Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Viola da Gamba for Dummies

It's not as hard as I would have thought to find someone to go hear Bach with me.

I offered up wine and cheese (and not just any cheese, but my favorite, Taleggio, and to an Italian yet) as an incentive and was able to find a willing music-lover to go to the Modlin Center with me to hear the "Three Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord."

Yet again I got sucked into that labyrinth of a campus but we managed to get excellent seats fairly near the front despite a good-sized crowd and our last minute arrival.

With no real idea what a viola da gamba was, I appreciated the soloist taking the time to explain about the six or seven stringed instrument once so popular in Renaissance and Baroque times and now largely unknown.

I'm sure part of that is the gamba (legs) part of the instrument. Holding a stringed instrument the size of a cello between your legs with no stand under it has got to be quite an inner thigh workout.

Likewise for finally learning that the harpsichord is a plucked and not struck instrument. Clearly my musical education ended after elementary school's autoharps and "This Land is Your Land."

Despite being surrounded by the walls and stage of Booker Hall, I found myself transported to an 18th century drawing room and the kind of entertainment that might have been put on for a small group of friends and family.

All three sonatas were beautifully performed by visiting soloist Lisa Terry on viola da gamba and UR's Joanne Kong on harpsichord, with the last one being the most affecting.

Don't get me wrong; I wouldn't recognize Bach unless I had a program.

But reading how rarely these sonatas are performed, it seemed like a stellar opportunity to go hear them.

And isn't it about time I did?

When they were over, Terry invited the audience to come up and see the instruments and ask any questions.

A student, and probably a music student, made his way up on stage to ask if he could play it for a minute and she happily handed it over.

In doing so, she told him that the elaborate wooden scroll at the top of the viola was not original to the instrument.

"It should be a fat lady's face, but I didn't like that," she explained. "So I had an English scroll put on instead."

Women like that don't have any trouble getting a guy to go hear Bach with them.

The rest of us work with what we've got...and augment with Taleggio.

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