Hark back to a time of classics with Island Consort

Brian Kenney

A chorus of strings, woodwinds, voices and a harpsichord will resound through the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation this Saturday during the season opener for Island Consort.

As Whidbey Island’s only troupe of Baroque-era music, hearing their music will be like traveling back in time to the 1600s when kings and queens, lords and ladies ruled. In Island Consort’s third season, founder and artistic director Sheila Weidendorf chose to begin the season with a mix of true classics as part of “English Masters … Baroque and Beyond!” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10. One of her goals is to introduce less popular works and less well-known composers to patrons and listeners.

“There are certain sets of music that are wonderful and get lots of playtime. Who doesn’t like Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons?’ ” Weidendorf asked. “But he also wrote other wonderful works.”

A quick YouTube search for Baroque performances and some of the videos posted on the Island Consort Facebook page show people adorned in attire more commonly associated with a Renaissance Fair or medieval reenactment.

Drawing people away from their digitized music, so readily available on computers and phones, is another one of her plugs for why people, even those uninitiated in the world of Baroque performances, should consider attending.

“Something is really created between the musicians and the audience in the moment, and I think it’s really important to keep that tradition alive,” Weidendorf said.

Later, she added: “I believe, so strongly, that music in its myriad forms and different manifestations is a divine gift. It is a joy. One does not need to be a musician or a musicologist to appreciate beauty or truth.”

Her passion led her a few years ago to find other musicians with a like-mind and ear for the Baroque. To her surprise, she found plenty, and now about 30 instrumentalists and vocalists comprise the shifting ranks of Island Consort.

“The geekiest of the geeks are Baroque musicians,” Weidendorf laughed.

During a recent rehearsal with the string section, Weidendorf led them through a few sections of a piece. Periodically, she paused from stroking the harpsichord to guide her fellow consort musicians. Ben Watanabe / The Record | Sheila Weidendorf, founder of Island Consort, pauses during a rehearsal with the string section at South Whidbey High School.

“So softly,” she said to the four violinists, getting the strings to quiet some, letting the tension of the piece dissipate. Weidendorf describes another section as a call and answer, another one as being like a bird, “Chirp, chirp.”

While she directs the musicians, some of them are used to being in the conductor’s chair.

The consort rehearsal highlighted how intertwined the musical community of Whidbey Island is. One of the members is a fellow conductor and director: Cynthia Morrow of the Whidbey Island Community Orchestra. She and Weidendorf are good friends and also perform together as Deux Femmes Musique, a piano and violin duo. Also performing with Island Consort is Chris Harshman, a professional bassoonist around Puget Sound and the music director at South Whidbey High School.

Popularity of Island Consort’s offerings has grown. This past season, a performance at St. Augustine’s in-the-Woods Episcopal Church was at capacity.

Over a 90-minute to two-hour performance, Island Consort will cover works by George Frideric Handel, Henry Purcell, William Alwyn, R. Vaughan Williams and Edward Elgar. One of the hallmarks of Island Consort, as a partner of the nonprofit Whidbey Island Arts Council, is that it accepts donations as an entry fee.

“I think it’s really beautiful to make concerts affordable and available,” Weidendorf said.

Another signature of Island Consort is its limited season. Only three performances are scheduled for the group, with “Joyeux Noel: A French Christmas!” set for Sunday, Dec. 20 in Langley, and “Lux Aeterna: A Celebration of Light & Music” on Saturday, May 21.