Monsters and music with the Ottawa Baroque Consort

The Ottawa Baroque Consort will perform at the National Gallery of Canada. Photo: Paul Couvrette

In the National Gallery of Canada, there be monsters.

An exhibition of prints and drawings called Beautiful Monsters offers a journey into the dark corners of our imagination. But a two-dimensional print can only do so much to communicate the feeling of looking at things that go bump in the night.

How do you heighten the experience of enjoying these amazing works? Well, maybe you create a performance that includes a storyteller and music from the time when the art was created.

That’s what will happen on Jan. 25 in the Gallery’s auditorium when the Ottawa Baroque Consort will take the stage.

ARTSFILE has met the Consort before when we wrote about their production Coounterfeit!, the story of a 17th century English criminal who was actually tracked down by Sir Isaac Newton in his role as Master of the Mint and not as the mathematician and physicist. William Chaloner is considered England’s greatest counterfeiter who fooled the Royal Mint, the Bank of England and the British Government. The Consort was aided in their show by the versatile Ottawa actor Pierre Brault. 

This time the performance is a bit more elaborate.

“We tailored this show to the exhibition,” said Olivier Henchiri, who is the artistic and executive  director and a co-founder of the Ottawa Baroque Consort.

“We have been strongly interested in preparing multi-disciplinary concerts, using music to tell stories. This one (in the National Gallery) is new because this concert concept will use three art forms instead of two — words, music and fine art from the Gallery.”

Hendrick Goltzius. The Dragon Devouring the Companions of Cadmus, 1588. Engraving on cream laid paper 25.5 × 32 cm. National Gallery of Canada. Purchased 2019. Photo: NGC

In fact the performance will feature six large images of prints and drawings. Here, for example, you’ll find a print that features the grim deaths of the friends of Cadmus, killed by a dangerous dragon before the Greek hero could slay the beast.

The collaboration with the gallery is new for the Consort. The ensemble reached out to the gallery a year ago and starting a conversation about possible projects.

The gallery doesn’t always present works of art from the Baroque or Renaissance periods, but these prints and drawings do fit the bill.

Once the go-ahead was given for Beautiful Monsters, the gallery called and the work started.

Henchiri talked it over with his co-writer. That’s an easy call. Jacinthe Hudon is his partner. The two of them have written all the scripts for their multi-disciplinary performances.

They came up with a plan and the gallery was right on board.

“Fine art and music alone can be difficult to appreciate. Together each is more accessible. If you can add a compelling story it’s a match made in heaven,” Henchiri said.

Camillo Procaccini. The Triumph of Perseus over Medusa and the
Creation of Pegasus. Italian Drawing, 30.8 x 23.5 cm. Pen and brown ink with brown wash heightened with white on blue-grey paper, laid down on tan. National Gallery of Canada, purchased 2001.

The pieces of art chose feature dragons, sirens, Medusa, sea monsters and the many levels of hell as described by Dante. If the audience applauds loudly enough, he says he promises to release them at the end of the show.

“We took creatures depicted in the art and told their stories. Some stories are gripping, emotional and terrifying; others are light hearted and comical.”

If they applaud loudly enough he said he promises to release the audience. That’s a joke folks.

The prints are paired with a musical score that features works by composers such as:

• Telemann (Water Music Ouverture);
• Locatelli (excerpts from the Concerto Op.7 No.6 and from the Sinfonia in fa minore);
• Vivaldi (Sinfonia ‘La Sena festeggiante,’ Concerto for Strings RV 128, Overture          to ‘Olimpiade,’ Winter from Four Seasons);
• Charles Avison (excerpts from the Concerto Grosso no. 5);
• Marin Marais (Marche pour les Matelots);
• Jean-Féry Rebel (Les Eléments — Chaos).

The pieces will highlight the emotions and support the stories, Henchiri said.


Baroque music is full of emotion, he said, and Henchiri said he is using a lot of Italian Baroque because it is the most expressive.

“I am playing a lot with word painting in this presentation. The music will depict different events, effects, objects, feelings in the stories or action.”

The word painting he believes will make the prints more accessible to the modern audience. He urges audience members to pay attention to the rhythms, melodies and the texture of the music. “They will find vivid colours in music reflecting the stories.”

The work the Consort does in creating these performances is a reflection of our times, Henchiri said.

“These days, anyone can stay at home and watch Netflix or listen to Spotify. So then what more can we bring to the stage; what can we add to the audience experience in a live concert to convince people to leave their warm homes.

“There has got to be something else.”

David Brennan will be channeling demons.

In this case that something else is the in the form of the storyteller of David Brennan, who is a stand-up comedian and storyteller living in Ottawa. He’s appeared at Absolute Comedy and Yuk Yuk’s and he’s done a lot of appearances at fringe festivals across the country. 

Going forward, the Consort says it’s ready and willing to prepare a performance at the gallery again. With the new executive director and CEO, Sasha Suda, an expert in the art of this time, perhaps they’ll get their chance.

As for the Consort’s last performance of the season, it will be May 23 and will be based on the insults they have found in treatises written in the Baroque era. “Sometimes they use caustic colourful language when they insult someone.” That sounds like fun.

Ottawa Baroque Consort presents Beautiful Monsters
Where: National Gallery of Canada
When: Jan 25 at 2 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.