Long known for attracting sell-out audiences, the Peabody Renaissance Ensemble celebrates its 30th anniversary this season, featuring concerts that commemorate that milestone with special guest and alumni performers.
Mark Cudek (MM ’82, Lute), who directs the ensemble, founded the group in 1988 while directing the Early Music Ensemble at Towson University. He was an alumni guest in Peabody’s Consort of Viols directed by Mary Anne Ballard and invited that small group to perform with his Towson ensemble, which had vocal as well instrumental components. Ballard encouraged Cudek to create such an experience for Peabody students — and he did.
The Renaissance Ensemble draws its members from students in many departments at Peabody, including the Historical Performance Department, which Cudek chairs (and which this year boasts 13 graduate students, the most in its history, and 11 Ensemble participants). The group also includes players from the larger Johns Hopkins University community and guests from the Baltimore-Washington early music community.
In its 30th year, the ensemble isn’t just selling out concerts at Peabody. The group performed this season at the Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore and at the Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D.C. Lutenist and theorbo player William Simms (MM ’91, Guitar) was a guest artist performing in the fall, while Alan Choo (MM ’14, Violin, Early Music; GPD ’16, Violin) performed in the spring.
Cudek credits the group’s initial following with the success of the Baltimore Consort, which ran a subscription series in Baltimore for 20 years. Now a professional touring group, its audience members migrated to the Peabody Renaissance Ensemble. One group of eight devoted audience members call themselves the “Griswold Groupies.” Jeanne Sears, a member of this group, says they love supporting the program and getting to know the faculty artists and students and can count on a high-energy, high-level performance at every concert.
Sarah Lynn (BM ’17, Baroque Flute) had her first experiences with Renaissance instruments in the Peabody ensemble and has since earned professional gigs playing this earlier music. Lynn, a GPD Baroque flute student who also sings in the Renaissance Ensemble, says, “The students joke that the Renaissance Ensemble is Mark Cudek’s baby, but it really is. His level of dedication for the ensemble is staggering. It really gives students an insight into how well- organized professional ensembles operate from start until concert day.”
The group’s repertoire includes works from the 13th to the 17th centuries, such as madrigals and chansons, motets and anthems, lute and consort songs, and various instrumental consorts. “What makes the ensemble special is that musicians can play and sing the ‘classical’ music of the age — the courtly and sacred music — but also the pop and folk music of the period,” Cudek says. Over the years, the ensemble has also collaborated with dancers and actors to deepen the experience for students and audiences, says Cudek, who credits the group’s longevity “to the constant influx of new creative energy.”
In 1996, Cudek founded the Peabody Consort to feature the Renaissance Ensemble’s most advanced students and recent alumni. This subset has performed in Rome, Taiwan, Japan, and the Dominican Republic as well as at the Boston, Hawaii, and Indianapolis Early Music Festivals. Peabody Renaissance Ensemble alumni play, or have played, in numerous American ensembles, including Apollos’s Fire (Cleveland Baroque Orchestra), Baltimore Consort, Folger Consort, Hesperus, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Tempesta di Mare (Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra), and the Waverly Consort.
— Margaret Bell