School of Music, Theatre and Dance

OU alumni Ellen Hargis, David Douglass to receive 2022 Howard Mayer Brown Award

Award recognizes lifetime achievement in the field of early music

icon of a calendarJuly 20, 2022

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OU alumni Ellen Hargis, Davis Douglass to receive 2022 Howard Mayer Brown Award
David Douglass and Ellen Hargis
Oakland University alumni David Douglass and Ellen Hargis have been selected to receive the 2022 Howard Mayer Brown Award for lifetime achievement from Early Music America for their pioneering work in uncovering and performing rarely heard music. (Photo courtesy Lauren Carrane)

Oakland University alumni Ellen Hargis and David Douglass, the husband-and-wife team who stepped down recently after many years of serving as the co-artistic directors of The Newberry Consort in Chicago, have been selected to receive the 2022 Howard Mayer Brown Award for lifetime achievement from Early Music America, the leading organization in their field, for their pioneering work in uncovering and performing rarely heard music.

“We are humbled to receive this award from EMA and are grateful to the community of scholars and musicians who made our careers in early music so rewarding,” Hargis and Douglas said. “Little did we know when we met in Lyle Nordstrom’s collegium musicum in 1973 that we would see all our dreams come true: collaborating with amazing colleagues all over the globe and having the opportunity to create, perform, and record our dream projects, now for more than 40 years. 

“For the last 15 years we had the joy of co-directing The Newberry Consort, which was our primary focus until our retirement from the ensemble in 2022. We have been fortunate to be teachers and mentors of many talented and dedicated young artists who are already new leaders in the field. We thank those who nominated and supported us for this award of a lifetime.”

Douglass began performing with The Consort when it was founded in 1986, and he assumed the role of artistic director in 2007, when The Consort became independent of the Newberry Library. Hargis, a soprano who is well-known in the early music world, joined Douglass as co-artistic director in 2009.

Over their tenure as artistic directors of The Consort, they performed rarely heard music from the medieval era to the Renaissance and beyond. Their programs have not only received rave reviews, but were also considered inspiring, and innovative, and meticulously researched, as well as historically informed. Under their stewardship, The Consort attained a national reputation for exceptional artistry.

Hargis and Douglass retired from their role as artistic directors at the end of the 2022 season, passing the mantle off to Liza Malamut, a trombonist and an early music scholar, who will assume the role of artistic director of The Consort beginning in the 2022-2023 season.

Malamut praised Hargis and Douglass for their pioneering work.

“Ellen Hargis and David Douglass together upheld, sustained, and magnified one of the greatest early music ensembles in the world,” she said. “They broke ground in early music performance and research, producing numerous recordings and multi-disciplinary shows. They discovered music that no one else had ever seen and brought it to life, making it not only beautiful, but accessible.

“I feel incredibly lucky to have benefited from the great work of these two giants in the early music field, and I know that my colleagues and I owe much to their work, and will for generations to come,” Malamut added.

Douglass, a violinist, and Hargis, a soprano, first met in 1973 as undergraduate students at Oakland University. Douglass had originally planned to be a chemist, and Hargis had wanted to become a linguist, but when both started performing with the university’s early music group, they found a passion that became their calling for the rest of their careers.

In the mid-1980s, Douglass began performing with The Newberry Consort, as well as the Musicians of Swanne Alley, a group of Renaissance musicians that focused on music from Elizabethan England.

As a violinist, Douglass became interested in how the violin and its cousins (including the viola and the violoncello) were performed during the Renaissance, which were often played by professionals and taught to apprentices without the technique being written down.

Douglass’ research into 16th and 17th century dance and consort music led to him found the King's Noyse, a leading North American Renaissance-style violin ensemble, in the 1990s. He created the group's repertory by arranging tunes found in dancing manuals of the time and encouraged the musicians to play in the style of Renaissance fiddlers, who improvised their music while one instrument kept a rhythm on a bass line, similar to how modern jazz musicians play.

He also incorporated that same style in many Newberry Consort performances and continued to delve into research about music from the Medieval to the Baroque periods. Some of the highlights of his time at The Consort included presenting a concert of music from Lincoln’s America and presenting a staged production of Elizabethan jigs in honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Hargis, too, has been a leader in the early music field throughout her decades-long career. She specializes in 17th- and 18th-century music, ranging from ballads to opera and oratorio. As artistic director of The Newberry Consort, one of Hargis’s most important accomplishments was digging into a set of choir books housed at Newberry Library that were originally from the Convento De La Encarnacion, which existed in Mexico City from the late 16th century through the 19th century. Hargis researched the music, adapted it for modern musicians and then presented this music in several different concerts, including two that have been recorded as albums.

In addition to performing with The Newberry Consort, Hargis has also performed with many prestigious groups around the world including at the Kennedy Center with the Washington Choral Arts Society as well as with American Bach Soloists, Music of the Baroque, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Virginia Symphony, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Long Beach Opera, CBC Radio Orchestra, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Teatro Lirico, Tragicomedia, Mozartean Players, Fretwork, Musica Sacra (New York City) and the Mark Morris Dance Group, Seattle Baroque Orchestra, and many more.

She has also been a stalwart of the Boston Early Music Festival, where she has taught numerous workshops and sung lead roles in various productions, including in Lully’s Thésée, Rossi's L'Orfeo, and Conradi’s Ariadne. And she has also performed at many of the world’s other leading festivals, including the Berkeley Festival, Festival Vancouver, the Adelaide Festival in Australia, Utrecht Festival in Holland, Resonanzen Festival in Vienna, Tanglewood and the New Music America Festival.

The Howard Mayer Brown Award is given out annually by the non-profit group Early Music America to honor an individual’s lifetime achievement in the field of early music. The award is named in memory of the renowned musicologist from the University of Chicago, Howard Mayer Brown, who collected thousands of librettos, cantatas, plays, and microfilms of music from the 13th to the 19th century, which he donated to the Newberry Library upon his death in 1993. In fact, it was Brown who originally founded The Newberry Consort with an endowment that he made to the Newberry Library.

“That’s why this award is especially meaningful for us,” Hargis said.

About the Newberry Consort

The Newberry Consort brings together singers and instrumentalists of the highest caliber to create historically informed performances of music from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Baroque, and beyond. By integrating historical performance and research with contemporary themes and multimedia, we inspire audiences, musicians, and scholars by providing a window into earlier times and diverse cultures. The Consort continues to uplift Chicago’s early music community through mentorships, teaching, and engagement of local artists.

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