Traveling troupe incorporate music, poetry and creation stories in concerts

Friday, November 13, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:36 a.m. CST, Friday, November 13, 2009

COLUMBIA — Carolyn Surrick was tired of just playing gigs with different musicians. Surrick, who has played the Renaissance era viola da gamba since she was a teenager, wanted to form a tight-knit group of talented classical and Celtic instrumentalists.  

“I wanted to have more of a relationship with the people I was playing with,” Surrick said. "At that time, there were many traditional and early music artists in Annapolis.” 

If you go

What: Ensemble Galilei’s “Universe of Dreams”

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Jesse Auditorium

Tickets: $17

For more information: Call 882-3781 or go to the University Concert Series box office.

Ensemble Galilei, a traveling troupe originally formed by Surrick and Celtic harpist Sue Richards, will play Saturday night as part of the University Concert Series in Jesse Auditorium. 

The group, which now features a fiddle, violins, an oboe, percussion and a pennywhistle, gained early success through its unusual blend of medieval, Irish and classical recordings and performances. 

“We decided very early on that it was much more important how we played together than what we played,” Surrick said. “There was a mix of Irish-Celtic and Renaissance musicians. I just said, ‘Let’s see what music we can make together,’ and we had huge success.” 

About eight years ago, Ensemble Galilei started incorporating other art forms. 

“We had a lot of success doing Christmas concerts — we pretty much played every Christmas song there is — when we started working with Bob Burke to do some stuff for kids,” Surrick said. “I knew Neal Conan from NPR was in the area, so we asked him to work with us and read stories. It was instantly great.” 

Realizing they were on to something valuable after Conan's performance, Ensemble Galilei came up with the concept of “Universe of Dreams.”

This show features Conan reading a variety of works, including poetry and Navajo creation stories, and actress Lily Knight interpreting many of the scenes. It also includes traditional and originally composed music from Ensemble Galilei.  

And for the more visually inclined, breathtaking images taken from the Hubble telescope continually appear on a giant screen behind the artists during the show. 

“It’s kind of like asking which of your kids you love the most — we love all of the shows we do — but 'Universe of Dreams' is just beautiful," Surrick said. "The whole thing is really an extraordinary performance.”

Surrick also mentioned that the group particularly likes to play at universities.

“I love playing at colleges because it seems people are generally more ready to be thoughtful and actually listen to the music,” Surrick said. “And Neal, who is brilliant, always tells some pretty funny jokes that you have to pay attention to in order to appreciate.” 

She is also adamant that concertgoers who generally do not like classical music should not avoid this particular show. 

“Sometimes, I think people are put off by what they think is chamber music,” Surrick said. “But if you are someone who enjoys hearing live music, our fiddler, Hanneke Cassel, can really walk the room. And if you love poetry, you should come. If you love the Hubble telescope, you should come.” 

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