"When you play Renaissance music, it gives you a flexibility because the instrumentalists of that period weren't pigeonholed into being 'classical' or 'popular' musicians," says Julian Gray, who plays bandora and lute for the Baltimore Consort. Gray and four other early-music specialists will demonstrate this flexibility on Saturday at 8 p.m. during the Baltimore Consort's first concert of the season at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church (6610 Bradley Blvd., Bethesda).
Founded in 1977 by a lutanist at the Peabody Conservatory, the consort is a "broken consort," an ensemble composed of several different instruments rather than of a group of several musicians all playing the same instrument. Broken consorts were used as theater bands, often for Shakespearian plays and were the kind of musical group favored by Elizabeth I. Consort members must do a great deal of research to figure out how a piece might have been played, and sometimes to orchestrate a melody, they have to improvise, somewhat like jazz musicians.
"After we have chosen melodies that we like, we'll chart out a basic ground plan. Then, through the course of working out a piece, people will put in more figurations. There really is that aspect of jamming," says Gray.
Saturday's program, entitled "Greensleaves and Other Delights," is a preview of the consort's national touring program and will feature a Renaissance bagpipe solo in addition to English and Scottish art and folk music.