Two sold-out performances of Handel’s iconic Messiah marked the Bienen School of Music’s 2016 Evelyn Dunbar Memorial Early Music Festival. The Callipygian Players, a leading Chicago baroque ensemble, joined the Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble under the baton of Donald Nally for performances on December 2 and 4 in Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall.

“BCE’s Messiah pays close attention to the dramatic structure devised by Handel and his librettist, [Charles] Jennens. They created scenes of enormous power, fast paced and dramatic, owing largely to Handel’s theatrical genius and the message that Jennens was determined to convey,” said Nally. “With the Callipygian Players’ great skill and knowledge of baroque style and our collective attention to rhetoric, we aimed to find the color, tone, and textures that would capture the astonishing intimacy of the airs, juxtaposed with the fiery violence and joyful exuberance of the choruses. It was a labor of love.”

Directed by baroque violinist Martin Davids, the Callipygian Players includes many of Chicago’s finest period-instrument musicians and singers. During the group’s Bienen School residency, five of its members demonstrated baroque techniques to choral students. These presentations allowed students to explore a specialized area of study and to approach their performance with enhanced historical knowledge and awareness. The Callipygian Players’ residency was supported by the Evelyn Dunbar Memorial Early Music Festival Fund.

Founded in 1998 through the generous support of Ruth Dunbar Davee and her husband, Ken M. Davee, the Evelyn Dunbar Memorial Early Music Festival provides exceptional opportunities for performers to prepare important masterworks with the guidance of leading scholars. The festival’s purpose is to combine informed performance and scholarly inquiry through master classes, preconcert presentations, and lectures.

The festival was established in memory of Ruth’s sister, Evelyn Dunbar, who was an enthusiastic participant in early music ensembles at Northwestern. Ruth Dunbar Davee earned her MA in 1937 and her PhD in English literature in 1942, both from Northwestern. After her husband’s death in 1998, Mrs. Davee assumed the presidency of the Davee Foundation. A longtime member of the Bienen School of Music Advisory Board, she died on April 19, 2011, at age 99.

Past Dunbar Festivals

1999 - St. John Passion (Bach)
2000 - La Giuditta (Scarlatti)
2001 - The Creation (Haydn)
2003 - Judas Maccabaeus (Handel)
2004 - Vespro della Beata Vergine  (Monteverdi)
2006 spring - CantataFest
2006 fall - La Buona Figliola (Piccinni)
2008 - Joshua (Handel)
2010 - Vespro della Beata Vergine (Monteverdi)
2013 - L’Incoronazione di Poppea (Monteverdi)
2015 - Vespers (Kile Smith)
2016 - Messiah (Handel)


  • Donald Nally