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Striking a (harpsi)chord

Come for the art and stay for the music in Early Rubens. It might strike you in unexpected ways.

image of two harpsichord instruments on a persian carpet

Harpsichords Courtesy of Claviers Baroques, Image © Art Gallery of Ontario

You can explore the extravagance of the Baroque period through the awe-inspiring artwork of Peter Paul Rubens and the distinctive sounds of the harpsichord in Early Rubens. The AGO’s latest crowd-pleasing exhibition offers visitors a chance to step back in time with a drama-filled feast for your eyes and ears.

But the music isn’t all Baroque. Accompanying the exhibition at various times throughout the week are performances of Canadian composer and musician Owen Pallett’s transcriptions of two Julius Eastman pieces. Eastman was born in New York in 1940 and died at the age of 49. The dynamic and arresting style of his work represents a contemporary response to Rubens's art. The compositions are performed in duos by harpsichordists Wesley Shen, Stephanie Chua, Christopher Bagan and Daniel Morphy throughout the run of the exhibition. The harpsichord, which looks similar to a piano and sounds much like a lute, was used in Renaissance and Baroque music. The instrument developed significantly in the hands of the Flemish builders of Antwerp, paying homage to the history of the city.

The AGOinsider sat down with musicians Shen and Chua to learn more about the connection between the music and the art of Rubens. Listen in on part of their performance and hear them talk about this unique instrument in more detail.

Don’t miss these in-gallery performances on Wednesdays at 6 pm and Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm. These performances are free and included in the Early Rubens exhibition.

Early Rubens is on view now through January 5, 2020 on Level 2 in the Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavilion.

Admission to the AGO Collection and all special exhibitions is always free for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass holders and visitors 25 and under.

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