopping at the popular romantic era. A lot of the compositions from the period, which includes the Renaissance music of Shakespeare’s time, are ”incomplete scores,” offering scholars and musicians more creative license to tamper with them than the later eras’ fully notated classical music.

This early music period also features a few instruments, such as the viol, that are exotic or at least unfamiliar to today’s audiences. On Sunday, Dec. 21, prior to the 2 p.m. performance, Bowman notes that the consort will offer an ”Explore our Instruments” session, what other organizations often call an ”Instrument Petting Zoo.”

”We’re just trying to dispel a little bit of the mystery and allow people to really interact with the instruments and see how they’re performed,” says Bowman. ”I always get questions from audience members: ‘What’s that thing on stage? How does he play that?”’

The Folger Consort begins performances of Christmas in New Spain on Friday, Dec. 13, at 8 p.m., ending Sunday, Dec. 22, at 2 p.m., at the Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE. Tickets are $50. Call 202-544-7077 or visit folger.edu.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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