Thursday, September 15, 2011

Report from 1st Catacoustic Scholarship Winner, Elizabeth Motter, on Attending Seattle's Accademia d'Amore

Thanks to a generous scholarship from Catacoustic Consort, I was able to attend a baroque opera workshop in Seattle called Accademia d'Amore. Stephen Stubbs is the Artistic and Musical Director, and his wife, Maxine, is an outstanding triple harp player. To learn from her was the reason I selected this particular workshop as an appropriate one to attend. The workshop was 10 full days in length, and every day was filled from beginning to end with rehearsals and coachings. There were many distinguished continuo players amongst the faculty, so I had the added benefit of learning from them, as well as Maxine. These included Grant Herreid, the founder of the New York Continuo Collective, Elizabeth Brown, Jillon Stoppels Dupree, Margriet Tindemans, and Nancy Zylstra. The interactions did not stop there, since the musical and dramatic elements were so wedded that the continuo groups were also guided by the staging and choreography directors, Giullaume Bernardi, Roger Hyams and Anna Mansbridge. Grant was also a stage director, which goes a long way toward making my point that the staging and musical direction were virtually inseparable. In fact, I did not even realize that Grant was a continuo player until the end of my time there since that was not his principal role during the workshop. I am a little embarrassed to admit that I did not know everyone's very impressive resumes from the start, but my excuse is that I quite intentionally put on blinders and focused on the work I had to do to learn my scenes and as much about continuo and playing the baroque triple harp as I could manage during my time there. I eventually looked up from my music to pay attention to the people around me with the result that I made many wonderful new friends.

There were 3 continuo teams, each comprised of a faculty and student mixture. All teams consisted of a harpsichord, a baroque cellist or viola da gamba, a baroque guitar, and two of the teams had a triple harp. (There was another triple harp player there, an excellent student of Maxine's who lives in the area.) The opera selections were divided amongst the teams. My team played selections from Monteverdi's Poppea, a scene from Cavalli's Calisto, and a scene from Caccini's La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall'Isola d'Alcina. The singers were from all over the world - South Africa, New York, England, Canada, Australia, and about 12 different states in the US.

Our days began with a movement class, led alternately by Anna or Roger. These classes also incorporated baroque gesture instruction. I was extremely fascinated to learn that many of the gestures have survived the centuries and are still in use today in everyday life. We all learned a bit of acting in these classes as well. The rest of the day we rehearsed. Initially, everyone was present for the first readings of all the pieces, then in subsequent days the teams divided up and scattered to various spaces in the school for coachings led by the musical and stage directors. At the end of the day, though my brain had turned to jello, and back in Cincinnati it was bedtime, I would stay and try to practice a while.

I left Cincinnati with a lot of questions and feeling very insecure about the scenes that I had been assigned. Continuo playing is an extremely complex and nuanced art, and learning how to do it is challenging me tremendously, in spite of my extensive experience as an ensemble player and all the work I have done with singers through the years. I am used to a different set of rules, and in many ways it feels like I have to start all over, which is a very humbling thing. Listening to Stephen and Maxine play was the most educational aspect of the experience. Stephen quite often would coach a singer and act as the sole accompanist while he did this, asking the rest of us to hold back a moment so he could work individually with the singer. It was extremely instructive to hear how he supported the singer. Seeing and hearing what he chose to emphasize and what he chose to minimize brought the scores to life in a way that I was not able to see on my own at this early stage. The improvisatory nature of playing continuo brings with it a great deal of freedom, as well as responsibility, since it isn't all spelled out. The score is a mystery, and for the clues we look to the text. Listening to Maxine was greatly inspiring. She gave me a lot of ideas and helped me to find some perspective on how the triple harp would best be utilized within the team. Also, it was extremely helpful to learn that the harpist's approach to interpreting the score varies greatly depending on whether one is a member of a continuo team or the sole support for the singer. There are many colorful ways for the harp to contribute in a team setting and find a place in the texture that do NOT involve playing the bass line! Maxine plays often in the upper registers and departs from the bass line when there are gamba players or a harpsichord present. She often plays huge, voluptuous 4-finger chords in both hands, made more voluptuous by arpeggiations up and down the double outer rows of strings. This is an example of taking advantage of one of the triple harp's unique features and not trying to simply blend into (or, in my case, hide behind) the harpsichord. When Maxine plays, she is heard! She does not simply double what others are doing; what she plays stands out and has its own character. Her playing added spectacularly to the texture and timber. She even played a glissando at the climax of the love duet between Nerone and Poppea. You could have knocked me over with a feather when she did that! I thought I was safe from glissandi in the baroque era, but apparently there is no escape!

You may wonder what instrument I played, if the Catacoustic triple harp made the journey. That was not necessary, as Maxine was kind enough to loan me one of her triple harps! Transporting a harp of any kind is a huge challenge, especially across such a distance. I was grateful that it was not necessary.
To summarize, the workshop was an incredible 10-day immersion into the art of continuo and baroque opera. I left Seattle with a beautiful collection of tunes seared into my brain, filled with inspiration for the journey ahead.

To learn more about Seattle's Accadmia d'Amore, visit

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Some Sources for Baroque Cello from Elisabeth Reed

Elisabeth Reed was kind enough to share her reading list from the Baroque Cello class that she teaches at San Francisco Conservatory of Music. This is an excellent reading list, if you are interested in reading up on Baroque cello and performance practice.

1. Adas, Jane, editor: Mid Eighteenth-Century Cello Sonatas, Continuo Sonatas for Cello.
2. Bach, C.P.E., Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments, 1753.
3. Bach, J.S., Six Suites a Violoncello Solo senza Basso, Barenreiter.
4. Boyden, David D., The History of Violin Playing from Its Origins to 1761 and Its Relationship to the Violin and Violin Music, Oxford University Press, 1990.
5. Bylsma, Anner; Bach, the Fencing Master.
6. Corrette, Michel, Methode Theorique et Practique pour Apprendre un Peu de Tems Le Violoncelle dans sa Perfection, 1741.
7. Geminiani, Francesco, The Art of Playing on the Violin, 1751.
8. Graves, Douglas, The Theoretical and Practical Method for Cello by Michel Corrette: Translation, Commentary, and Comparison with Seven Other Eighteenth-Century Cello Methods, 1972.
9. Laird, Paul, The Baroque Cello Revival: An Oral History.
Lambooij, Henk and Feves, Michael, A Cellist's Companion: A Comprehensive Catalogue of Cello Literature.
10. Little, Meridith and Jenne, Natalie, Dance and the Music of J.S. Bach.
11. Muffat, Georg, Florilegium secundum fur Streichinstrumente.
12. Mozart, Leopold, A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing, 1756.
13. Quantz, On Playing the Flute, Berlin, 1752.
14. Raoul, J.M., Methode de Violoncelle (together with Corrette).
15. Sadie, Julie Anne, A Companion to Baroque Music.
16. Stowell, Robin, Violin Technique and Performance Practice in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries, Cambridge, 1985.
17. Tarling, Judy, The Art of Baroque String Playing.
18. Tartini, Giuseppe, Traite des Agrements de la Musique, Treatise on Ornaments in Music, 1771.
19. Walden, Valerie, One Hundred Years of Violoncello: A History of Technique and Performance Practice, 1740-1840.
20. Wasielewski, Wilhelm Joseph von, The Violoncello and Its History, 1968 (first publ. 1894).

Friday, September 9, 2011

Baroque Cello Summer Continued with David Morris, Joanna Blendulf, and Elisabeth Reed

I have been in San Francisco this week for a concert on the San Francisco Early Music Society series: a collaboration between the Catacoustic Consort and Wildcat Viols. Three of the musicians in this group are baroque cellists: Joanna Blendulf (based in Eugene, OR), Elisabeth Reed (San Francisco, CA), and David Morris (San Francisco, CA). I thought that I would continue on the theme of that instrument by asking them the questions I posed to Amanda and Nathan last month.

How did you learn to play the baroque cello?

JB: I was a modern cello student at Indiana University. I had a background in early music with viola da gamba and decided to take baroque orchestra. Stanley Ritchie (baroque violin professor there) was my first teacher, and he talked a lot about style and gesture. He felt that the baroque violin arm could translate to the cello bow.

ER: I was a modern cello undergraduate student at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. I was actually attracted to the exceptional faculty (Catharina Meints, Lisa Crawford, Marilyn MacDonald, and Michael Lynn). I felt that these were brilliant, thoughtful people that I wanted to work with. I also play viola da gamba, but I started that later, at Eastman.

DM: I had always loved early music as a kid; after high school, I came to the University of California, Berkeley as a music major. Considering how rich this area is in early music today, at that time there was no formal performance practice offered there. In my junior year, I decided to go to Jerusalem on a whim, and by accident ended smack dab in the middle of a flourishing early music scene, influenced by the English and Dutch early music worlds - and which was in need of a cellist. My colleagues and teachers there (violinists, flute/recorder player, harpsichordist, and a singer), gave me a whirlwind on-the-job training in the language and styles of baroque music. I did receive some lessons from cellists and gambists passing through town (Susie Napper, Allison Crum, etc.), and when I got back to Berkeley, I started cello lessons with Elisabeth LeGuin and gamba lessons with Peter Halifax.

What are your musical backgrounds?

JB: I play cello (began at the age of 8) and viola da gamba. I learned viola da gamba as a high school camper at Interlochen with Mark Cudek and went to the Cleveland Institute of Music for cello as an undergrad and later to Indiana University for graduate studies.

ER: I began cello also when I was 8 years old. I attended the North Carolina School of the Arts for high school and Oberlin for my undergraduate degree. I later went to Eastman for my masters in modern cello and IU for further graduate studies in early music.

DM: I picked up the cello when I was 13, took private lessons through high school and and attended UC Berkeley for my BA and MA in Musicology.

What are the technical differences between the baroque and modern cellos?

DM: Wow! Where to begin... one can use exactly the same instrument and set-up, but the end result is like a different dialect or language, if you haven't had the training. There is the whole "rhetoric of the strong and weak;" there is the declamatory aspect, where you share or trade words with whomever you are supporting, and there is also the special relationship of the baroque bow and the gut string.

JB: There are some technical aspects: a lightness of bow, and the bow hand responds differently. The posture is similar with the baroque cello held more vertically. The baroque bow and the gut strings actually force you into a different relationship with the instrument.

ER: Gut strings are much more sensitive. My teacher at Eastman had us play with gut strings to make our bow hands smarter. Steel strings are actually a fairly recent development. The gut strings and bow make a big difference.

DM: Yes! That is like training harpsichordists to be more sensitive by having them play clavchord. There is also the issue of vibrato: For modern cellists, it is part of the basic sound, whereas for most of us, it is something we add occasionally for special color. Modern players are stylistically grounded in the musical language of the 19th and 20th centuries, and they often don't have a feel for the vocal and dance music, which is such a big part of the 17th and 18th centuries. Such a lot of it has to do with the strong and weak notes, or "stress and release."

JB: Yes, selective vibrato. Mainly the bow technique is different. There is a lot of finger motion, and there is less elbow activity (lower elbow).

ER: The baroque bow is so much lighter at the tip than the modern bow, so there is a natural diminuendo in the stroke. This is very different from the more constant sustaining power of the modern bow. The left hand is also different. Since you don't have a constant vibrato, you hold more fingers down. It is much more like playing gamba. You keep the resonance going with the left hand.

Who are the good teachers, and do you teach?

Anner Bylsma is an inspiring teacher. Cathy Meints (Oberlin) is an incredible pedagogue, as well as a masterful technician. Myron Lutzke (NY) is a very generous teacher.

JB: Myron was quite inspiring for me.

All said that they teach private lessons and coach ensembles.

ER: I teach Baroque cello at San Francisco Conservatory, and I currently have nine baroque cello students. ( I also teach baroque cello and viola da gamba at the American Bach Soloists summer academy in San Francisco. ( IN addition, I teach baroque cello and gamba at the University of California at Berkeley ( and viola da gamba at Mills College (

I have noticed a certain difficulty of people beginning the baroque cello in approaching the sound world at first. Would you comment on the importance (or lack thereof) of immersion? Do you play modern cello?

DM: When I first began listening to early music, there weren't many models to imitate, besides what i heard in recordings. there are so many more examples to listen to nowadays, and so much good teaching around... there is a real culture now, and I would think it would be easier to get immersed in it.

JB: People learn by imitation: hearing and seeing.

ER: I teach two group classes at the conservatory with no majors. This lasts for about nine months. I often send these students to the American Bach Soloists Academy for two weeks in the summer. These students learn more in those two weeks of immersion (orchestra, chamber music, attending concerts) than they do in nine months when they are only doing early music for a few hours a week!

All still occasionally play modern cello.

What kind of playing do you do, and what would you like to do?

We do it all: orchestra, solo, and chamber music, and we wouldn't change a thing. This is great!

What cellos do you play?

JB: I play a cello made by Tim Johnson in 1999, and my bow is a Begin.

ER: I play a 1772 Anonymous cello, and my bow is by Boumann.

DM: My cello is anonymous c. 1800, attributed to John Morrisson, and my bow is a Begin.

Do you have a favorite recording of Baroque cello?

JB: I LOVE Sergei Istomin's Bach Suite recordings.

ER: Bylsma has some great recordings. Christoph Coin's Vivaldi sonatas and concertos are beautiful, too.

Do you have any cello recordings available?

JB: Yes, several solo and chamber recordings available on Magnatunes (

DM: I made four recordings with Musica Pacifica: Dancing in the Isles, Vivaldi's La Notte, Manicini's Concerti di Camera, and Telemann's Chamber Cantatas and Trio Sonatas. (

ER: I have a Gabrielli Ricercar on YouTube ( and other cello videos ( with Voices of Music.

What is your advice for someone interested in learning Baroque cello?

ER & JB: Go to a workshop and try different teachers.

JB: Try out a baroque bow. This is very important. Listen to recordings and go to concerts. There is a lot out there on YouTube.

DM: If you love music, have open ears, and are a bit "hungry" for this knowledge, you will do just fine.

Friday, August 26, 2011

More Cello Blog Postings to Come...

I will continue the Baroque cello theme in several weeks when I travel to San Francisco to play in the SFEMS series ( in a collaborative concert between Catacoustic and Wildcat Viols. Three of the musicians in that ensemble are Baroque cellists (Joanna Blendulf, David Morris, and Elisabeth Reed), and I look forward to getting their insight. If any readers have questions they would like posed about Baroque cello, please comment in this blog or send an email to
Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Baroque Cello Masterclass with Jaap ter Linden

In keeping with the Baroque cello theme, I attended a masterclass by Jaap ter Linden, who was teaching at the Vancouver Early Music Workshop. Jaap is one of the premier Baroque cellists today, and he is highly respected for his teaching, performing, and direction. To find out more about Jaap and his international career, see his website at

The students at Early Music Vancouver were all college-aged and very enthusiastic, and it was great to see young people so excited about early music (attending all the concerts and lectures). This is the next generation of early music performer! At dinner one evening, Amanda Keesmaat said that she was going to observe a class with Jaap der Linden, so I decided to go along with her and write about it for the blog. I paraphrased what Jaap talked about in his masterclass.

Jaap began the session talking about technique: bow arm comfort and flexibility and the importance of having a straight bow. There were five students in the masterclass, and they were primarily new to the Baroque cello. Jaap talked about how to creatively leave the auto pilot mode of “modern” playing. The question is how to get comfortable with this change. I like to create exercises. Pretend that your fingers are glued in place to the bow, and move your hand at different angles. Then, practice scales. It is so important to keep practicing scales! Then, there is the matter of the elbow and its role. If you take a photo of your bow arm, you should be able to see if it is in down or up bow mode with the wrist and elbow.

A student asked, “How do I know when I get there?”

Jaap responded: That is an interesting and somewhat dangerous question. It is like saying “how do I know if I am enlightened?" It is a Zen journey. This will happen when you listen to your body and increase your body awareness. When I am in a good place, I feel very comfortable and light. My ears tell me the sound is good. You will feel a flow, and the sound comes more easily. Look, watch, and listen. Trust your ears. Ask yourself, “am I breathing?”

Students played a sonata for solo cello with bowed bass

Jaap: You do all the right things: not too much vibrato, note shaping, yet there are many more stops to go on the bus. Your sound is off the floor because of the great care you take. You are more upright than grounded. You can get more resonance out of the instrument – a type of buzz and ringing. Seduce the cello, just like the sirens seduced the audience in the concert we heard of Purcell’s King Arthur. Wake up the cello. This begins with breathing at the beginning of the stroke. Breathe from your abdomen (gestures just above hips). Before you do anything sophisticated, you need to get the basic quality of sound. Think of a singer and how they warm up to find their resonance. As cellists, we have to do the same.

The student started the sonata a second time with a much more resonant sound.

This is the road! Get the intensity, and then you can start doing more. There are so many elegant possibilities! Jaap talked about intonation and mentioned that the C#’s should be lower.

This is a start. There is a list of possible questions.

I would like to ban the notion that “Baroque music is nice.” No! It is nice, but it is everything! It is passion - Hollywood tearjerker material! Do not give the impression that we are only polite and correct musicians.

Another student played Vivaldi’s Sixth Sonata, Third movement with bowed bass.

Jaap corrected a mistake in the edition. Slurs can help you out or get in the way. This piece is full of biting harmony. Think of where the dissonances are and get a harmonic picture. Aim for the dissonances, but everything shouldn’t always be strong. Solo and bass lines form a type of lament. Look for places of respite (cadences). Find new colors. It is like theatre, when lights change immediately. Find more colors.

Be aware of intonation. Where are your B-flats and C-sharps? Be colorful with intonation. Watch out for your leading tones. (He then worked on finding pure thirds, where one student would play the root of a chord – “D,” with the major third above “F-sharp.” When you come from modern cello, most people cannot find pure thirds on their instrument. Strangely enough, finding the pure third is an innate universal skill. If you play a D and sing the third above in your head, then play it, it will be pure. It is much harder to sing the modern intonation F-sharp. A good suggestion for an exercise book to practice intonation is a book for modern cellists, Melodic and Progressive Studies by Sebastien Lee ( ). This is excellent practice for double stops and interval practice. Diatonic semitones should be big and wide, like C-sharp to D. (He then demonstrated by playing an A with a D, then C-sharp versus D-flat. This intonation ideal changed recently with the advent of music being thought of as vertical versus horizontal.

You should listen to a recording of Edith Piaf. She is an intense singer, who sang “Les Blouses Blanche” ( She paints a picture and changes colors, much like in this sonata. Everything in your playing was nice but the same color. Drama! Give more structure. I hesitate to tell you what to do, but change the intensity of notes.

Nathan Whitaker, Baroque Cellist

Nathan Whitaker, a Seattle-based Baroque cellist, was at the Vancouver Early Music Festival, where he played in Early Music Vancouver's production of King Arthur (Purcell). I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to interview him about his experiences with the Baroque cello. Why not make this Baroque cello month?

How did you learn to play the Baroque cello?

I attended Indiana University for my undergraduate and masters degrees, where I took Stanley Ritchie’s (Baroque violin professor) unaccompanied Bach class. This wetted my appetite for Baroque music, so I signed up for secondary Baroque cello class. I took lessons with Shelley Taylor and later with Stanley. I was able to borrow an instrument from the university, and now I have my own Baroque cello.

What is your musical background?

Both of my parents are professional church organists, and I started piano lessons starting at the age of three. I began cello in the third grade with my school program. I was in high school when I decided that I wanted to make music a profession. I am now finishing my doctorate degree at the University of Washington.

What are the technical differences between the Baroque and modern cello?

1)The differences between the “upbow” is big. Modern cello is always about sustain and creating an even sound. Baroque bowing is more like talking with strong versus weak bows. It is concerned with how the upbows are treated.

2)Intonation is treated differently. Baroque music has lower leading tones, whereas the modern cello has the Casals “expressive” tuning of higher leading tones.


4)The Baroque cello is held at a mover vertical angle, versus the horizontal angle for modern. It is easier to reach higher positions on modern cello.

Who are the good teachers for Baroque cello? Do you teach?

I learned the most from working with singers and violinists. As cellists, we must accompany others. We must learn how to enhance their music.
Jaap ter Linden is an amazing teacher, as well as Phoebe Carrai.
I teach privately and now at the new Baroque program at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle ( We have an undergraduate degree program and performer’s diploma. We hope to offer graduate accreditation soon.

I have noticed a certain amount of difficulty for cellists to approach the sound world of the Baroque cello. Would you comment on the importance of immersion in Baroque style and music? Do you still play the modern cello?

It is so important to be immersed in Baroque style! It is like learning a new language. When you take high school French class for one hour a day, five days a week, it is helpful, but you never really become fluent. If you want to learn a language, you must go to the place where it is spoken. There are so many things beyond the vocabulary to learn. Then, after a while, you can go back and forth quickly.

I do play modern cello: I play Classical and early Romantic music, so there is a continuous spectrum in what I play. Music is always changing, but this change is gradual. I am playing the Shostakovich concerto soon and his trio later today! This variety keeps me balanced. Personally, I need more than one period of music, and it helps to keep things in perspective.

What kind of Baroque cello playing do you do? What would you like to do?

I play in the Seattle, Pacific, and Portland Baroque orchestras, as well as the Seattle Baroque Soloists (an offshoot of Seattle Baroque). I also play in the chamber group Plaine and Easy, which won a competition not so long ago. We play Elizabethan music. I also play in Opus 20 String Quartet, which plays Classical period music on period instruments. I would like to do more solo recitals.

What is your advice for modern cellists who might be interested in learning to play the Baroque cello?

1.It is not easy to play Baroque cello. Just because the notes look easier doesn’t mean anything. You must practice your scales and etudes to become a complete musician.

2.Play as much music as you can. Bass lines can seem formulaic at first glance, but you need to learn when they are different and see the music between the notes.

3.Work with inspirational people – especially singers!

4.Record yourself. There is so much detail to think about, and it is hard to know if you are actually doing things that you intend to (like releasing second notes of a slur). It is good to have external confirmation.

5.Studying with someone is ideal.

6.It is important to read the sources.

What are these sources?

A good place to start is to read the book 100 Years of Violoncello. It has a good list of resources to read.

What cello do you play?

I play a Gustav Greiner, made by Breitenfeld in 1875. My bow is by Ralph Ashmeade.

To learn more about Nathan or to contact him about lessons, visit his website at

Friday, August 19, 2011

Amanda Keesmaat, and Her Journey with the Baroque Cello

I just returned home after a month of wonderful concerts throughout Canada with some incredibly talented musicians. It isn't very often that I play with Baroque cellists, so it was a delight to once-again work with Amanda Keesmaat, a Montreal-based Baroque cellist. Amanda has a beautiful tone and a real sensitivity that add so much to the ensemble. I frequently have people approach me with an interest in Baroque cello, which I do not play, and I thought that my time with Amanda would be the perfect opportunity to ask her some questions that could help others who may be interested in learning to play the Baroque cello.

1)How did you learn to play the Baroque cello?

I was a student at McGill for my artist diploma. I studied Baroque music as an elective, where I took orchestra and chamber music classes. Soon after, I started playing with Orchestre Baroque du Montreal (OBM). McGill had an instrument I could borrow and an excellent group of teachers. I didn't have a private instructor, but I learned over time from other musicians, coachings, isolated lessons, and music directors. Hank Knox is the director of the McGill Baroque orchestra. It took a while just to figure out how to hold the instrument, and later – bit by bit, I learned the details of style. I played for and worked with Betsy McMillan (founding member of Arion), Jaap ter Linden, Phoebe Carrai, and Susie Napper, amongst others. I learned a lot from them.

When I am hired, I listen to the desires of the music directors. Every group has a different idea of sound or musical direction, and I like that. That is how one learns, and it is good to be flexible!

2)What is your musical background?

I started cello when I was four years old. I got my BM from the University of Western Ontario and later went to McGill, where I studied (modern cello) with Antonio Lysy. It was during this time that I started Baroque music. Actually, I joined Baroque Orchestra because my roommate was the violone player. I loved it! Prior to this, I was interested in contemporary music, and I have now played Baroque cello for fifteen years!

3)What are the technical differences between Baroque and modern cello?

Technical: How you get the sound out of the instrument and how to get the string to speak. Wow! It is hard to put it into words. You have gut strings and have to draw the sound out with a pull, rather than with force. You have to coax the sound out, rather than spinning it out.

The bow hold is different. It is held further from the frog – between the frog and the balance point, rather than on the frog.

The cello is supported with the legs: no endpin is used. (Strangely enough, there is no juxtaposition of terminology for “cello” and “da gamba” that has been found.) Because of one's size, one's body dictates the position of the instrument to a certain extent. The Baroque cello is more in contact with the player, whereas the modern cello is kept at a greater distance.

Left hand:
The biggest thing is a concept of tuning and ear training. I play in different temperaments, depending on the decision of the group. I have to be aware of where to place accidentals and how that affects the tuning of the group. It is always important to be aware of what part of the chord the note is for the context of the note and for tuning.

The use of vibrato is always an issue that affects tuning, as well as tone. When I began Baroque cello, I was told to play without vibrato, but as a modern cellist, I had been trained to vibrate everywhere! That was EXTREMELY difficult to eliminate at first, but then I realized that vibrating ALL THE TIME didn't necessarily mean that I had control over the sound, either. For example, it is difficult, if not impossible, to practice intonation with vibrato constantly changing the pitch. That being said, vibrato should not be discarded! It should be used as an ornament or at least very consciously.

4)Who are the good teachers? Do you teach Baroque cello?

There are many great teachers and summer festivals as well. The people who were my mentors and colleagues were great for me. I also teach Baroque cello.

5)I have noticed that it is often the case that those who play modern cello have a certain difficulty approaching the sound world of the Baroque cello. Would you comment on the importance of immersion for “switching hats” between instruments? Do you still play modern cello?

My advice is to be patient and take your time. With enough exposure, little-by-little, one notices things to change with the body that can help to play Baroque music in a more stylishly appropriate manner. In general, you need to be really relaxed to play the Baroque cello. I think that you can do both, but it is difficult. Isabelle Bozzini in Montreal (Quatuor Bozzini) is a good example of someone who does both.

6)What kind of playing do you do on Baroque cello? What would you like to do?

I play mostly bass lines for orchestras and chamber ensembles. I am very happy in the continuo section. I have done more solo playing the past few years, but I am quite busy now with concerts and find it hard to find time for personal projects. In a dream world, it would be nice to spend six months to attack new solo repertoire. I would play as much as possible and know the background for the repertory for my instrument better. That way, if someone requested a sonata from a certain place and time, I could better suggest programming.
Last year I was the invited guest for a concert with the Ottawa Baroque Consort. It was a concert featuring the cello and it's origins. I learned a lot from this and had fun. It was great to do this research and learn new rep! Especially, it was exciting to play with another cellist and talk to the audience about where and when the instrument's journey began.

7)What is your advice for modern cellists interested in Baroque cello – especially if there is no one near them to teach?

1. Experiment with a different bow hold. Hold the bow higher, with the middle two fingers on the hair to get the feel and balance of a Baroque bow.
2. It is really important to have the contact and guidance of a mentor. You can’t really learn Baroque cello without having someone who knows how to talk about the physical feelings, sound and style. Even if you are a professional cellist, you need some input.
3. Listen to as many period recordings as possible. I like Sergei Istomin’s Bach recording.
4. Practice without vibrato and see how you can make the sound carry without that factor.
5. Practise sonatas with another cellist or bass player to listen to the chords. Let the harmonies help you decide how to phrase.

8)What cello do you play?

I play a Baroque cello by Roland Ross (England), 1989 with bows by Louis Begin and Louis Gaucher.

Monday, July 25, 2011

New Friend on Summer Concert Tour: Montreal's Margaret Little

I am spending this month in Montreal, playing with the talented musicians of Matthew White’s ensemble Les Voix Baroques. Lucky me, I am staying with Margaret Little, a Montreal-based viola da gamba player, who is also in this concert and took the time to tell me about her life in early music. Margaret is one-half of the duo Les Voix humaines (, whom anyone who has taken a few minutes to peruse the early music section of a CD store would recognize from their numerous recordings (around 30!).

Margaret grew up in a musical family. Her father was an organist and choral conductor who collaborated with the Montreal Consort of Viols with his choir. When Margaret was only eleven years old, she attended a music camp as a violinist, where she studied viola da gamba with Gian Lyman Silbiger. Margaret fell in love with the viol and its music and returned to Montreal determined to pursue her newfound interest. She saved the money for her first treble viol by teaching guitar lessons. (Remember, she was only eleven!)

Margaret met Susie Napper (the other half of Les Voix humaines) after Susie had moved from San Francisco to Montreal. They both had daughters the same age, so they met so the girls could play together. The moms did, too! This was how a magical, musical friendship through Les Voix humaines was born! Margaret says that their main interest is communicating and expression through their music. Their recording career began with their love of the music of St. Colombe. (Many of you may remember St. Colombe as the father/viol player in the movie Tous les Matins du Monde.) These duos are extremely esoteric, and they spent much time figuring out this complicated music and recorded all 67 of them on four double CD’s. They have a good relationship with their recording label, ATMA, and occasionally ATMA will offer suggestions for recordings or help with long-range plans.

Margaret and Susie spend a lot of time together for each project to try new things out and let the music grow and develop. Now, an important part of their musical life is in making arrangements of music for two viols or viol consort. They hope to make these clever arrangements available to the public! They also collaborate with other artists, such as Wieland and Bart Kuijken, Suzie LeBlanc, and viol players in consort. Les Voix humaines has participated in the Montreal Baroque Festival (see

Initially, they performed concerts in Susie’s home in a series of three to four concerts each year. Susie would cook amazing food to accompany these programs. Later, they moved the series to a church in Montreal. Margaret and Susie obtained an agent in 1994 to give them more opportunities to play. They have traveled all over the world with their music: Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, the U.S., throughout Canada, Israel, Japan, China, England, France, Belgium, Holland, Poland, and the Czech Republic. In the U.S., they have performed in Honolulu, St. Paul, St-Cloud, St-Croix, Tucson, Colorado Springs, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York City, Cambridge, and Boston. They often coordinate these programs with lectures and workshops, often in cooperation with the Viola da Gamba Society of America.

Les Voix humaines has some goals for the future that we can look forward to. This year will feature consort music by Trabaci, as well as their focus on free improvisation. They will record Bach’s “Art of Fugue” and a duo Bach program – Susie’s arrangement of his Italian concerto for two bass viols.

Montreal is an exciting city, where there is so much early music happening. There are approximately twelve early music ensembles or series in this city! Margaret is one of the people who paved the way for this type of environment, and she is investing in its continued success through the collaborative development of a parent organization, Montreal Baroque. They are developing a website with links to performers and groups and a calendar for all early music performances in the city to help avoid planning conflicts for ensembles, but also to publicize concerts. The society may invite groups from abroad, will mentor young groups, and may offer a series for local groups without their own regular series.

Margaret teaches viola da gamba and Baroque ensemble at the University of Montreal. She primarily plays viol, but she also enjoys the Baroque viola and often performs both instruments in one concert. Margaret recorded a CD for unaccompanied viol and has many solo recitals planned with Montreal lute player Sylvain Bergeron. Her favorite music is sacred music with singers, like the Bach Passions or Christmas Oratorio. She commented, “I like being a part of a big group celebration of things spiritual.” Through her investments in making recordings, concerts at home and abroad, teaching privately and at university, ensuring the city’s future in early music with Montreal Baroque, and future musical goals, she is certainly involved in a big group celebration!

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Match Made in Heaven Pt.1

My husband called from work the other day with some bad news. He works for Cincinnati Opera, and the keyboard glockenspiel that they rented for their upcoming production of The Magic Flute arrived broken (see bottom photo). He was at a loss for what to do. I suggested that he call James Campbell in Newport. Few people would ever guess that Newport, Kentucky (just across the river from Cincinnati) is home to one of the best American early keyboard makers. James built Catacoustic’s harpsichord, and he generously keeps it in excellent playing condition. Needless to say, Jim saved the day for the opera by fixing the damaged instrument in less than one day.

James and his wife Nina Key-Campbell (harpsichord player) live in a beautiful historic home surrounded by early keyboard instruments – many of which they crafted together. There are four harpsichords (plus one in process), three clavichords, an organ, and an upright piano. It is a beautiful, amazing sight!

In 1963 Jim was a school teacher in California. He had taken piano and organ lessons, and decided that he wanted a harpsichord. He bought a kit, which was the easiest way to make one at the time. After playing the instrument for a while, he decided that he wanted a larger instrument – a French double manual. Jim went to the LA library to research how to make an instrument without the aid of a kit. In 1973, Jim made his first original instrument in Cincinnati. At that time he was an editor for a religious publishing house, and instrument building was relegated to his spare time.
Several years later, he was inspired to make a small virginals by an instrument that was housed at the Cincinnati Art Museum. This point in life saw Jim working for an engineering firm as a model builder. His next incarnation was as a piano tuner/technician and instrument builder.

Jim and Nina met in 1978 at a concert she gave at Clifton Calvary Church. They began collaborating soon afterwards. Nina apprenticed with Jim to learn piano tuning and was his assistant for instrument making.

Jim made a series of instruments up to 1984. He doesn’t even know where all his instruments are. He made several instruments for Nina and a French double for Northern Kentucky University (still in use). He built 25 keyboard instruments and rebuilt approximately 10.

In 1986, he retired from his keyboard work to be an Episcopal priest and educator in Chicago, Philadelphia, and later southern Kentucky. During that time, he made only one instrument. After he retired from full-time church work, he returned to instrument building and repair by making an instrument for a church in Lexington. Nina assisted him for this project, and they married in March of 2009! It is a match made in heaven!

In June of 2009, he began to take care of the harpsichords at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). He worked on instruments at the University of Kentucky, the University of Dayton, and the University of Nebraska (Lincoln).

Jim and Nina are constantly looking for new projects to tackle. Last December they reassembled a tracker three stop organ that is currently in their living room (see photo above). Jim is currently making a new instrument for Nina in his shop. “We felt we needed a Flemish harpsichord, since it is the quintessential instrument of the 17th century, and Jim was doing research and wanted to incorporate his ideas into an instrument.”

Jim is not active in seeking commissions, but he wouldn’t say no. He doesn’t want to be rushed during his retirement. Jim compares it to a commercial for a Scottish golf club maker: “The waiting list is five years long, but there are four people ahead of you.” He has no concrete goals for the future, save to enjoy what he does every day. Jim enjoys making instruments for his wife, working on his model railroad, reading, walking, and traveling.

A Match Made in Heaven Pt.2

Nina Key-Campbell grew up in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by music. She started to play piano by ear at the age of four and began formal music lessons in the first grade. She studied organ in college, when Arnold Dolmetsch came to visit her school and brought along a small harpsichord. Nina fell in love with the sound of the instrument and locked herself in the studio with the instrument all day, skipping classes to play. The next year an organ professor arrived at the university who also played the harpsichord, so Nina studied both instruments. She received a Fulbright to study organ and harpsichord in Holland with the great Gustav Leonhardt. Nina took full advantage of this wonderful opportunity, taking many classes with the master – and was able to take three classes a week with him!

When Nina returned to the US, she studied at the University of Illinois with George Hunter and was the first recipient of a Master’s degree in harpsichord performance at the school. She married and moved to Syracuse, NY, where she played often. She had a family (two daughters) and purchased her first harpsichord.

Three years later in 1968, she moved to Cincinnati, where her husband was the first music librarian at CCM. Nina taught piano and performed in Cincinnati. She played with numerous formations of early music ensembles: recorders, cello, violin, and singers. She worked with Ben Bechtel (instrument maker and musician) to develop an early music series. Nina taught keyboard and aural skills at Northern Kentucky University for 22 years and tuned pianos for 10 years. In the 1989, Harold Byers, James and Barbara Lambert, and later Rod Stucky joined Nina to form Apollo’s Cabinet (formerly Baroque Chamber Soloists). They still perform concerts at Christ Church Cathedral, the Taft Museum, and other local concert series.

Nina has many musical goals:
1. A solo recital at Christ Church Cathedral on April 10, 2011 to celebrate the church’s new harpsichord purchase.
2. Nina and Jim love to show their instrument collection through open houses. They had an open house in the Spring for the MacDowell Society and another for advanced placement students at Indian Hill schools. They plan to invite friends and neighbors to see the instruments.
3. Scarlatti Project: Nina is doing an in-depth analysis of Scarlatti sonatas with commentaries. She is working with a statistician from Iowa State to run descriptive statistics of idea sequences. There are 563 total sonatas, and she has done 450 total. She presented a paper on this in Spain and would like to write an article and include this information on a website to be available as a resource for researchers and performers.

Jim and Nina are both involved in a joint meeting of the Southeast Keyboard Society and the Midwestern Historical Keyboard Society in Cincinnati in March of 2012. There will be two competitions: the Alienor Competition for new works and the Jurow Competition for harpsichord performance. Scholars will present papers, concerts will be performed, and instrument builders will bring their instruments to display. This will all take place at CCM! We are so lucky to have energetic and talented forces such as Nina and James here in the Greater Cincinnati region!

Friday, June 24, 2011

New Music for "Old" Instruments with Cincinnati Opera

Cincinnati Opera is creating a brand new production of John Adams' opera A Flowering Tree, a beautiful opera set in India about the power of true love. I was able to sit through part of a sitzprobe (opera lingo for a music rehearsal without staging) in our beautiful Music Hall. I was struck by the variety of sounds and incredible textures of the music with the composer’s skilled use of the orchestra. One instrument that he seemed to delight in using was the recorder. There were two recorder players in the orchestra: Rob Turner and David Dyer. Rob has taught at Catacoustic recorder workshops, and he agreed to answer some questions about this experience playing with Cincinnati Opera.

What types of recorders are you playing? How does it work with balance with the rest of the orchestra?

We're playing the top-of-the line plastic Yamaha soprano and alto recorders that have a woodgrain finish. The pitch of the orchestra is "officially" a=441, and when things warm up it's probably closer to a=442. Since even higher pitches are common in Japan these days, the Yamaha recorders work well in this regard. It is hard for us to hear what the balance is like, but the Yamahas project very well and we are told that the balance is good. There is also a sound designer who has microphones distributed through the orchestra for the purpose of tweaking balance (rather than amplification for its own sake).

John Adams seems to know about how to use the recorder, and I love how it comes through with the orchestra. Have you played much contemporary music for old instruments, such as the recorder or Baroque flute (which I believe you play)? Do you feel that other composers know how to write effectively for the recorder? What is your advice to composers interested in writing for the recorder?

John Adams' use of recorder in this piece is very interesting. And Joana Carneiro, the conductor, is absolutely wonderful! The writing is not, on the face of it, note-to-note, so difficult, and Adams does not use any of the extended techniques that are often associated with contemporary recorder music. HOWEVER, the first recorder entry is at measure 382, and by that time there have already been 66 meter changes, including things like going from 2/2 to a couple of measures of 3/2 to a single 3/8 measure (the relative duration of the quarter-note would be the constant) and back to 2/2 for a measure before settling into 5/8 (subdivided 2:3, then 3:2 for two measures, then back to 2:3 for several more measures) oh, and did I mention that within these all meter changes we're playing quarter-note triplet figures in some of the 2/2, except where it's eighth/quarter or quarter/eighth triplets... My first entry is m. 480, by which time there have been 103 meter changes. OYYYY!!! But it sounds absolutely beautiful!

I've heard the conductor say that this has been the easiest, quickest-to-come-together production of this opera that she's led, including shows in places like Citè de la Musique in Paris. But even some of the regular CSO players have been walking around looking a little shell-shocked. One thing is for certain: it's not Vivaldi! The recorder part also has quite a few percussion cues written in, for maracas, rain stick, etc. This is reminiscent of Carl Orff's "Schulwerk," which uses recorders as well as "rhythm band" instruments to introduce young children to rudiments of music. In this performance the percussion is given to the professional percussionists (thank goodness!!!).

I really have not played much contemporary music for recorder. It's interesting enough to me when I listen to it, but I have always been interested in recorder primarily because of its baroque repertoire, and much less because of the instrument itself. In a way, for me to play in a contemporary piece with a symphony orchestra is probably not so different than it would be for, say, someone whose day-to-day musical life focuses on auto-harp or dulcimer in roots music like that of the Carter Family. The idioms and the musical approach are that different. I do find this opera a fascinating challenge, and have really enjoyed getting to know more members of the CSO, but baroque music is where I really feel "at home."

Among "early" instruments, the recorder is unique: while there is contemporary repertoire for baroque transverse flute, harpsichord, or baroque violin (or viola da gamba?), for instance, familiarity with contemporary music and its techniques is a "must" for recorder players in a way that simply is not the case for, say baroque violinists. Players of other "old" instruments are usually taken seriously for devoting themselves to their instruments' "Golden Age" repertoire, while for recorder players at most conservatories and in almost all recorder competitions a knowledge of contemporary repertoire and extended techniques is simply de rigueur. Perhaps this can be traced back to teacher virtuosos like Frans Brüggen and Hans Martin Linde and
their own interest in contemporary music in the 1950’s-80’s, when they were bringing the recorder back to the attention of the music world. At that time some of the people in the "serious" music world who were most open to the HIP (historically-informed performance) approach were people who were also very interested in contemporary music. Because of the acoustical differences between period and modern instruments and early woodwinds' relative lack of keywork, there are certainly sonic effects that are only available on period instruments. I think that it would be essential for composers to work closely with recorder players in developing a clear sense of the recorder's musical possibilities, especially since our culture reinforces the sense of the recorder as a toy ("play recorder in third grade, and next year you'll get a "real" instrument like a flute or a trumpet or a clarinet") and not as a legitimate instrument like any other, with its own sets of possibilities and issues. In the end, though, I really leave all that to others!

I know that people will be impressed by hearing the recorder as played by professionals, rather than by little grade school kids. What is your advice for someone who is interested in learning the instrument?

For those interested in learning to play recorder, lots of listening to live and recorded recorder music is essential. A good teacher is always helpful, and there are a few around. Some music lovers would agree with the seventeenth-century diarist Samuel Pepys on the subject of the recorder, "the sound of it being, of all sounds in the world, most pleasing to me." For many of those people there's no better way to experience that sound than to play recorder themselves.

Tell me about what you are doing these days. I know you are living in Dayton. How are things there? Are you keeping busy with music? Any instrument making? Briefly talk about what instruments you have made in the past.

I'm living in Dayton, looking after my 88 year-old mother, teaching and performing. While for many years I made recorders and flutes based on period originals found in museums and private collections around the world, I stopped making instruments a few years ago when I could no longer see with the kind of acuity needed to do the work. (Now I can "only" see .0025" with my good eye whereas before it was more like < .001".) So, I'm focused on making music, instead, which was what I meant to do all along. My primary instruments are, and have been for many years, baroque transverse flute and recorder.

For more information about Cincinnati Opera’s upcoming performances of A Flowering Tree, see

(Please note photo credits for first and second images go to Jennie Chacon and Chris Yelton, and the third photo credit goes to Cincinnati Opera employee Aimee Sposito Martini. The fourth photo is Rob Turner with his recorder, credit to Phillip Jones.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Interview with Francesco Vitali, Filmmaker of Voluptas Dolendi: I Gesti del Caravaggio

I had the pleasure of corresponding with Francesco Vitali, the fascinating director of the film Voluptas Dolendi that Catacoustic recently screened as the Western Hemisphere premiere - right here in Cincinnati! This exquisitely beautiful film used music and visual art to recreate the mood of paintings by the great Caravaggio.

1) The thing that struck me about this film is that so many art forms are brought together with such high quality. It seems like an overwhelming project for one person! This project intricately interweaves dance, gesture, visual art, history, film technique, early music, and poetry. How did you come up with this concept, and how did it all come together in such a unified artistic manner?

The theatrical performance for harp and dance (Voluptas Dolendi: I Gesti del Caravaggio) was born in 2002 from an idea that harpist Mara Galassi developed with dancer/actress Deda Cristina Colonna, costume designer Barbara Petrecca, and myself as lighting designer. This was initially performed as part of the Marco Fodella Foundation’s 2002 concert season and received great success touring Italy and Belgium through 2006. I later directed this as the film you saw in Cincinnati, and it was also sponsored by the Fondazione Marco Fodella. The film’s title Voluptas dolendi (the pleasure caused by pain) refers to a specific aspect of seventeenth-century aesthetics, typical of Caravaggio’s contemporaries.

The film was born as a synthesis of different artistic expressions: music, dancing, acting, and painting. It deals (through different filming, post-production, and montage techniques) with the problems connected with the staging of a theatrical performance limited to a theatrical space that is well-defined, neuter, and recognizable. This film suggests glimpses of the Baroque, developing like a painting in slow evolution through allusions to Caravaggio’s works. Mara and Deda felt that between the gestures in the paintings of Caravaggio and musical gestures, there should be a form of communication and emotional rhetoric. So, the meeting point was physical gesture, which helped to evoke Caravaggio’s paintings.

My job was to translate this project, through camera and lights, the manner of thinking that already existed in its theatrical performance into a motion picture. I consider this film to be a continuation of the path initiated by Deda, Mara, and myself in 2002 with the original show.

I did not want the film to only be a television shot of the theatrical play. For example, Mara’s harp could not follow Deda as happened in the live show, because the sound of the harp would have responded differently from slot to slot. Mara taught me that an ancient musical instrument requires a precise location for the "natural" sound - not amplified. Thus, in the film I chose the monumental sacresty as a suitable place for her to play her double harp. She remained in the same place from the beginning to the end of the film. Deda, instead, moved around in the 15th-century Cathedral of San Marco, where the film was shot in Milan.

Keeping in mind the theatrical origins of this film, I wanted to maintain a synthetic vision of settings and scenery, processing this vision through a filming method I particularly love: steadycam. I used it for 70 per cent of the scenes, finding interesting suggestions in Alexandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark (2002), especially as concerns its rhythm, which empathetically involves the spectator. The steadicam is a special camera that is hooked on the operator's body, becoming almost a part of the body, and through a system of counterweights allows soft turns without sharp cuts. The operator can easily follow the movements of the dancer, and the viewer enters the movie in a much more empathetic manner.

This film is an imaginary voyage, in which the protagonist Deda Cristina Colonna accompanies us, through acting and dancing, into apparently recognizable places, given the ambiguous architectures evoking ancient palaces or sacred basilicas, revealing then an intimate, neutral nature. Space is continually modified and dried out until its final hiding and annulment. I built a clear image and sense of drama. In this film, the camera explores, approaches, and makes sure that everything that is foreign to the audience during the theatrical performance can be seen more closely, but also more emotionally, and irrepressibly.

Music from Caravaggio’s time, played by the harpist Mara Galassi, sometimes dilates the perception of space and time and sometimes accelerates it. The music creates a suspended level – a limbo, and with its rhythm it guides the spectator in the obscure meanderings of the mind, the emotions felt by the protagonist. The camera moves, approaches, wraps, and investigates, as in a continuous dance. Light witnesses events. As an absolute protagonist, light reveals its double, divine, and material origin, thanks to the contrast with shadows, which sometimes seem to devour both dancer and harpist, cruelly and realistically.

I think the uniqueness of this project is about a specific historical period through the art of Caravaggio, as a starting point to enjoy the music and dance of that time, without falling into banality simply talking about the biography of Caravaggio. Few people know that Caravaggio was a great lutenist. This helps us better understand the context in which he lived and his art.

2) From conception to completion, how long did this project take? What was the time frame for this project? How many people were in your crew? How did this compare with other projects?

The film was shot in five days in the Cathedral of San Marco in Milan with a crew of 22 people between church services. During the daytime, Mara recorded the songs in the sacristy, which was then used by Deda, dancing during the night. Only in two specific moments did Deda and Mara film together. In these two moments the sound and video recording was unique because it was impossible to dub the music played on harp by Mara.

3) In the US, the popularity of Facebook and YouTube has created a demand for marketing Classical music with video in a creative manner. It is becoming quite popular and almost necessary. Do you see this as a trend in Europe with Classical music? With early music? Do you see the impact of social media on film and music in Italy?

I think that technology can greatly help spread this kind of music, especially among the youth. In Italy it happens less than in the U.S. We are fortunately or unfortunately still bound to tradition, and a live concert can never be compared to the post of Facebook or YouTube. These social networks could
be a fantastic start, but depth should always be a rule in each and every century and everywhere, not just an option.

I just returned to San Francisco after 15 years. I was shocked when a dear American friend of mine, an opera singer, told me that the libraries in your country are closing. I think that in Italy this unlikely to happen. At least for now the technology coexists with tradition. I love iTunes, but I also love to touch a CD and handle it to get the feeling of really "owning" something that remains over time. If my computer breaks or the harddrive dies and is not backed up, I lose my virtual files. With a book in-hand or a CD or vinyl record, I still savor and reflect. With technology I run faster and am not sure where I'll end up.

Voluptas dolendi I gesti del Caravaggio has thus far been presented in various places of great cultural significance in the Mediterranean: Mola di Bari, Venice, Athens, Milan, Modena, Trieste, Naples, Palermo, Messina, Siracusa, Padua, Rome, Argentario, Bari, San Giorgio di Nogaro, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Crema, Saint Jean Cap Ferrat; in Europe: Vilnius, Strasbourg - European Parliament, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Dublin; in East Asia: Shanghai, Kyoto, Osaka; and now in America (Cincinnati). In the days between April 10th and May 6th, SKY (satellite channel 728) will show the film six times to their subscribers in Italy.

For more information on the film, see: If you missed the Catacoustic Consort's screening of this film at the Cincinnati Art Museum, you may purchase a copy of the DVD in European format at the Libreria Pecorini by contacting them via email: or at their website at

Monday, April 4, 2011

Baroque Opera Superstar Singer Moves to Cincinnati

In October, 2011 Catacoustic performed a magical program with male soprano Michael Maniaci. It was a beautiful program of 17th-century Italian music with Daniel Swenberg on theorbo. Michael has a real command of that repertory, and is an effective performer. It was a concert that will remain in so many people's minds for a long time.

I first met Maniaci in Houston around ten years ago when we were performing Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea with the Houston Grand Opera and Opera Atelier. I was amazed the moment he opened his mouth to sing. The sound and delivery was so powerful and exciting! He has had an amazing career, including winning the Met competition, singing with the great opera houses, such as La Fenice, and just a few weeks ago a concert with the LA Phil. He has a recent recording of Mozart arias with Boston Baroque that has had huge success and critical acclaim. Since we first met, I began scheming on how to bring him to Cincinnati to perform with Catacoustic.

The perfect opportunity presented itself when I was asked by the Student Tribunal at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) to present a Catacoustic concert and masterclass there. Michael studied at CCM with David Adams and has family here in town. It was perfect! Michael graciously accepted my offer to present a concert and was a lovely collaborator. We had a great week preparing the program and sharing it with enthusiastic students and the Catacoustic family.

I was shocked when Michael mentioned that he was thinking of moving from his NYC apartment to Cincinnati. He is constantly on the road and wanted to move from the "concrete jungle" of New York to our beautiful "Queen City." And, he would be close to vocal coaches, his family, Catacoustic, and an international airport.

A friendly guy, and a world-class talent, it has been a pleasure and an honor to have him live here in Cincinnati, and it will be wonderful to share his talent with Catacoustic's audience many more times in the future!

Cincinnati Resident Dedicates Herself to Baroque Guitar

I met Tina Gutierrez some years ago through Catacoustic concerts. She was very enthusiastic about early music and since has come to every Catacoustic concert. Tina is a Northside (Cincinnati neighborhood) resident and has had music in her life for many years. She runs European Bridal in the Reading bridal district during the day and practices whenever she can fit in the time. As a Classical guitar major in university, she later picked up the Renaissance and Baroque guitars. In addition to working with local lutenist Rod Stucky, she takes intense lessons with Catacoustic lute/early guitar players, when they are in town, (Michael Leopold, Daniel Swenberg, Ronn McFarlane, and David Walker). And, she has now started a group with Alice Nutter (viola da gamba player). Tina recently played in a masterclass in Columbus, Ohio with the great Baroque guitar player Hopkinson Smith. It was wonderful to have a representative from Cincinnati in this masterclass!

Tina, how long have you been playing early plucked instruments? How did you become interested in them, and what do you love about them?

I have been playing early plucked instruments for three years, although I played Classical guitar since I was fourteen years old. As a teenager, I heard lute music on WGUC (Cincinnati's classical music radio station), and I loved it. My guitar teacher, Brian Deyo, had a lute that he would bring around occasionally. I am interested in history, too. I love the purity of sound of the Baroque guitar and lute. When I met my husband, lute maker Larry Brown, it was a natural fit. The exact moment I knew that I had to play Baroque guitar was when I heard the recording of the Harp Consort's Spanish dances. I instantly knew what I had to do with my life. It was perfect that Larry then built one for me.

While Cincinnati's early music presence is now growing, it wasn't always like this. How did you deal with being somewhat isolated? What would you recommend to others who play early music instruments and do not live in centers where there are other people like them to play with?

It made all the difference having a husband who shared the same interest in early music. I recommend YouTube. The internet makes the world smaller. It is so easy to find good recordings and communicate with people of similar interests online. I also recommend going to an early music workshop at least once a year. The community that you meet there makes a real difference, and you can learn so much.

Tell me about your group and what your goals are for it, as well as your personal goals? What would you like to be doing, musically, in five years? Ten years?

We have no set goals. We get together and enjoy ourselves. We plan to have performances to push ourselves to improve. I am a very goal-oriented person, and I need that kind of structure to keep going. In ten years, I would love to be a professional Baroque guitar player. Ten years? I don't know... It takes so long to get really good, I don't know how long it would take. I would love to play music at a serious, high level. Right now I am enjoying working toward that.

You played for the masterclass with Hopkinson Smith last weekend. What did you learn from him? What do you gain from taking lessons from these different players from around the world?

The main thing I learn from most great teachers is how important it is to go back to the basics and make each musical line seem and appear like a simple, clear thought... to have it come off with ease, clarity, and understanding that people are hearing something that says something to them. One of the things Smith said was, "I don't want to hear the guitar. I want to hear the music." The touch has to be clean enough that the noise doesn't have to interfere with the line. The difference between the good players and the great players is tone.

Monday, March 14, 2011

First Ever Student Gamba Recital at CCM

Micah Fusselman, a doctoral candiate in cello performance at CCM, gave the first ever student viola da gamba recital at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music last week. Micah has been working with me for the past several years, taking the one credit elective viola da gamba class. He has excelled in every way possible. During the second week of class, he came with his viol and asked, "how long until I can play this?" He began playing one of the Bach gamba sonatas. I told him that it seemed that he was already playing it! This was during a period when all the other students were struggling just to hold the instrument. Micah has surpassed being a student and has turned into a colleague. He has played in four Catacoustic concerts and numerous outreach performances.
Micah hopes to finish his degrees (music theory and cello) and leave Cincinnati for a university job, which he will surely attain. There, he also hopes to be able to offer his skills as a gamba player for the community and possibly to the university students. How exciting!
Micah's recital was a virtuoso performance, including the music of Hume, Simpson, Marais, and Schenck. In his concert talk, he said that many people have asked him why in the world he would bother with a non-degree/non-credit recital for an instrument that does nothing to further these pieces of paper and does not help support his two children. The answer at first was "because it is good for me." But, that later proved not to be enough. The answer showed itself. "Because I love the music." Micah's love for the viola da gamba and its repertory was fully evident in his recital last week, and I can only hope that this will not be the first of such events at this extraordinary music school!