Friday, October 23, 2020

"Coffee with Mozart" - Gidi Meir discusses Mozart piano music and more in a weekly on-line series

                             Photo: students of Meishar Art School

For harpsichordist, organist and teacher Gideon (Gidi) Meir, the piano, his first instrument, has been beckoning him back over recent years, resulting in several recitals, in which the artist offers interesting information and explanations on the works he performs. When the coronavirus moved in to change our lives, Meir established a weekly on-line workshop focusing mostly on slow movements from Mozart piano sonatas. Under the auspices of the Piano Club (Moadon Hapsanter, a FB site administered by Din Zohar) Meir has dedicated the workshops to the memory of his piano teacher Malka Mevorach. The Tuesday “Coffee with Mozart” series, in live streaming from Gidi Meir’s Tel Aviv home, has taken the form of master classes, hosting other pianists or, alternatively, of Meir himself playing the selected movement, discussing and analysing it. A natural teacher and gifted lecturer, he provides the viewer with background information as to where Mozart was at the time he wrote the work, the social- and musical climate of the town, with whom the composer was in contact, his students there (mostly young aristocratic women) and to whom the specific work was dedicated. Then comes a discussion of how the piece might be understood and played, of how the text inspires the pianist to interpret it and make it his own. I was instructed in the importance of the accurate reading of a musical work, but Meir reminds us that these pieces also invite the pianist to be spontaneous and creative when it comes to tempo, dynamics, even to the use of the sustaining pedal and, no less importantly, to engage in the art of informed ornamentation. The workshop began with the study of slow movements – Meir believes that they are an essential key to understanding the style and elements of Mozart’s piano sonatas; he then progressed to addressing complete sonatas. Pieces discussed so far have been the Adagio from KV280, Andante amoroso from KV281, Andante from KV283, Adagio from 332, Adagio from 457, Sonata 309 (complete) and Sonata 545 (complete).


It was in mid-August of 2020 that Meir posted his playing of a molto adagio movement from a Mozart piano sonata on the Piano Club Facebook page, with the aim of holding a live workshop on it with a group of pianists. Din Zohar came up with a different idea - that the workshop should take place on line. That was how the project began. Meir refers to it as a “work in progress”, an experimental approach for him to “encourage players to communicate through music and focus on the various aspects and problems of performing Mozart piano sonatas.” He is convinced that the more background knowledge we gather on a work - cultural associations, biographical facts and an understanding of the piece's very musical elements - the more we feed into our imagination to make the music speak. Indeed, to understand the textures of Mozart’s piano music, Gidi Meir proposes examining the composer’s (non-piano) instrumentation and settings and to then find associations of a piano movement with orchestral- or chamber music - to think about whether a certain bass line might be played by a bassoon or a ‘cello, whether the work suggests a singer with obligato flute and whether it might have been played in a private salon or a larger concert hall. He draws our attention to Mozart’s opera librettos, to how they flesh out the characters in a multi-layered- and psychological manner. “In playing Mozart piano works, we must look at all these layers”, he adds. Indeed, Meir is shocked at how few pianists choose to play Mozart works, professional performers included! As to ornamentation, he claims so many players simply imitate that of an artist on their favourite recording, rather than experimenting and making their own decisions.


After a brief hiatus, “Coffee with Mozart” will be back on line at 18:00 on Tuesdays and not only for the discussion of Mozart works. Meir will present Mozart’s C-minor Fantasia alongside C.P.E.Bach’s C-major Fantasia, focusing on Carl Philipp’s ornamentation; Johann Sebastian’s most audacious son’s extreme ideas are sure to widen the pianist’s musical palette!  Also on the agenda is music of Couperin with its reference to protest (relevant to today) and the study of one of Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words” as modelled on a presto movement from a Mozart sonata. And why not discuss a Haydn piano sonata? I found myself playing through the chosen movement in preparation for each session and revisiting it afterwards. Indeed, Gidi Meir sums up his goal as being “happy if these workshops encourage people to take time to return to the piano and engage in discussion with themselves.”


                                         Photo: Gideon Meir


Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra's 2020 Vocal Fantasy Festival, October 27-31, to be presented online


Undaunted by the restrictions of the current corona virus situation, the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra is opening its 2020-2021 concert season with yet another Vocal Fantasy Festival. Traditionally a summer event, this year’s festival will be taking place in the Autumn and will be presented online. Taking place from October 27th to 31st, the festival, directed by JBO founder, harpsichordist and conductor David Shemer, will offer five days of concerts, master classes and talks that will be transmitted live from various Jerusalem locations. All the programs will have the human voice as their main focus. 


The central work of the festival will be the Israeli premiere of one of Handel’s early works (composed before the composer was 20) - the St. John Passion, in a performance directed by David Shemer, with singers Yeela Avital, Liron Givoni, Alon Harari, Hillel Sherman, Doron Florentin and Noam Levenstein. In another program - “Handel’s Divas” - Meitar Opera Studio singers Inbal Brill and Karina Radzion will be joined by actor Itzik Cohen-Patilon to deliver the amusing story of the rivalry between Handel and Giovanni Bononcini, as well as that of two Italian prima donnas performing in London in opera productions of both composers.


In “From Johann to Hans”, we will hear soprano Yeela Avital, recorder-player Inbar Solomon and other musicians performing chorales and other works of Bach in the unique arrangements by the Jewish-Peruvian composer Hans Lewitus, in addition to works of the Spanish Renaissance and music from South America. The Guy Ben Hinom Choir will join JBO players in “Collection”, a program of original music led by JBO 1st ‘cellist Orit Messer-Jacobi. This concert will also include instrumental works of the Italian Renaissance. The 2020 Choral Fantasy Festival will sign out with a concert of music of late French Baroque works, in which JBO 1st violinist Noam Schuss will lead her fellow musicians and soprano Daniela Skorka in instrumental- and vocal works of the sophisticated musical repertoire performed at the court of Louis XIV, here represented by François Couperin and Louis-Nicolas Clérambault..


Ticket reservations: 


Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Terra Sancta Organ Festival on line - Sr.Cecilia Pia Manelli and Lucia D'Anna perform works of Italian Baroque composers


“Concerto Italiano”, an event of the Terra Sancta Organ Festival, held in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute, the Fondazione Terra Santa of Milan, the Christian Media Center and filmed at the Church of St. Peter, Jaffa, Israel, was presented on-line on October 8th, 2020. Both performing artists - organist Sr. Cecilia Pia Manelli and ‘cellist Lucia D’Anna - are Italians residing in Jerusalem. The unique feature of the Terra Sancta Organ Festival is that it takes place in churches and shrines of the Holy Land and in other locations where the Franciscan Friars of the Custody of the Holy Land have been active for centuries. With organ music perceived as specifically Christian, the pipe organ being present almost exclusively in churches, the festival is also an opportunity to promote the maintenance of organs and the study of the instrument, necessary for the liturgy.

Dating from 1847, the small organ of St. Peter’s Church was constructed by the Agati Nicomede e Fratelli de Pistoïa workshop (Italy) and has since been completely rebuilt by D. Taboada, head of the organ workshop at the Holy Saviour Franciscan Monastery in Jerusalem. Built of grey-painted wood with gold stripes, the facade of the organ case is open and exposes the Principal stop.

For the all-Italian program, the artists performed a representative selection of Baroque da chiesa sonatas written by major composers - Domenico Gabrielli (one of the earliest known virtuoso ‘cellists), Francesco Geminiani, Benedetto Marcello and Antonio Vivaldi, as well as a virtuosic work by the somewhat lesser-known Giuseppe Jacchini, himself a ‘cellist and a pupil of Gabrielli. Listeners enjoyed ensemble playing that was attentive, finely balanced, unmannered and well contrasted, with both players taking into account the expressive potential and differences of the two instruments. As to the solo pieces, Sr. Cecilia Pia Manelli performed a Capriccio by Tarquinio Merula, Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata K380 (frequently heard played on the harpsichord but sounding lively and playful on the organ), the Bergamasca from Girolamo Frescobaldi’s “Fiori musicali”, with the artist displaying the composer’s emphasis on expression, ornamentation, flexibility of pulse and metre, and a Toccata by Francesco Feroci, in which Manelli engaged a variety of registers to highlight the contrasting character of the work’s different sections. As a composer, Domenico Gabrielli was influential in liberating the violoncello from its role as an undifferentiated bass instrument, allowing its individual characteristics to shape the music written for it as it came to replace the viola da gamba in Italy by the end of the 17th century and in the course of the 18th century. Probably composed for Gabrielli's own use, the 7 Ricercare, composed in Bologna in the 1660s, bear the character of etudes and are technically very demanding. D’Anna’s scrupulous and personal playing of Ricercar No.7 took the listener with her on the work’s musical journey, giving spontaneous expression to its varied agenda, melodic content, florid passages and its double- and triple stopping.

With degrees in Performance (piano, organ) and Composition, Sr. Cecilia Pia Manelli, of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, holds a doctorate in Gregorian Chant. A renowned teacher and choir director, she serves as organist of the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem.  Lucia D’Anna  graduated  from the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana with a Bachelor's degree in Performance and Masters in Music Pedagogy. A former member of the Verdi Symphony Orchestra of Milan, she presently teaches ‘cello at the Magnificat Institute, Jerusalem and plays the viola da gamba. 



Saturday, September 26, 2020

"Wieland Kuijken Live in Rio" - a historic live recording of the Belgian gamba player together with Myrna Herzog (viola da gamba) and Rosana Lanzelotte (harpsichord)

                                                           Photo courtesy Myrna Herzog

Few new recordings we listen to nowadays are of live concerts. Most are studio recordings that have undergone considerable editing. However, with the support of the Belgium-Brazil Cultural Agreement, the ARBI group, the Seminários de Música Pro-Arte and Santa Ursula University, “Wieland Kuijken Live in Rio", a recording made by Eliahu Feldman of a concert performed by three major artists on July 29th 1988 at the Sala Cecília Meirelles, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is now available to listeners, to be heard on several audio-sharing platforms. The concert features Belgian viola da gamba virtuoso Wieland Kuijken – one of the most influential artists of the 20th century Baroque music scene - together with two younger leading figures of the early music movement in Brazil - Myrna Herzog (viola da gamba) and Rosana Lanzelotte (harpsichord). 

The first two works on the recording are taken from Christopher Simpson’s “The Division-Viol” or “The Art of Playing Ex tempore upon a Ground”, an extended instruction book for the bass viol first published in 1659, a manual comprising detailed guidance on how to compose “divisions” (variations) to a ground. “The Division Viol” is also one of the most valuable surviving sources of information on how the viol should be played. Adding extra layers of interest to his book, Simpson, himself a performer, composer, teacher, writer, numerologist, rhetorician, theoretician and advocate, links the practices of composing and playing to 17th century spiritual concepts that centre around the relationships believed to exist between human existence and harmony and melody. Displaying its variety and richness of ideas, Wieland Kuijken, in his characteristic nonchalance and directness, sets before the listener the music’s mix of restraint and panache, together with its spirit of experimentation. 

In Sonata for viola da gamba & harpsichord No.3 in G minor, BWV 1029 (published 1866/67), a work Italianate in nature, J.S.Bach takes us to the world of the concerto, as Kuijken introduces the opening Vivace with subtle inégal expression. He and Lanzelotte present the movement’s rich flow of motifs, exceptional contrapuntal wealth and rhythmic variety in playing that is fresh, seamless and so rich in melodic interest as to make the listener's choice of which line to focus on quite arbitrary. The artists take time to linger over the eloquent B-flat major Adagio, the viol and right-hand harpsichord parts mostly independent in their agendas, as they weave a movement of great beauty. In the final Allegro, its zestful fugue-like opening theme, shared equally by all three voices and countered by a tender, singing second subject, the listener is drawn into performance that heightens both the expressive range of the viol and the vitality of the harpsichord via Bach’s uniquely elevated musical language, in a performance unmarred by excessive tempi.

Hired as a musician to the royal court of Versailles in 1676, Marin Marais was a master of the viol and one of the leading French composers of music for the instrument. In fact, he was referred to by Hubert Le Blanc in 1740 as the musician who had “founded and firmly established the empire of the viol”.  Marin Marais’ five books of Pièces de viole (1686–1725) are mostly suites with basso continuo. Myrna Herzog joins Kuijken to play five movements of Marin Marais’ Suite in D minor from the Pièces à deux violes, Book 1 (1686). Opening with dark-hued ceremonious richness, the artists draw subtle attention to key notes of the Prélude, then breaking into dancelike joy. Following the Allemande, light of foot, reticent at times and always retaining a serious countenance, the Courante’s somewhat capricious dotted utterances and frequent punctuating rests invite spontaneity, as the courtly hemiola phrase endings humour the listener. In playing displaying the composer's own detailed, written-out  ornamentation, melding the stately with the melancholy, the artists play into the tautness of the numerous seventh chords of the Sarabande, its harmonic tensions and ornamenting making for an emotional listening experience. As to the Gigue, its melodies tripping vigorously above a solid bass, this was taken at a moderate pace, enabling the listener to relate to its profusion of detail. An interesting aspect of the work is the endless alternating of the viol parts between solo and accompaniment.

Indeed, Marin Marais, together with his contemporary Antoine Forqueray, one of the foremost players of the viola da gamba of his time, created a musical language which brought the viola da gamba to the peak of its powers, exploring every means of achieving effects and affects never heard before. Whilst Marin Marais focused largely on the lyrical, Forqueray's music was technically the most challenging to date, splendid in its level of virtuosity which, up to that time, had been the province of the violin. On the recording, Kuijken, as the main soloist, with Herzog and Lnzelotte providing the basso continuo, supporting and enhancing Kuijken's interpretation, perform the Chaconne la Morangis or La Plissay from Suite III in D from Book I of Forqueray’s “Pièces de viole”. The work’s title is possibly a reference to a town to the south of Paris. The performance  presents the myriad of ideas surging from Forqueray’s pen - variations wrought of light- and heavier textures, of noble-, coy- and introspective utterances, whimsical and plangent, to be contrasted with moments of intensity in technically complex and intricate variations. All based on one small ostinato phrase, the variations, displaying some charming dialogue here and there, are graceful and noble, in keeping with the sophisticated musical language for dance and entertainment as provided by the “musicien ordinaire”  of the court of Louis XIV.

François Couperin’s “Pièces de viole avec la basse chifrée” (Pieces for viol with figured bass) were published in 1728.  The two suites of this collection give the melodic role to the viola da gamba, with another bass viol or harpsichord realizing the figured bass. At the historic Rio de Janeiro concert, all three artists join to perform the Sarabande grave from Couperin’s Suite No.1 in E minor, the second bass viol collaborating with the harpsichord to form a solid figured bass line, here, offering just a touch of conversation between the bowed instruments and some generous harpsichord spreads. Emerging with aristocratic, stately eloquence and propitious ornamenting, as each phrase presented its specific meaning and direction, the result was a performance of profound expressivity and poetic musicianship, illuminating the true viola da gamba sound world - delicate, wispy in resonance, somewhat nasal and often melancholy - that which delighted royalty and nobility throughout the 17th- and on into the 18th century. 

Wieland Kuijken (b.1938) is widely regarded as one of the most influential pioneers of the 20th-century revival of the viola da gamba and early ‘cello. From 1959 to 1972 he performed with the Alarius Ensemble, a group devoted to performance of French Baroque music. Soon thereafter, the name "Kuijken" became synonymous with stylistically accurate performance of Baroque music, also owing to the concerts Wieland played with his brothers Sigiswald (violin) and Barthold (flute) - the Kuijken Early Music Group. Specializing in the bass viol, Wieland Kuijken has performed and recorded much repertoire as both continuo player and soloist. His recordings of Bach, Marin Marais and Forqueray have won him critical acclaim, with his repertoire including music by composers as late as Mozart and Boccherini. Wieland Kuijken has taught at the conservatories of Antwerp, Brussels, and The Hague, and has been a featured performer at early music festivals. Artists with whom he has performed include Alfred Deller, Frans Brüggen, Jordi Savall, and Gustav Leonhardt.

Considered one of Brazil’s finest harpsichordists, Rosana Lanzelotte is a graduate of the Royal Conservatory of The Hague (Holland). She has played in major concert venues throughout Brazil, as well as in Europe, including recitals at the Wigmore Hall (London), Salle Gaveau (Paris) and Carnegie Hall (NY). She has released six solo CDs. “Nazareth and The Brazilian Harpsichord”, devoted to Brazilian music of the 20th century, has received high acclaim. She has recorded the first harpsichord version of Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words” and Sonatas of Portuguese composer Pedro Antonio Avondano. Rosana Lanzelotte’s extensive research on Sigismund Neukomm, leading to a disc recorded with Ricardo Kanji, was nominated for the 2009 Latin Grammy and awarded the Bravo Prize. Her biographical essay “Sigismund Neukomm: my trip to Brazil”, throws light on the period the composer spent in Brazil. In 2006, Lanzelotte was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian-Israeli viola da gamba performer, conductor and researcher Myrna Herzog studied the ‘cello with Iberê Gomes Grosso, viola da gamba with Judith Davidoff and Wieland Kuijken, and was mentored in conducting by Doron Salomon.  Her articles appear in reputed journals, books and in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. In 1983, she founded the first South American Baroque Orchestra (Academia Antiqua Pro-Arte), which she conducted until emigrating to Israel in 1992, where she continues to be a leading figure on the early music scene, having produced the first generation of Israeli viol players. In 1998 Herzog founded Ensemble PHOENIX, a group performing on early instruments, which she still directs. As viola da gamba soloist, she has performed in 25 countries. Herzog took part in the Israeli premiere of Bach's Passions with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. As a conductor, she has staged operas and oratorios. She has taught workshops in Brazil and at the Royal Academy of Music, London.

Referring to "Wieland Kuijken Live in Rio", Dr. Myrna Herzog explains that it was an impromptu recording, “just a souvenir” and that “we never dreamt of having this issued”.  As a result, there exist some imbalances which jazz pianist and mastering expert David Feldman has managed to minimize. He has done an outstanding job in restoring the sound, making this fascinating recording available to listeners worldwide.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Israel Festival 2020 - "Salzburg in Ein Kerem", Mozart works for two and three pianos


 Dror and Shir Semmel. Photo: Dan Porges

The “Salzburg in Ein Kerem” series, taking place in September 2020 at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Jerusalem, was a part of the 2020 Israel Festival. The Ein Kerem concerts were held in memory of pianist, composer, teacher, and lecturer Prof. Alexander Tamir who, together with pianist Bracha Eden, founded the Eden-Tamir Music Center in 1968, the venue remaining a beehive of musical activity in the picturesque Ein Kerem neighborhood. The Israel Festival and the Eden-Tamir Center were honoured to celebrate Tamir’s spirit and legacy with “Salzburg in Ein Kerem” - four concerts featuring compositions by W.A.Mozart and his contemporaries, performed by Ensemble Millennium, Assaf Sommer, the Toscanini Quartet with Jonathan Hadas, Eyal Kless, Ron Regev, Ron Trachtman and the Jerusalem Piano Duo (Shir Semmel, Dror Semmel). The importance of the works performed at these concerts is that they formed a pivotal part of Alexander Tamir’s life and career. This writer attended the concert on September 12th, a program of Mozart works featuring two- and three pianos with string quartet.


The arrangement we heard of Mozart’s K.365 Concerto in E-flat major for two pianos and string quartet was made by Dror Semmel, who now directs the Eden-Tamir Music Center. Joining him in the performance was pianist Shir Semmel and members of the Millennium Ensemble -  violinists Yevgenia Pikorsky and Asaf Maoz, Dima Ratush-viola and Felix Nemirovsky-’cello. Although the music that Mozart wrote for more than one pianist was usually designed to be played by him and some wealthy patron or outstanding pupil, it was probably inevitable that he would compose a double concerto  expressly to be performed together with his sister Nannerl (Maria Anna). So it was that the  E-flat major concerto, written in the late 1770s, was intended for the Mozart sibling duo, now grown up and no longer going on the road. The piano parts  are equally assigned, resulting in the fact that there is, in effect, no first- and  second solo role, demonstrating that Nannerl must have been every bit as virtuosic a pianist as her brother. The work was also performed by a sibling duo at the Ein Kerem concert, Shir and Dror Semmel, who shared the dialogue between them in countless different ways, engaging in its fleeting scales, exuberant Alberti bass lines and sparkling trills. There was clear concensus between the pianists, subtlety of expression and crystal-clear fingerwork, their use of the sustaining pedal discreet. Moving into new keys, they took the opportunity to create new colour. Their reading of the slow movement was noble and stately, personal and communicative, with Mozart’s enigmatic  use of “wrong” (dissonant) notes  in exposed piano passages never failing to take the listener by surprise!


In 1773, the Lodrons and the Mozarts became neighbors when the Mozarts moved into the famous Dancing-Master’s House, Salzburg, resulting in many happy shared musical events. Mozart’s Concerto in F major for three pianos K.242, “Lodron” is almost the signature work for the Eden-Tamir Center and not just due to the fact that the hall boasts three fine pianos. In 1776, Mozart dedicated his seventh piano concerto to “Her Excellency, Her Ladyship, the Countess Lodron … and her daughters, their Ladyships the Countesses Aloysia and Giuseppa.” Each of the three piano roles differs in its technical demands to suit the varying abilities of each of the players, with the first part moderately difficult, attesting to the Countess’s maternal exemplarity - an indication of the perfect woman in late 18th-century ideology. The second part affirms Aloysia’s skill, with the third part being simpler to be played by Giuseppa, the youngest daughter. (In 1780, Mozart himself  played this concerto  in Salzburg, but rearranged  for two pianos. It is thought that the original second performer of this version was Mozart’s sister.)  Mozart’s score calls for two oboes, two horns, strings; we heard J. Kowalewski’s setting of it for three pianos and strings at the  Ein Kerem concert. For the solo roles, Shir and Dror Semmel were joined by Ron Trachtman. The three pianists communicated the work’s sense of well-being via  phrases emerging in streamlined seamlessness, this being no coincidence. The 20-year-old Mozart’s sense of jocularity is present in the fact that the musical line is often divided between the three players quite arbitrarily: one piano continues what another has started and the third will conclude. The listener may be unaware of  this practice, however, with only the pianists themselves knowing what Mozart is up to! The work’s lighthearted nature has garnered it some derogatory commentary, with Alfred Einstein even suggesting we should “not concern ourselves further with the purely galant Concerto for Three Pianos”. Per contra, the Semmels, Trachtman and the Millennium players created a performance that was totally charming, delicate, pleasantly poetic and entertaining, giving expression to the core of close teamwork at hand and to the composer’s intentions of making his three lady students shine in the presence of their guests.


The concert concluded with Michael Zartsekel’s setting for three pianos of the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No.40 in G minor. One of the composer’s three last symphonies, it was written in the summer of 1788. Mozart, burdened by financial worries, his wife’s illness and the lack of success of “Don Giovanni” at the Vienna Opera, was, on the other hand, free of the constraints of writing under commission. He  was able to be freely innovative, producing a work of unique originality and intensity. Despite the lack of orchestral timbres, the artists performing at the Eden-Tamir Center enlisted diverse pianistic timbres and techniques to colour the scene. This worked well. The pianists engaged in articulate layering, performing with freshness and energy and avoiding banal sentimentality, then to take the listener into more mysterious regions of the soul in the movement’s development section. Interestingly, Einstein had referred to Symphony No.40 as a “fatalistic piece of chamber music.” 


The concert was an uplifting experience for both the audience at the Eden-Tamir Music Center and for those people viewing the concert on live streaming. It seems the “Mozart effect” has been dismissed but there is no ignoring the joy generated by Mozart’s music, with its sparkle of good cheer, exquisite melodic shaping and its ideal combination of lyricism and Classical restraint. 


Sunday, September 6, 2020

"Baroque Avant-Garde" - members of the Carmel Quartet and friends in live streaming from the Jerusalem Music Centre

“Baroque Avant-Garde” performed by members of the Carmel Quartet? A somewhat puzzling state of affairs for those of us who attend the Carmel Quartet’s concerts...programs of Classical and Romantic works, with occasional forays into works of the early 20th century. For the line-up of this program, however, the ensemble included major Israeli Baroque players making use of gut strings and Baroque bows. Joining violinists Rachel Ringelstein, Tali Goldberg and ‘cellist Tami Waterman for the live-streaming concert on September 2nd 2020 were guest artists Ophira Zakai (theorbo) and harpsichordist/conductor Yizhar Karshon. (Carmel Quartet director and violist Dr. Yoel Greenberg did not take part in this concert.) Offering explanations in English and introducing each work, Yizhar Karshon was assisted by members of the quartet.

To set the scene for the evening’s program, Karshon mentioned new steps of the progress in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, medicine, philosophy and logic taking place in Europe in the Age of Enlightenment and how these developments affected the arts. Baroque composers were now placing more emphasis on texts, experimenting with expressive means and addressing the drama playing out between characters. Karshon advised those attending the concert to forget about listening analytically and just to follow how one emotion of the music leads to another.

Offering four works of Italian composers, the program opened with Marco Uccellini’s Aria quinta sopra la Bergamasca for 2 violins and continuo from the early Baroque Italian composer’s 1642 “Sonate, arie et correnti” Op.3. In this lively rustic dance, set over a simple repeating bass pattern, there is much virtuosic display in the violin parts as was fashionable in the 17th century. This music should be heard more frequently and not only because the prolific Uccellini was the first to publish music specifically for the violin. Another ostinato-based work, issued in by the gentle sounds of the theorbo (Ophira Zakai) was Tarquinio Merula’s multi-layered Ciaconna, with Ringelstein and Goldberg totally like-minded in their concept of the violin roles. Antonio Vivaldi’s 12th and last Op.1 trio sonata is actuality, a set of variations on the “La folia,” theme, a well-used melody and repeating harmonic progression dating back to roughly the late 15th century, ‘folly’ or ‘madness’ in Italian referring to the frenzied way peasants twirled to the music. Similar to Corelli’s variations on the theme, especially in the choice of virtuosic figurations, Vivaldi takes advantage of the extra violin to engage in exciting imitative play. Opening with a Sarabande-type rhythm, twenty variations follow, to sign out with a small coda, the work offering a kaleidoscope of contrasting moods and textures, imitation and florid figures. As of Variation XVII, the music gradually builds in momentum to culminate in the unrelenting energy of the final two variations. Ringelstein, Goldberg and Waterman took on Vivaldi’s virtuosic demands with pizzazz, also to implore and appeal with the plangent utterances of Italian opera arias in moments of cantabile expressiveness. Dario Castello, the leader of a company of wind players categorized his music, with its new and uncompromising style, as ‘In Stil Moderno’ (modern style). In performance that was vital, spontaneous and playful, the instrumentalists here gave life and expression to the music’s typically Italian Baroque alternations of tempo- and mood contrasts, as it swung from exciting, dramatic tutti to pensive moments and back again. In addition to brilliant violin playing, we heard fine soloing on the part of ‘cellist Tami Waterman. Avant-garde? Yes, definitely! Indeed, Castello’s art is imbued with the ideals of breaking rules and pushing boundaries.

When talking of daring and emotion in music, the works of C.P.E.Bach (Johann Sebastian’s fifth and second surviving son), with their volatility of tone and temper, come across today as avant-garde as they must have sounded to listeners in the composer’s time. Known for his trailblazing contribution to the style of "Empfindsamkeit" (sensitivity), as influenced by the Age of Enlightenment, this style was marked by eccentric, suddenly contrasting moods and arching, lyrical lines of melody. To achieve this, Emanuel Bach revolutionized principles of form, harmony and rhythm. The Trio Sonata in G minor “Sanguineus und Melancholicus” (1759) is a rarity, even in this unconventional composer's output, in that it is a quasi-programmatic work. It presents a dialogue between one sanguine character (1st violin) and another, who is melancholic (2nd violin). In their representation of the two characters, Ringelstein and Goldberg, expounding the traits of each, were convincing and theatrical in their playing out of the meeting of the starkly contrasting personalities, expressed in music brimming with sudden harmonic changes, enigmatic silences, melodic fragmentation and abrupt rhythmic displacements. This is indeed an extraordinary concert piece! Leaving no room for doubt as to his artistic approach, Carl Philipp Emanuel wrote: "I believe that music should touch the heart first and foremost. Real music has a freedom that eliminates anything slavish or machine-like. One has to play from the soul, not like a performing bird."

Concluding a concert of fine music-making and seamless teamwork, the artists performed Johann Sebastian Bach's Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052. A work with an interesting, hybrid genealogy, it contains repurposed material from two of Bach's cantatas and may have originally been written as a violin concerto. With the Carmel ensemble smaller than most that perform this work, the artists struck fine timbral balance, with all lines emerging articulate and expressive and the theorbo (Zakai) adding elegance, subtlety and textures to the ensemble sound. Their playing was commanding and polished, neither dry nor over-sentimental, their reading of the concerto devoid of any exaggeration or one-upmanship as they presented the contrasts of character of each of the minor-hued movements. As to Karshon’s treatment of the harpsichord part, his playing exuded ease and quiet confidence as he engaged  Bach’s virtuosic writing to mirror the work’s meaning, weaving through it a web of exquisite beauty till, in the final movement, he guided the listener through  Bach’s extravagant keyboard cadenza, temporarily addressing a major key before a final, enthralling return to D minor. Adding to the audience’s enjoyment was the very fine camera work that offered many glimpses of Karshon’s fingerwork on the two-manual harpsichord keyboard, his own harpsichord - a magnificent Flemish instrument based on a Ruckers model, built by Dutch instrument builder Titus Crijnen.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Jerusalem Street Orchestra (conductor: Ido Shpitalnik) performs Mozart at the 2020 Jerusalem Rooftop Festival

Photo:Yael Ilan
With very few live concerts taking place over recent months, August 24th 2020 was a festive evening for Jerusalemites. Offering three quite different open-air concert programs, tickets were quick to sell out for the Jerusalem Music Centre’s Rooftop Festival (August 24-26). In fact, the “Mozart on the Roof” program (August 24th) proved so attractive that there ended up being two performances of it on the same evening. Not actually a roof, the concert venue was a large terrace above the Music Centre of Jerusalem’s picturesque Yemin Moshe quarter.  Arriving just before sunset, concert-goers were invited to enjoy a glass of wine as they took their seats in the balmy Jerusalem summer evening breeze. The view over Mt. Zion was spectacular, with the play of light on the Old City’s buildings giving way to a sky awash with shades of pink, mauve and azure, then to become a rich indigo blue with a skimpy moon by the time the music began. General director of the Jerusalem Music Centre, Gadi Abbadi welcomed the audience, followed by a few words from Ruth Diskin (Jerusalem Foundation) and Eyal Ezri (Jerusalem Municipality), representing organizations supporting the project.


The program featured three works of W.A.Mozart, performed by the Jerusalem Street Orchestra under its conductor Ido Shpitalnik and with flautist Rotem Braten as soloist. Founded in 2013, the Jerusalem Street Orchestra, a chamber orchestra comprising gifted young graduates of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, frequently performs in open-air public spaces, presenting concerts combining classical music with orchestral arrangements of popular music. Shpitalnik’s aim is to make music accessible to new audiences, to enrich the public scene with high-quality culture and to provide a stage for Jerusalem’s own young musicians. Growing up in Jerusalem, Ido Shpitalnik played the piano from a young age, going on to serve in the IDF’s outstanding musicians’ unit. He holds an M.A. in orchestral conducting from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. 


Mozart was sixteen when he wrote the Divertimento in D Major K. 136 in Salzburg in the winter of 1772, following two extended sojourns in Italy. Indeed, the fast-slow-fast movement plan of this congenial work reflects the manner of the Italian sinfonia. The composer probably wrote it for one of the musical evenings held in the homes of Salzburg's leading residents, to serve as background music for conversation, dining, or other diversions; at these events, Mozart was known to have played on both keyboard and violin. The young instrumentalists of the Street Orchestra performed the Divertimento with joie-de-vivre and elegance, their playing of the Andante (2nd) movement both appealing and of well-shaped phrasing, the spirited Presto finale punctuated with subtle moments of Mozartian whimsy. The work, delightfully entertaining but hardly trivial, showed the players taking on board the virtuosic demands that Mozart’s string writing poses to orchestral players.


While in Mannheim, Mozart was approached by the physician and amateur musician Ferdinand Dejean with a request to compose a set of works with prominent solo flute parts. Mozart was unhappy at the demands of producing so much material for an amateur player who, although paying the commission (not the full amount, as it turns out) was limited technically and the composer engaged in some borrowing. The K314 Flute Concerto (1778) is actually a reworking of an oboe concerto Mozart had written in 1877, but what emerged in the new version was a concerto whose writing is idiomatic to the flute. In fact, it remains one of the finest examples of galant music, with its virtuosic opening and closing movements embracing a noble and magical slow movement. In playing that was stylistically pleasing, crisp and tastefully contrasted, the Street Orchestra’s focus and well-consolidated orchestral sound were remarkable. With consummate ease, musicality and precision, Israeli flautist Rotem Braten, currently residing in Basel, Switzerland, attentively wove the work’s flute lines in, out and around the orchestral weave, to the enjoyment of all present. But it was in her playing of each of the cadenzas (by J.Donjon, Yossi Arnheim and R. Tillmetz) that the artist had listeners at the edge of their seats as she presented each motif and its development with a fresh sense of discovery and spellbinding suspense. Hearing this work leaves one confused to think that, in a letter to his father on September 14th 1778, Mozart wrote: " You know that I become quite powerless whenever I am obliged to write for an instrument which I cannot bear ". Or might Mozart’s dislike of the flute simply be a piece of 18th century fake news?


The rooftop concert concluded with Mozart’s Symphony No.29 in A major, composed in 1774 when the composer was 18 years of age. Ido Shpitalnik led his players in a reading that displayed Mozart’s strategic balance between grace and energy together with the young composer’s skill in giving rise to much colour and expression using a very small orchestra comprising a few strings and pairs of oboes and horns. From the dignified opening Allegro Moderato movement, through the restrained but regal Andante, with its touches of colour added by the winds, the orchestra's playing of the effervescent, lilting Menuetto “breathed” nicely as it offered some comments of Mozartian humour, its Trio taking on a more serious countenance. As to the Allegro con spirito, bold of character in its flurry of scales and other energetic outbursts, the Jerusalem Street Orchestra members made clear the fact that well-trained young players form a natural connection with Mozart’s music. Ido Shpitalnik’s direction was articulate. Not to be ignored is this ensemble’s excellent intonation and fine wind section. 


Saturday, August 22, 2020

"rembrandt!" - Alon Sariel and Concerto Foscari's new recording of lute- and ensemble music from the Dutch Golden Age

One might, at first, find “rembrandt!” a curious title for a recording of lute and ensemble music, but, in the disc’s liner notes, lutenist/conductor Alon Sariel (Israel/Germany) clarifies his reasons for the very specific collection of pieces performed here by him, and in most cases, with members of Concerto Foscari, of which he is the director. Indeed, the disc is Sariel’s personal homage to Rembrandt van Rijn and the Dutch Golden Age, an era when the lute was the most popular instrument, evident by the fact that lutes (with their associations to harmony, love and the act of serenading) are seen in many paintings of the period. To some of the pieces, Sariel has added more instruments - instruments prevalent in the music-making of the Dutch Golden Age. Sariel mentions the fact that much musical terminology originates from the visual arts. He also draws the listener’s attention to the role of improvisation, a “very important element in the music of the time”. 


To today’s listeners, some of the composers represented on the disc will be unfamiliar names. Nicolaus à Kempis (c.1600-1676), organist of St Gudule, Brussels, for many decades, wrote domestic music and music for church use. Possibly coming from Italy, Kempis’ Symphonia à 2 Op.3, with its characteristic small contrasting sections, lays claim to the fact that he was the first musician to import the Italian viol style and techniques of Frescobaldi, Uccelini, Fontana and Castello to the southern Low Countries. Then there is the Sonata Terza in D minor from “Orpheus Elianus a Carmelo in orbem editus” for 2 violins, basso viola and basso continuo, Op.8 (1698) by German-born priest Benedictus (Buns) à Sancto Josepho (c.1642-1716), indeed, considered among the most important composers in Holland in the second half of the 17th century. Most of his oeuvre consists of liturgical music, with Op.VIII comprising only instrumental music. Regarding Buns’ style, as exemplified here, Sariel talks of “a rich blend of the Italian and French styles” achieving “wonderful harmony between those diverse musical elements.”  Although hardly known outside of The Netherlands, there are scholars who estimate that Carel Hacquart (c.1640-c.1701) was the most important Flemish musician in the latter half of the 17th century and the last of the great Franco-Flemish composers. In 1679, he settled in The Hague, where he tutored many wealthy patricians, also organizing concerts with support of the influential Constantijn Huygens (see below), who referred to Hacquart as no less than a “grand master of music." Of Hacquart’s two surviving collections of instrumental music, Sariel and the five other members of Foscari perform Sonata sestra à tre from the three- and four part works of “Harmonia parnassia” (1686). Harmonically exploratory and abounding in a fast flow of different rhythmic ideas (some possibly drawn from the country dance music the composer would have known from his native Bruges) the artists highlight the score’s individual instrumental roles. They also indulge in a zesty round of improvisations on “Paul’s Steeple” (Playford’s Division Violin) quoted by Hacquart in the piece. Dutch composer Johannes Schenck (1660-c.1720), however, is about as obscure a figure as you could come across. Or is he? Schenck, a virtuoso on the viola da gamba, it turns out, published an impressive array of sacred and secular works and served as performer and composer at the Düsseldorf court of Elector Johann Wilhelm II, the Duke himself a player of the gamba. Arguably the finest of Schenck’s works, “Il Giardino armonico” Opus 3 (1691), twelve sonatas dedicated to the violin, is represented here by Sonata No.3 in G minor. The instrumentalists’ sensitive reading of this sonata da chiesa, enhanced by some lute trimmings, highlights its Italianate style in plangent melodiousness and eloquence, displaying its play of tonality and dissonances, then bowing out with a fugal, dancelike and vividly-contrasted Allegro.


Well represented on this disc is Flemish composer and lutenist Emmanuel Adriaenssen (c.1554-1604). In mid-16th-century Antwerp, lute music had already been central to the city's musical culture for several decades. But it was Adriaenssen who  put the  city's lute players on the  international map, in particular with his “Pratum Musicum” -  a Renaissance compendium of some of the greatest works written in lute tablature and a much-studied source for Italian madrigals, motets, chansons, canzonets, villanellas, galliards, corantos, preludes, fantasias, Neapolitan songs and German and English lute pieces by the most renowned composers of the late 16th century; the pieces appear "freely transcribed" by Adriaenssen. Sariel gives a personal, unmannered reading of a Canson Englesa and Altra Canson, then taking inspiration from a simple, drone-based Volte de France to add some Middle Eastern flair to his improvisation of the middle section, a reference to the orientalism present in many of Rembrandt’s portraits and biblical paintings.  For track 12, Sariel plays an uncluttered Saltarello Englesa on the lute by Adriaenssen, then inviting his fellow players to let their hair down freely in an exhilarating performance of Joachim van den Hove’s “Canarie” from “Delitiae Musicae”. From the latter collection, Sariel is joined by recorder player Elisabeth Champollion for a sympathetic rendition of a Courante. Flemish lutenist, composer, arranger of music, intabulator and teacher van den Hove (c.1567-1620) is thought to have been a pupil of Adriaenssen. The Delitiae Musicae’s decidedly international anthology contains van den Hove’s own compositions, folk melodies and works by other composers arranged or intabulated by van den Hove himself.


In his choice of works, Alon Sariel draws attention to the substantial influence of English composers on the composers and music scene in the Dutch Golden Age. Peter Philips (1560-1628) settled in Antwerp in 1590, in 1597 entering the service of Archduke Albert, regent of the Spanish Netherlands, as organist to the chapel. Philips is represented here by Trio de la Cinquième Mode (Fitzwilliam Virginal Book), performed on bowed instruments, with the players giving poetic expression to the composer’s smooth, non-contrapuntal instrumental style of writing. Also, in Antwerp, an English colleague of Philips, John Bull (562/3-1628), took employment as organist at Antwerp Cathedral in 1617, remaining there till his death. On the disc, Bull’s Spanish Paven (Fitzwilliam Virginal Book) has been texturally and harmonically “fleshed out” for six players, the theme and variations emerging variously coloured, with the solo focus moving from instrument to instrument. On the disc, Sariel also includes works bearing recognizable musical associations with English repertoire familiar in Europe. From “Le Secret des Muses”, an instruction book for the lute, influential French-born Dutch lutenist, composer and publisher Nicolas Vallet (c.1583-1642) takes inspiration from John Dowland's doleful song "Fortune my foe" for his “Fortune Angloise”, here arranged for two recorders and lute. Antwerp  musician Louys de Moy (1600-?), known for his lute compositions and the “Le petit Boucquet Orientale” anthology, makes no secret of basing his “Paduana d’Aurick” on the harmonic scheme of John Dowland’s Lachrimæ pavan (Flow My Tears), its reading here given a “fragrant” and transparent rendition on violin, viol and lute. Composer/poet Adriaen Valerius (c.1570-1625) presents Dowland’s Lachrimæ pavan in its entirety; we hear it performed in unmannered eloquence with a touch of ornamentation, but minus Valerius’ own outspoken political lyrics. Jacob van Eyck’s “Lachrymae”, its theme also taken  from the same Dowland Lachrimæ, is performed in all its intricate journey by Claudius Kamp on recorder, his playing evoking the  Dutch carillonist and recorder player’s spontaneity and  invention as notated in “Der Fluyten Lusthof”  (The Flute's Pleasure Garden) - van Eyck’s 144 sets of variations on melodies popular in Renaissance Holland. Indeed, the van Eyck pieces on the disc will certainly appeal to the recorder players among us.


In his liner notes, Sariel makes mention of Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687), the dedicatee of van Eyck’s above-mentioned anthology. A composer, poet and diplomat, Huygens was renowned as a lutenist performing in various European courts and salons. Drawing together the threads of the CD, Sariel points out that Huygens, a true Renaissance man, also served as Rembrandt’s business agent. Track 21 offers the first recording of Huygens’ only surviving instrumental piece, an Allemande written for the viol, with Fredrik Hildebrand’s rich, well delineated and engrossing playing of it surely one of the highlights of this disc. 


In a rich variety of music from the Dutch Golden Age, Alon Sariel and Concerto Foscari members Elisabeth Champollion (recorder), Fredrik Hildebrand (viol), Claudius Kamp (recorder/dulcian), Pawel Miczka (violin/viola) and Leopold Nicolaus (violin) present the listener with a fascinating collection of works, many of them rarely heard, and belonging to a category not considered standard lute repertoire. Their playing is fresh, stylish and informed. The disc’s liner notes make for interesting reading. “rembrandt!”, recorded in France in 2019 for the querstand label, offers performance and repertoire to attract the curious and discerning listener.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

"The Baroque Violin & Viola" - a new and comprehensive book on Baroque performance practice by violinist, teacher and conductor Walter Reiter

Walter S. Reiter (Timothy Kraemer)

On July 27th 2020, I met with violinist Walter Reiter at his London home to discuss his upcoming publication - “The Baroque Violin & Viola, a Fifty-Lesson Course”, published by Oxford University Press in 2020 (available August in the USA and September, UK). In two volumes, the 700-page publication, written in a style that is informal, accessible and authoritative, consists of five modules - on ornamentation, four “Interludes” of historical and cultural interest as well as lessons focusing on topics as diverse as temperament, shifting, vibrato and dance. Of the book, John Eliot Gardiner wrote: “It shows Walter Reiter to be an expert guide in defining a rich cultural context for music-making - and not just violin-playing - and with the potential to shatter dull preconceptions. His practical experience, learning and articulacy combine to enrich and extend our purview of instrumental music extending over five centuries.” British violinist, conductor and Baroque specialist. Rachel Podger has referred to the book as “a journey of discovery covering all technical aspects of playing the Baroque violin, from sound-production to the history of national styles via affect, articulation, rhetoric, intonation and temperament, ornamentation and improvisation.” 


PH: Walter, what kind of a treatise is it and to whom is it aimed?


WR: Basically, it is like a do-it-yourself Baroque violin manual. I’m sure people will find it useful, because a lot of people don’t actually want to go to a conservatory and also because today many modern instrumentalists are much more open to how we play Baroque music than in past years. For example, you just have to listen to the Berlin Philharmonic when it plays Mozart: it does not sound like Karajan is directing it anymore! The dead weight has come off it. Today, stylistic interpretations have become more important. I also believe that people get really fed up with the repertoire that they play, because when I was teaching children, all the concerto repertoire was Romantic (Rieding, Küchler, etc.) - which is very beautiful - and then on to works of Seitz and eventually onto Bruch and Mendelssohn. After that, they do a bit of Classical, “because you should” and also Bach “because you should”. But then they don’t actually know how to situate Bach in his time. This is really important, especially when you are talking about the court dances of the Partitas and Suites. So, all about the world- and performance of Baroque music, it is a detailed résumé of all my thoughts over many years of teaching. There do exist musicological books on Baroque music. Some of them are so “clever” that you can’t understand a word but, of course, there are books that are readable and there are books about the Baroque violin written in encyclopaedic form, which are very useful. But there isn’t any book of this kind. It’s such a shame that people don’t do more of this kind of thing. When teachers stop teaching after many years (I haven’t yet stopped teaching, by any means), all their experience becomes hidden. I had some wonderful teachers in Israel who, unfortunately, never wrote anything. Neither did they give interviews. Knowingly or unconsciously or not, their students pass it on in one form or another. 


PH: How did the project start?


WR: I have been teaching for many years. In fact, my first teaching job was when I was 15 or 16 years old when still at school. I taught in Germany while I was studying there, but it was in Jerusalem that I really got into teaching in a big way, teaching modern violin at the Conservatory and the Jerusalem Academy of Music for some 30 hours a week, also playing part-time in the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. I had some very talented students, a lot who have gone on to be professionals. I was lucky with the talent I had even in my first year of teaching there. With my great love for teaching, I have always tried to find ways of doing it better. Having taught the Baroque violin for some years, I nowadays teach at Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London and also at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, Holland. It occurred to me that what I was doing was quite inefficient: you get someone coming to class and you show them this and this and this, and then it’s time for them to go. Then somebody else comes into the room and you tell them almost the same thing. So, I needed to reorganize this method. I discovered that a 1st-year undergraduate student might get through ten pieces - sonatas, let’s say - in the first year, together with all the other things involved in adapting to the Baroque instrument - temperament and intonation, rhetoric, posture, holding the violin, all the very basic things. By the time the student has actually played one piece, he is well into the first term...which I thought was unreasonable. I had this idea when I was teaching in London, where fees are very high, that I would write down information about ten basic, seminal works, the idea being that the student could prepare the music on his own and then, when he came to the classroom, he would have the one-to-one tuition that was necessary and I would not have to repeat such things as the harmonic processes, the spadework you have to do, all the detail in the work being studied, with each student. So that is when I started writing out indications on how to play these pieces. This really worked for those students who took it seriously and has proved to be a much more efficient way of teaching


PH: How did the strategy develop further?


WR: After two or three years, I thought I could actually turn this information into a book. So, I approached a UK publisher specializing in early music, who liked the idea. But then my wife, soprano Linda Perillo, pointing out that the book was not specifically for Baroque violinists, but for anybody wanting to know about the Baroque violin, to know why we do what we do, suggested I write to Oxford University Press. Not being a scholarly-, but a practical book, I doubted OUP would be interested, but OUP (USA) was very interested and asked me to send them some samples. They then led me on for a couple of years, not knowing fully what would be in the completed book (they didn’t know and I also didn’t know!) and suggested I take time to finish it and submit it, which is what I did. It took me ten years to write the book. It has been a huge adventure; I have written the book in trains, planes, boats, in cafés and hotel rooms, and, frequently, in the quiet of libraries anywhere I was on tour, most of my touring being with The English Concert. 


PH: How does one manage such an undertaking?


WR: It is extremely difficult. When you start, you know something. You know what somebody says in some quote, where they said it, but it all needs to be looked up. For me, it was an incredible learning process, going over all the work I have been doing over the last thirty years but in a more conscious way. There are some 20 pieces in the book that I really examine bar by bar, showing what there is to know in each. Some of the pieces have 20,000 words written about them over three chapters! Wherever possible, I use a lot of sources to justify things, but, of course, sources create a very incomplete picture. So, a lot of what I say is what I have figured out over the years. (I wasn’t allowed to include jokes - the funny things I say to people when teaching.)


PH: Why specifically the Baroque violin?


WR: The more you go into the Baroque violin, the more different playing it is from the modern violin. The world we live in today has really taken on board what we Baroque musicians do in the sense that there are a lot of great soloists - people like Isabelle Faust  and Alina Ibragimova - playing in Baroque style, or orchestras like the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra where you ask yourself whether the players are using period instruments or not...often, we don’t really know, because they are very good at imitating. They might often get someone in to guide them in playing in the Baroque style, and they copy. That’s all well and good, but it’s not what I call “learning how to play the Baroque violin”. What they manage to do can only be done with mid-18th century fairly run-of-the-mill repertoire - Vivaldi, Handel and, to an extent, Bach, as well. But, as to all the other repertoire - 150 years of repertoire, and there is a lot of it - they would struggle with that. In some cases, such as the French repertoire, they would not even know how to read the scores and they don’t know how to improvise. 


PH: So, who are today’s Baroque violinists?


WR: There are two types of Baroque violinists today. One who, as our students do, goes through the whole Baroque style from 1600 to around 1750. The other kind is someone who just takes a Baroque instrument or a modern instrument with gut strings and a Baroque bow and basically plays it the modern way. I’m afraid the latter case covers the majority of violinists in Baroque orchestras in some countries. So, I decided to try to put this right and really go through the whole process in a written form.


PH: How do you begin teaching the Baroque violin?


WR: To start with, learning the Baroque violin means unlearning some of the habits one has accumulated on the modern violin. For example, we spend so many hours practising to get a completely smooth, lyrical sound with the bow. This thing called “detaché” bowing, which doesn’t exist in Baroque terminology, is the complete antithesis of what rhetorical playing is all about. The “speaking” bow has many different kinds of articulation. Much Baroque music is not melodic in nature. Of course, there is melody in it, but most Baroque music is actually much closer to speech and dance than it is to song. One needs to learn how to use the bow in a completely different way. I start (and always have) by imagining you have the menu of an Italian restaurant and you want to order risotto con funghi; I ask you to order (play) it by using the Italian rhythms and inflexions of speech. The difference between an approximation and the real thing is drastic! And I get students to speak such words as “Michelangelo” This is how I get them to free up. Indeed, the speaking Baroque violin is really the “Baroque bow”. Also, the way to actually hold the instrument is so important. A lot of people take the Baroque violin without its chinrest and just “grip” it. The whole thing about the Baroque violin is the freedom you have of both sides of the body, as opposed to just one side, in order to make the gestures you need to make. It’s really quite contradictory, because the number of square centimetres that the chinrest covers is very minimal and the whole idea of not having your body against the instrument is that the body stifles the resonance of the instrument. So those are the first steps with which I introduce students to playing the instrument.


PH: Why don’t you have recordings of all the works on the book’s site?


WR: It was suggested early on that I record all the pieces, but then we would be back to the “easy” way of learning, which is copying how the teacher plays. There are a few videos where I do explain certain techniques, but I wanted to avoid the above-mentioned trap. For me, to copy is not to learn. To learn is to understand.  It was Quantz who said: “A good teacher is one who makes the pupil understand and doesn’t just allow him to copy as if he were training birds”. One of the things I really inherited from Ramy Shevelov, my wonderful teacher in Israel, was getting students to listen to the music in their imaginations and then to copy that. I always say that the only thing worth copying is what one hears in one’s mind and I think that is so true when playing Baroque music, where there are no right and wrong ways of doing things. Of nine out of ten questions that pupils ask me regarding sound and phrasing, for example, I manage to get them to answer themselves: “Listen to it, sing it in your imagination, copy your imagination”. I get a pupil to play something and then ask him to give a score of 1 to 10 to evaluate how near it is to what he had imagined. The point is that if the result is so different from how you heard it, you have not done the work. You have to play the way you hear it and, if you don’t, what am I supposed to do or say? With my encouragement, they should come to those conclusions by themselves. Where teachers say the pupil should do it “this way and not how you were doing it”, the pupil copies but learns nothing. In truth, it takes some discipline on the part of the teacher not to resort to that practice! 


PH: Would you give an outline of the book’s contents?


WR: It goes through different styles, starting off with fairly standard repertoire, just giving understanding as to how music is made, like why it is so important to understand or to feel the harmony, because that affects what and how we play. I always say that learning from a single part is like learning Romeo’s part without having any clue of what Juliet says to him. I cover all the very basic questions that need to be answered and in a style which is accessible. Not written in a scholarly style, the book is very detailed but easy to read: you can read it even if you are not going to do all the work. In fact, a lot of it is completely intelligible, even to non-violinists; it will make sense to anybody playing a top-line instrument. The book is visually attractive too, with quite a few designs. I wanted to make it readable and interesting. It is very comprehensive, but it is not about instrumentalism or about “this is the way you play”, rather, about “this is the way the music is and let’s see how we can make it work using what knowledge we have”. I talk a lot about the vocal roots of instrumental playing, not just about the rhetorical aspect of the words, but actually how the development of vocal music at the time of Caccini, with the beginning of basso continuo and the separation from top- and bottom lines, as opposed to 16th century counterpoint,  leading to opera and instrumental music. I also talk about how the first treatises were written for singers or players of any instruments. That is very important when we are talking about the early Italian sonata, because that’s all there is. There aren’t any particular instrumental treatises from then, so we have to use the vocal treatises. Thus, together with being a very practical book, it will also give cultural background.


The first volume deals with all the basics and goes as far as the first Corelli and Vivaldi sonatas. The second volume deals with works of Biber and Schmelzer, but also with works of the early Italians. Early Italian music is more esoteric, if you like. You can imitate Vivaldi on a modern violin, but you can’t know what to do with the early material without some guidance. Actually, I start with material that is much earlier than the Baroque period, because one of the things we have to teach students is improvisation and ornamentation, which are individual to each style. 


PH: It must be tricky to teach ornamentation and improvisation via a book.


WR: Yes. The early ornamentation comes from much before the Baroque. The question is: how do you ornament and how do you overcome your hang-ups about doing it? There are some violinists and other instrumentalists who can play Sibelius wonderfully, but, if you ask them to make something up, they are completely flummoxed and panicked, which is a shame. There must be something wrong with the way we are taught. Anyway, I introduce ornamentation in a totally a-stylistic way. Then the book goes on to using, for example, Ganassi’s 1535 pre-Baroque treatise on divisions (not related to any specific style); I use it to free people up, as I used it to free myself up in the beginning. Later on, I go via Ortiz to composers such as Bassano.  


PH: How do the Interludes fit into the contents?


WR: There are five Interludes, which aim to give cultural background, which is so important. When you study the modern violin, as I did, the background is not considered very are learning to play the instrument and the instrument is played a certain way according to the fashion of the day, with the style somewhat adapted to each composer; and there’s not that much difference between playing any of them. But the question is: can you really understand how to pay Couperin if you don’t know something about the standards of court behaviour at Versailles? There are so many styles within Baroque repertoire and each one needs some special knowledge about where this music comes from. John Eliot Gardiner has spoken of actually “feeling your way into a work of art”. Many years ago, I led an orchestra in Rome. We were walking across the bridge that links Rome to the Vatican. There are statues on both sides of the bridge and we started musically imitating these statues… it is not such a bad idea to take a statue (or a painting) and “think” your way into it, to experience what that person is feeling and then express it in terms of sound. Then there are such questions as to Bach and the influence of French music, what the E-major Partita has to do with France, indeed, what Bach has to do with France. I explain that Bach didn’t go to France, but that France came to him. 


PH: I see there is a section of Questions and Answers. Can you give some examples?


WR: Yes. 

Q: Is there a correct way to play Baroque music?

A: No. There never was and there never will be, although there are some wrong ways.

Q: Can a book be a substitute for a teacher?

A: No. But it can be a substitute for no teacher.

Q: From reading this book, one could assume that all your pupils play in exactly the same way. Is that true?

A: Absolutely not. Bringing out the special qualities of each pupil is always uppermost in my mind when teaching. Obviously, such discernment is not possible in a book.

Q: But if one hundred people put into practice every detail of one of your lessons, surely, they must all end up playing in an identical way.

A: No. They may play in a similarly informed way, but they will all sound different. That is one of the mysteries of violin-playing.

Q: What would you say if someone read your suggestions and then did exactly the opposite?

A: That too is possible. The teacher’s job is to inform and inspire, not to dictate. 


PH: How does the book apply to violists?


WR: When I started teaching the Baroque viola, the problem was that there was no repertoire for it. There is much orchestral- and chamber music repertoire, but almost no solo music. So I looked around to see what Baroque viola teachers were teaching. They were mostly teaching the Telemann concerto and the Bach Suites for solo ‘cello. Yet, the point is that violists were so important in early Italian music and in the Austro-German music of Schmelzer, Biber and Muffat and, of course, in French music, in which there are often three viola parts and just one top part...even up to Bach, actually. There is no point in learning Baroque viola if you don’t study those styles, and the only way to do that is by studying violin music. So, some of my Baroque viola students actually decided to switch to the Baroque violin in order to learn the repertoire. However, for the benefit of this book, all the violin parts (except for the solo Bach works) are transcribed for the viola. The parts are on the website. (It is impractical to play off such a thick book, so works can be printed off the website. Every bar is numbered, making the material easy to discuss.)


PH: Professor Reiter, thank you for sharing so many ideas behind this remarkable undertaking.




Born in England to Viennese parents, Walter S. Reiter graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in London and continued his studies in Israel with Rami Shevelov, a former Galamian assistant, and in Germany with Sandor Vegh and Michael Gaiser. Having studied towards a Master's Degree in Violin Pedagogy at the Jerusalem Academy of Music (with Felix Andreiewsky, former assistant of Prof. Yankelewitch in Moscow) he completed his studies with Piotr Bondarenko, who had been David Oistrakh’s assistant in Moscow.  Internationally recognised as a leading Baroque violinist, teacher, leader and conductor, Walter Reiter is professor of Baroque Violin at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague and at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance (London).