Smithsonian Chamber Music Society Presents Symposium on Historically Informed Performance

Special Performance of Benjamin Bagby’s Beowulf

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will present “Historically Informed Performance (HIP) in American Higher Education,” a three-day symposium and concert series exploring several topics relevant to historically informed performance practices in collegiate and graduate studies in the United States. The symposium, organized under the leadership of Kenneth Slowik, artistic director of the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society and curator, is free and open to the public and will be held May 8–10.

A distinct niche within musical performance and study, HIP originated in the last decades of the 19th century, and in the U.S., formal HIP educational courses began in the 1970s as a growing number of musicians and performers questioned the appropriateness of performing pre-19th-century music with instruments and playing styles of modern times. First applied in wide-scale fashion to baroque works, HIP now covers music from medieval chant through the mid-19th century, with forays into later eras. HIPs strive to use chronologically appropriate instruments, tuning systems, playing techniques, expressive vocabularies, and ensemble sizes to place works into historical contexts that mirror how they might have originally been heard.

Papers and round-table conversations will feature notable experts in the field, including Malcolm Bilson, Thomas Forrest Kelly, Susan Hellauer, David Stull and Heidi Waleson. The symposium will bring together more than 40 undergraduate and graduate students from the Julliard School, Peabody Institute, Oberlin College Conservatory, San Francisco Conservatory of Music and other institutions to present a wide variety of concepts and ideas.

As an inspirational prelude, Benjamin Bagby, co-founder of the medieval ensemble Sequentia, will present his renowned and rarely performed solo recitation of the first part of “Beowulf” on Thursday, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. The performance will take place in the museum’s new Hall of Music and grant a sneak peek at the not-quite-finished space.

Bagby, a medievalist, musician and 21st-century bard, will accompany himself with his six-string harp during the performance of his dramatic interpretation of the great Anglo-Saxon epic poem. He presents the work in the style of scops, wandering medieval poets who sang the praises of great warriors at royal courts.

“I am pleased that we are able to kick off our explorations into HIP education with this special treat,” said Slowik. “Bagby’s rare performances are truly magnificent, captivating audiences and critics around the globe.”

About the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society

The Smithsonian Chamber Music Society is in residence at the National Museum of American History, the only museum in the world with an active, long-term program of using its instruments as they were intended by their makers—for live musical performances. Since its inception in 1976, the society has presented nearly 30 concerts each season, and their work has reached hundreds of thousands of listeners through an extensive program of recordings, broadcasts and tours across America and in more than a dozen international settings. A broad range of additional activity drawing on this rich heritage includes publications, scholarly research and educational outreach to students from kindergarten through college. For more information, visit

About the Museum

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is currently renovating its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on business, democracy and culture. For more information, visit The museum is located on Constitution Avenue, between 12th and 14th Streets N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

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Full Schedule of Events

Special Concert

Thursday, May 7; 7:30 p.m.: Benjamin Bagby will present his 1 ¼ hours-long solo recitation of the first part of the saga “Beowulf.”


Friday, May 8; 2-3:30 p.m.: A panel led by David Stull, president of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, will examine the current state of HIP teaching in America and the perils and potentials of its future. Other panelists are:

  • Fred Bronstein, dean of the Peabody Institute
  • Ross Duffin, director of Early Music Programs, Case Western Reserve University
  • Andrea Kalyn, dean of the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music
  • Dana Marsh, coordinator, Historical Performance Institute at Indiana University
  • Benjamin Sosland, administrative Director of Julliard Historical Performance

Friday, May 8; 3:45-5:15 p.m.: A roundtable will bring together several Fourth Estate observers of the impact HIP continues to have on American concert life. Chaired by Donald Rosenberg (editor of Early Music America’s EMAg, former music critic for the Plain Dealer [Cleveland], The Pittsburgh Press and the Akron Beacon Journal, and four-term past president of the Music Critics Association of North America), the participants will include, among other music journalists:

  • Anne Midgette, The Washington Post
  • Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun
  • David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal

Saturday, May 9; 10-11:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.--1 p.m.: Harvard’s Thomas Forrest Kelly will lead sessions that will investigate the role of the historical imagination in the performance of medieval and renaissance music. He will be joined by performer/scholars:

  • Benjamin Bagby, Sequentia, Université de Paris–Sorbonne
  • Alexander Blachly, Pomerium, University of Notre Dame
  • Susan Hellauer, Anonymous 4, CUNY Queens College

Saturday, May 9; 2-3:30 p.m. and 3:45--5:15 p.m.: Slowik swings the discussion to a consideration of the importance HIPs might have in teaching music of the later 19th and early 20th centuries. Colleagues who will participate in this discussion, which will draw heavily on the information conveyed in earlier recordings, are:

  • George Barth, Stanford University
  • Malcolm Bilson, Cornell University
  • Amy Blier-Carruthers, Royal Academy of Music, London
  • Corey Jamason: San Francisco Conservatory of Music

The University of Maryland’s Excelsa Quartet will assist with a demonstration of how HIP can interact with the music of Smetana.

Sunday, May 10; 10-11:15 a.m.: Daniel Boomhower, head of reader services at the Library of Congress, will discuss the role of his predecessor O.G. Sonneck in illuminating the culture of concert life in early America. A series of short papers on various HIP topics, presented by musicology students from a number of schools, will follow.

Sunday, May 10; 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: A roundtable, moderated by Slowik, with Yale Collection of Musical Instruments curator William Purvis, Library of Congress curator Carol Lynn Ward Bamford and clarinet performer/scholar Eric Hoeprich of Indiana University and the Royal Conservatoire in the Hague will discuss how one might go about assembling the complement of wind instruments needed for HIP readings of Brahms of Mahler symphonies.

The symposium will conclude with closing remarks at 12:30 p.m. from Princeton University’s
Wendy Heller, followed by a brief public discussion.

Two musical highlights of the symposium will be concerts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 8, and Saturday, May 9, when more than 40 undergraduate and graduate students from Yale, the Julliard School, the Peabody Institute, Case Western Reserve University, the Oberlin College Conservatory, Indiana University and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music will perform a wide variety of works ranging from medieval chansons to Haydn string quartets. A French baroque chamber opera and an eight-piece Renaissance wind band will be among the performances.

Media only:

Valeska Hilbig     
(202) 633-3129

Laura Duff                 
(202) 633-3129