PUTNEY — Yellow Barn Music and Next Stage Arts Project will co-present Beowulf with Benjamin Bagby, on Sunday, June 16, at 7:30 p.m.
Following the performance, there will be a discussion with Benjamin Bagby moderated by Yellow Barn Artistic Director Seth Knopp.
In his hour-long performance of the first part of the epic poem known as Beowulf, Bagby assumes the role of an 11th-century “scop,” transporting both himself and the audience to the very roots of storytelling, when aural tradition was paramount to sustaining culture, history, and society.
The scop would re-tell the story of Beowulf in song and speech, accompanying himself on a six-stringed harp (crafted specifically for Bagby based on the remains of an instrument from the 7th century).
As in the medieval courts, and with the assistance of modern English supertitles, Bagby's audience becomes attuned to the finest details of sound and meaning, meter and rhyme, timing and mood.
The performance - which, for the whole epic, might last between five and six hours - is never exactly the same twice, as the “singer of tales” subtly varies the use of poetic formulas to shape his unique version of the story.
Bagby is descended from a Germanic clan that emigrated from Jutland to northern England around 630, from where his branch of the family emigrated to the colony of Virginia almost a millennium later. Following 321 years of subsequent family wanderings, he was born on the shores of the Great Lakes and, 12 years later, was captivated by Beowulf.
Several years after moving back to Europe in 1974, he founded - together with the late Barbara Thornton - the ensemble for medieval music, Sequentia, which was based in Cologne, Germany, for 25 years. Both Bagby and Sequentia are now based in Paris.
In addition to his activities as singer, harpist, and director of Sequentia, Bagby writes about performance practice and teaches widely in Europe and North America. He is currently on the faculty of the Sorbonne University in Paris, where he teaches in the master's program for medieval music performance practice.