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.