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What Makes a Baroque Violinist? – by David Wilson

Any Navy SEAL will tell you that having the right gear and the right training are essential, but that another crucial part of the package can be described as “attitude,” a willingness to venture outside of one’s comfort zone and discover a new way of operating. As far as I know, no one has yet begun their violinistic career as a baroque violinist—we are trained as modern violinists, and at some point along the way we discover this other path and begin to pursue it. (I sometimes call this “going over to the Dark Side.”) Doing so requires an open-mindedness, a willingness to try new things and possibly to discard a great deal of habit. Making the switch involves a great deal of time, effort, and even expense on the part of a player.

So, why bother? I asked that question of a number of my Philharmonia colleagues, and here are some of the answers I got:

Lisa Grodin — Baroque instruments are “native speakers” of the musical rhetoric of their time. In original “dialects,” they enable musicians to delve into and to genuinely articulate the elegance, emotional power, and humor in baroque music.

Maria Caswell — I am able to do much more nuanced playing with the baroque bow, and the lower tension on the strings allows me to draw out a singing tone without effort. My baroque instruments, geared for chamber music and small orchestras, are more personable, intimate, individually expressive…and the best thing is you don’t have to constantly shake the note to make it sing!

Katherine Kyme — It is the subtle, sensuous responsiveness that always draws me to the baroque violin. While playing on gut and especially while using a baroque bow, I feel I have a greater range of musical color, a more fleet, capricious ability to show the ever-changing character and mood of the music.

Elizabeth Blumenstock — Every culture has created its own particular sound world; and none of them are the same, all are unique. I suspect that many of us who love Baroque instruments have some desire to visit the people of that lost world, a curiosity and love which is somewhat satisfied in the playing of “their” instruments in a way “they” might have recognized.

“the baroque violin”
or, as it was called in the 18th century
“the modern violin”

we use baroque instruments as means for a shamanistic exploration of the ways of our ancestors
—as the hunter dances in imitation of the game, in order to become the game—
we bring the words of our ancestors to our lips via their writings
we look through their eyes into their paintings and drawings
we put our ancestors’ hands before our eyes via facsimiles
we grasp their tools in our hands via their instruments
and so we attempt to reenter their world
or invite their spirits into ours
and thus reanimate
their voices
in our ears

–Anthony Martin

David’s answer: The first time I ever heard baroque music on period instruments, I literally had chills running down my spine and tears running down my face—I was profoundly moved by the sound of the instruments and the way that sound showed the power of the music. For me it was like having heard poetry read by a voice synthesizer, and then hearing it read by a poet. I knew I wanted to learn how to make music in that way.

And . . . Link to the American Bach Soloists website for great additional information about Baroque instruments and Baroque performance. Well worth reading.


We have a wonderful set of soloists for our Mozart Requiem Concert, March 11,12 and 13.They are all highly respected West Coast performing artists, all of whom perform extensively in the Bay Area and beyond. Nikolas Nackley was the baritone soloist for our November Carmina Burana concert.

We have a wonderful group of Bay Area soloists and instrumentalists joining us for this concert: Nikolas Nackley, baritone, the Ragazzi Boys Chorus, pianists Tim Getz and Duane Soubirous, and percussionists Kent Reed, Henry Reed, Connor Carroll, and Patrick McCaffrey. In addition, this concert will feature several BCG members who also regularly solo, both with us and other groups: Vai Rangarajan (soprano) and Steve Kispersky (tenor) will perform in Carmina while Amy Worden (soprano) and Allie Leeper (contralto) will do the honors in Peter Hallock’s Gloria. Photos and bios follow . . . .


"The sun rose on the gold walls of the city of peace. The air bore the cool freshness of spring."

“The sun rose on the gold walls of the city of peace. The air bore the cool freshness of spring.”

The Sun Rose, by Caroline Hinshaw

Music by Caroline Hinshaw, Text from the Gospel accounts of the events of Holy Week

Regulars in our BCG audience have heard the chorus perform works written by local composers, including Sanford Dole, our Artistic Director, as well as pieces written by members of the BCG chorus. In this concert, we are very pleased to be singing The Sun Rose, composed by Caroline Hinshaw, one of our sopranos. This relatively short, highly dramatic piece captures the essence of the experience and emotion of the period between the Last Supper and Easter. Caroline wrote the following description of the inspiration and development of the work.

The Sun Rose is the outcome of my search to experience the events of the period that the Christian Church observes as the “Triduum”, the time from Maundy Thursday (the Last Supper) to Easter. In Lent in about 2000, having been a church musician for decades, I found myself feeling strangely disconnected and wanted, even viscerally, to participate in the events of the end of Holy Week.


Alberto Ginastera and The Lamentations of Jeremiah

Music by Alberto Ginastera, Text from the Book of Lamentations


The program Sanford Dole has developed for our March concert includes a variety of works. As you might expect, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Sanford, in addition to being BCG’s artistic director, has been Music Director at St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco for over 20 years. For this concert, he has chosen anthems, highlights, that the St. Gregory’s choir has sung at various Holy Week services over the years of his tenure. To quote Sanford:

“It occurred to me that the arc of emotions that are expressed across the week, starting with the exhilarating Hallelujahs expressed on Palm Sunday through the intimacy of a small gathering on Maundy Thursday and the sadness of the arrest and execution of Christ on Good Friday, followed by the awe and jubilation of Easter music would make for a satisfying program.”

Sonnets of Desire, Longing and Whimsy

Music by Stacy Garrop, Poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay  (1892–1950)

Stacy Garrop, Composer

Stacy Garrop, Composer

Sonnets of Desire, Longing and Whimsy is the fourth set of a large song cycle Stacy Garrop is writing using sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay, the sonnets all being explorations of different aspects of love. Set to Garrop’s music, this poetry becomes dramatic and intensely emotional sound paintings. I had no idea what to expect when we started rehearsing for this concert. But I have been amazed at what happens when thoughtful, creative and accomplished composers combine their genius with wonderful poetry. The musical/poetic experience is riveting, especially so with this set of songs.

If you are interested in delving deeper into how a particular composer composes, Justin W. Durham has written a very long PhD dissertation on Garrop – see link below. It is a in-depth analysis of her composition process and the musical form of her work.