Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Musician Spotlight: Webb Wiggins, Harpsichordist

Webb Wiggins will be the featured musician in Catacoustic's upcoming concert, "Awakening of the Harpsichord." The following is an interview with this exceptional musician:

First, how would you describe the harpsichord?

Essentially, a harpsichord is an inherently un-expressive instrument! There is no sustain or dynamic variation in the sound. There are subtle differences in the timbre of the sound if there is more than one set of strings. The strings are plucked by a plectra (originally of crow quill, now usually delrin). The variety of length of note and the variety of articulation is how we create the illusion of dynamic and expression: ie, a longer note implies and is perceived as louder than a shorter note; a note sounding out of silence implies and is perceived as louder than a note sounding while first note is still sounding.

What drew you to early music?

It was the specific difference between consonant and dissonant harmonies. In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries most music uses traditional harmony (that which we still enjoy in most popular music of today). When a note foreign to other notes in a chord is introduced, dissonance occurs. These dissonances can occur between chords (weak beats and softer dissonances) or simultaneous with the introduction of a chord (strong beats and louder dissonances). This 'pain and relief effect' truly moves me.

What are some of the types of early music, such as ballads, dance, etc.?

Many new forms were created in baroque music: toccatas, cantatas, opera, dance suites to name a few. The first four are of Italian origin; dance suites are essentially French-based. Most baroque music is either specifically or loosely based on dance rhythms, many from much earlier times. Non-dance-based music is perhaps the other major area - improvisational: pieces either truly improvised (in church services or as preludes to dance pieces). Aside from dances, most other forms of baroque music are multi-sectional, having various styles and moods in one longer piece; the precursor to multi-movement works (sonatas, symphonies, etc).

Tell us how you approach the upcoming “Awakening” concert.

This is a little different from most concerts I play in that I'm essentially choosing most of the music. Unlike most of the ensembles with whom I play, you'll probably hear more seventeenth century than eighteenth century music, since I'm drawn to it, and I think I communicate it successfully.

Who are your favorite composers?

Johann Jacob Froberger (1616-1667) is my favorite. I have the greatest respect for JS Bach of course, and there are many composers I adore who are not baroque. But if I limit this to keyboard music, including Froberger, there's Louis Couperin, Dietrich Buxtehude, Jan Pietersson Sweelinck, Girolami Frescobaldi - all seventeenth century composers. I also have to say I like the decadent French composers at the end of the baroque: Jacques Duphly, Claude Balbastre, Armand-Louis Couperin.

What single piece of music is your favorite?

Can't even begin to imagine. Often I discover my fave in the midst of preparing for a concert, then it's replaced by another piece at the next concert.......

Is there anything else you would like to add for our readers?

I'm very honored to be asked to give this program. I've enjoyed working with Catacoustic in the past and look forward to becoming introduced to Catacoustic's new harpsichord.