Strings, and harpsichord, and violas da gamba? Oh my!
If you know me, you know my two most common activities:
So, I was super excited when following my review of the show "The Woman With The Unfathomable Eyes," (feel free to read here) I got invited to an early music concert by a reader, Marika Hoyt, violist for Sonata à Quattro whose credentials are so extensive I'm just going to drop a screenshot from her Facebook and link you to her bio on the Sonata à Quattro website.
She also happens to be friends with Katrin Talbot, whom I know very well and performed in the "...Unfathomable Eyes" concert.
Hoyt invited me to come to the concert, "The Lübeck Connection," which is noted as a Fringe Concert of the 2018 Madison Early Music Festival.
I have a mutual connection, I'm not sure if this counts as #sponsoredcontent, but full disclosure I did a family and friends comped ticket.
The concert was at 7:30pm on a Wednesday at the Pres House, a building I had long walked past yet ne'er entered.
I arrived with an open mind, having done little to no research outside of a rudimentary scroll through the Sonata à Quattro website.
The inside of the chapel was lovely and gave me strong vibes of the Central Lutheran Church in Winona, MN.
Before the concert began we got to witness the harpsichord being tuned, which got me excited because, harpsichord.
My brother's girlfriend, Nina recently got a Mandolin, and ever since I've been on a kick of listening for any metallic-sounding instruments in music, like, pitched instruments that have that scraping sort of washboard sound accompanying them. Like a combination pitched instrument with a non-pitched percussion. Does that make sense?
I've queued the following two videos to points where I think I hear this sort of sound.
As the concert began, I was introduced to the instrumentation: several different stringed instruments and the harpsichord. Midway through the first half, additional players came on stage with some strings I had never seen before in my life.
Fortunately I got to chat with Hoyt after the concert, and she helped educate me.
"We had several different sizes of viola de gamba," she said. "[It's] a precursor to the violin family; it’s older."
She explained that certain technical features like the neck of the instrument differed from a typical viola, and that these were fretted.
Throwback to my failed attempts at learning the violin being aggravated by the lack of frets.
The final piece of first half (and Hoyt's favorite of the program), "Sonata a 8 in A Minor" by Samuel Capricornus, featured a slew of extra players.
My notes for this piece read "WILD fast and in CHARGE."
This was one of the more complicated pieces in the program, including lots of traveling solo bars from player to player. Hoyt explained that because of the instrumentation and the difficulty level, it's rare to see this piece performed.
"I’m so glad I got to do that Capricornus. That’s such a special piece, and I don’t think it’s played that often. I would be surprised if it had ever been played in Wisconsin ever before," she said. "It calls for a very specific unusual set of players. There aren’t that many violist de gamba, and there aren’t many baroque violinists, violists, harpsichord. What goes into putting a group like this together, just getting a harpsichord and a player, is huge … I’m really glad that I got to share that with people."
Other highlights of the program included Trio Sonata by Dietrich Buxtehude:
Two pieces in the second half featuring soprano, Kristin Knutson (I swear I was in a parabolic focal point in that chapel or something because her crescendos hit me in the ears like a sparkly gunshot. It was wild):
And the regular presence of resident icon and harpsichord player, Daniel Sullivan, who read his music off of a tablet, the presence of which in an Early Music concert filled me with un-ironic joy.
Post concert, Hoyt gave me the run down of why this group, formed just last year, came to be.
"I’m the director of Bach Around The Clock - which is annual festival - and anyone can play there, but if a singer wants to do a cantata - which they do - they need back up players. It’s really hard to assemble a good team of them; you need everyone to be able to pull their weight," she said. "If it’s going to be one at a part, with the cantatas, you need good players, and it’s hard to assemble them at the last minute.
"The first year I was director at that, we had to turn singers away because we couldn’t find back up players, and I hated that. So I said, ‘alright, I’m going to form a group, and they will be the ensemble in residence, so if someone wants to do a concerto or something, we’ll have a group that can accompany them’," she said.
She also explained that the music they program, features a musical texture not found so commonly elsewhere.
"I play in a bunch of early music groups but most of those are programmed by keyboard players and violin players," she said. "Sonata a Quattro means there’s four lines, so three solo lines, plus continuo, which means that third one is viola. So Sonata a Quattro indicates that we’re playing music that has a line for viola, and for me that doesn’t just mean that I get to play it, I just prefer that texture, I feel like it’s warmer and fuller."
Hoyt agreed to pose for a selfie underneath some regrettable overhead lighting.
And as I was prepping my phone to take the picture, my thumb slipped, and I took this picture too.
So yeah, go forth and make memes out of that one.
I had a wonderful time at this concert, even if Early Music didn't mean Byzantine Hymn or a recorder choir. I guess I'll keep searching for that. Until then, I will be forever grateful that I live walking distance from so many opportunities to hear and see quality local art.
Thank you again Marika for inviting me to this concert; I heard some great music, learned a lot, and had a lovely afternoon.