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AmericanEnsemble Watch SIREN Baroque perform at SIREN Baroque T he name just came to me,” says violinist Antonia Nelson, founder and music director of SIREN Baroque, the New York-based all- female chamber group. “What is a siren? Is it a call to action? A mythical creature? The name is feminine and strong—it’s a great description of our ensemble.” SIREN started in 2011 when Nelson and a group of female musician friends, all eager to collaborate on performances of baroque repertoire, “threw together” a program for an open-mic night at Caffe Vivaldi in Greenwich Village. The group’s operations soon became much more businesslike, and the next year it was invited to perform in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. Although SIREN performs with male guest artists, from the start it has defined itself as a women’s group. “We’re not sexist, by any means,” Nelson says. “But I’ve always liked 32 Fall 2015 the notion of giving women work. You might be asking for trouble to have a group like this, but we’re completely supportive of each other—playing together gives us a strong sisterhood feeling.” The ensemble’s repertoire includes music by all the expected Baroque masters, from Monteverdi to Purcell to Bach and Handel. But in keeping with its gently feminist bent, SIREN has also put together a program of “women all-stars,” including works by Francesca Caccini, Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, and Barbara Strozzi. As Nelson sees it, the output of these women constitutes a kind of hidden history of the baroque. “You think about what these women had to go through to become artists,” she says. “As a woman in that era, you were either married, in a nunnery, or a courtesan. These were women who escaped their husbands, or nuns who lived as mother superiors but published nonetheless. The works of Jacquet de la Guerre can stand up against Vivaldi or Bach!” “We’re trying to push ourselves to give performances that really influence the people who listen to us,” Nelson says. “We aren’t afraid to take risks. Whether or not it sounds exactly ‘baroque,’ I don’t know—we aren’t trying to write a treatise; we’re trying to communicate what the music is saying.” Nelson cites an audience member (“a total stranger”) who was so moved by a recent SIREN concert that he spontaneously wrote a check for $1,000. As the person entrusted with the group’s finances, Nelson can only be grateful for such support. “My dad was a car dealer,” she says. “Maybe I have some of his business sense. I don’t know, but it’s probably helped me with the concept of starting a chamber group—and running with it.” n Adrian Buckmaster Early Music Sisterhood