City’s Sherba leads popular holiday chamber concert

City’s Sherba leads popular holiday chamber concert

Consuelo Sherba

PAWTUCKET – For the past decade and a half, Consuelo Sherba’s chamber ensemble has performed a holiday concert featuring a mix of storytelling and music for Rhode Islanders, and this year is no different.

“It’s a program that people love and we love,” said Sherba, a 23-year Pawtucket resident who’s co-founder and artistic director of Aurea, a nonprofit chamber ensemble that explores the relationship between music and the spoken word. “Many people tell us that’s the way they start their holiday season.”

The annual holiday concert, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas, takes place on Sunday, Dec. 15, at 3 p.m. at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 131 County Road in Barrington, and on Friday, Dec. 20, at 7 p.m. at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, 50 Orchard Ave. in Providence.

The concert runs for approximately 70 minutes, said Sherba, a violist and professor in the Music Department at Brown University.

The family-friendly concert consists of a reading of the classic Dylan Thomas story “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” with musical interludes of festive chamber music, harpsichord and traditional English carols.

Works include the music of William Boyce, Krishan Oberon’s setting of The Oxen, Rebecca Clarke’s Combined Carols, poetry of Dickinson, Marvel, Oliver, Mansfield, and Longfellow.

The concert features Sherba on viola, Jesse Holstein on violin, and Alexey Shabalin on violin, as well as harmonica improvisations by Chris Turner, and actor Nigel Gore, the former artistic director of the Gamm Theatre.

Sherba, who grew up in New York City, attended the High School of Music and Art, a free performing arts school in the city. After graduating from City College of New York, she moved to Milwaukee in 1972 to study with the Fine Arts Quartet, which is where she met her late husband, Charles, a violinist.

The couple founded Aurea along with Gore and Turner in 2002.

After receiving a great response, the ensemble has “just grown,” Sherba said. After performing at big festivals, such as the Chicago Humanities Festival and the NYU Humanities Festival, “we raised the bar for ourselves.” They started to create big programs for FirstWorks in Providence and also performed at the Pawtucket Arts Festival.

Sometimes inspiration for a new program starts with a piece of literature and sometimes it’s sparked by a composer.

Aurea doesn’t have a home base, though Pawtucket and Providence are close contenders, Sherba said, adding that they’re trying to expand the group’s reach around the state.

The ensemble sometimes plays at venues in Pawtucket, such as Old Slater Mill, which Sherba said is a “fantastic, beautiful place.” One of the first spots where they performed in the city was the Pawtucket Congregational Church.

The ensemble began to get involved with the public schools through former Mayor James Doyle. It now has partnerships with Shea High School and the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing and Visual Arts, which Sherba said she helped create. She said she’d love to do more workshops at the city’s schools.

“I love that Pawtucket has welcomed our family,” she said.

What she loves about Pawtucket are its history, charm, and affordability, she said, pointing to the converted old mill buildings. She said she’s glad there’s Stillwater Books and would love to see more restaurants and the downtown “really come alive.”

“I think Pawtucket still has a lot of potential,” said Sherba. “It’s been a hidden gem. … I love the fact that there are so many artists now moving into (the city).”

The musician has received a number of awards over the years, including the Pell Award, Pawtucket Person of the Year Award, and an award from the Rhode Island Council of the Humanities.

“I’m very grateful and humbled,” she said. “I’m proud of all of those awards.”

Aurea has received a Rhode Island State Council on the Arts grant for $3,750 for a project named Investments in Arts & Culture FY20, and has also acquired funding from the Carter Foundation and Friends of Aurea.

“We depend on every bit of funding we can possibly get,” Sherba said, adding that they’re happy when an organization sponsors a program so that it can be offered with free admission.

Tickets for the Christmas program cost $30 for general admission, $25 for seniors, $10 for students, and children are free with two adults. They’re available at the door or on Eventbrite.com .

Visit AureaEnsemble.org for more.