RNCM Chamber Music Festival: Our Baroque Debut!

The annual chamber music festival took place at the RNCM from the 9th-11th of January 2015, and this year it featured a few performances on Baroque instruments, which both of us took part in.  Throughout the festival several of Zelenka’s ‘Lamentations’ were performed alongside some contemporary works, and there was also a performance of Biber’s ‘Battalia à 10’, directed by head of Historical Performance Roger Hamilton.  Here is a short clip of the Biber I played in, where the performers are encouraged to stamp their feet, tap their bows, or even attempt to hit each other over the head as one of the viola players demonstrated!

As it was our first try at playing the instruments in public we were slightly apprehensive, but the concerts went really well and were very enjoyable to play in.  The baroque violin in particular took a bit longer to tune on stage, and also seemed to slip a bit in the performance, but perhaps this just made the performance a bit more authentic..!

It was the piece by Zelenka that Amy and I both got to play in together, which was one of the beautiful Lamentations for solo voice and instrumental accompaniment.  We both discovered how much you have to listen to, and also watch, what the singer is doing to be able to play together and imitate the different phrases they sing.  Similarly, the ‘cello and harpsichord players have to be completely in sync with the bass line.

We were very pleased to get this opportunity to perform on our baroque instruments, and we’re really looking forward to the next time – a ‘Louis XIV’ concert at the RNCM on the 1st of March. Watch this space!

Beginner’s Baroque Violin!

My name is Kirsty and I have also recently started to delve into the past and study the baroque violin. After dabbling in playing a lot of baroque repertoire on my modern set up, I decided to take the stylistic aspects of the music a bit more seriously this year, playing on an instrument similar to one that might have been used at that time. Luckily for me, the RNCM provided me with a beautiful Andre Mehler violin and a Baroque-style bow, and also with some lessons from Polly Nobes, who has previously led the Academy of Ancient Music, and Annette Isserlis, a founder member of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Here is a picture of the violin, and another showing the maker’s stamp on the back:

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Needless to say I was excited to get going, however it quickly became apparent that there was a lot for me to learn! While the baroque violin looked fairly similar to my own modern one, there are a few significant differences.  For example, the lack of a chin rest or shoulder rest to secure the violin in place means that your left hand needs to crawl around the instrument, as opposed to playing on a modern instrument where the violin stays put under your chin and your left hand is fairly free to move around. Also, the strings made from gut as opposed to synthetic materials, which produce a very different sound, and also look quite different too:

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These differences made it harder for me to shift to different notes, and even just play them in tune to begin with! Additionally, whilst the shape of the baroque bow inherently made playing in the right style easier, it feels a lot lighter than my modern bow, and therefore requires a very different type of control. Polly has given me a few exercises to work on these different aspects of playing the instrument, and hopefully I’ll be able to update this blog with my progress…

However the instruments themselves aren’t the only thing we will need to learn about during this project, and Amy and I are looking forward to exploring much of the repertoire and tradition surrounding Baroque music, and continuing to share what we learn here!