Arts & Culture » Stage

On a Darkwood and Stormy Night ...

The consort's annual Christmas concert


If you haven't heard a doucaine lately, or been to a Darkwood Consort concert, you have a chance to do both on Sunday, Dec. 21, during the third annual "A Very Darkwood Christmas" at the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy.

The doucaine (pronounced doo-sen) is a rare 14th-century wind instrument that musicologists had only read about until a bass doucaine was discovered among the well-preserved artifacts on the Mary Rose. Said to be the favorite ship of King Henry VIII, it sank in battle in 1545 but was raised in 1982. Darkwood Consort founder Aage Nielsen plays one of a few replicas modified for the tenor range. He has become a specialist on the instrument in his graduate studies in early music at Boise State.

Nielsen came to Boise in 1988 to be the bass clarinet player for Boise Philharmonic. He named his ensemble Darkwood Consort 16 years ago to describe his and viola partner Jennifer Drake's instruments, and the musical term "consort" indicates an ensemble of two or more, as in "consortium." With this flexibility the Darkwood Consort morphs from duet to whatever size is needed for each concert situation, once even presenting itself as an ensemble of 17 players.

Nielsen likes to blend instrumental sounds the way a painter mixes colors. The rich, clarinet-like sound of the doucaine is a little "buzzy," as Nielsen describes it, but it blends well with other instruments. Sunday's consort will feature a quartet playing six instruments: Nielsen on bass clarinet and doucaine, Jennifer Drake on viola, Karlin Coolidge on flute and piccolo and Donovan Schatz on bassoon.

The consort's repertoire is as flexible as its size, ranging from Nirvana's "Smells Likes Teen Spirit" to carols from the 13th century, which are included in Sunday's program. Nielsen will likely have contemporary music for Darkwood's appearance later that day in Curtis Stiger's third annual Xtreme Holiday Xtravaganza at the Egyptian Theatre which benefits the Interfaith Sanctuary.

Drake and Nielsen describe their Christmas concert as a mixture of medieval carols, Danish winter songs, traditional favorites, and highlights from Messiah and The Nutcracker. Denmark, a country with two national anthems, has a rich tradition of song known as the Danish National Song Tradition, according to Nielsen. They consist of chorales in four-part harmony, from which the winter songs are drawn.

While most of the music is liturgical, dating from the 13th century on, there will be many familiar melodies, as recent as "A Charlie Brown Christmas," arranged by violist Drake. She also found a piece for the program by Johann Quantz who, in 1741, became the flute teacher of King Frederick the Great of Prussia, for whom Quantz wrote more than 500 works.

About 25 pieces will be performed in Sunday's program, most for the first time, along with commentary and a written program. Free food and beverage will also be provided, which has become an expected tradition at Darkwood concerts. And, as Nielsen describes Darkwood's Christmas concert, "expect the eclectic."

Sunday, Dec. 21, 2 p.m., $12 general, $8 students and seniors. Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy, 516 S. Ninth St., 208-345-9116.