Gwendolyn Toth

Gwendolyn Toth is the director of the New York City-based early music ensemble, ARTEK, and a soloist on early keyboards (organ, harpsichord, fortepiano). She is married to harpsichordist Dongsok Shin, and they have three children.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fingers of steel

July 25 6:45 am: arrival at the Orte train station, just north of Rome. Our great friend Giuseppe Schinaia made the ultimate sacrifice of getting up at 5:30 am in order to pick us up at the train station and drive us the hour and a half further to Leonessa, where I would be playing a 6 pm concert. (Not without an intermediate stop for a good cup of Italian coffee!). Leonessa was a sleepy little town with two churches; after some scouting, we determined which one was the correct one and found the sacristan who escorted us all up to the organ. The organ had beautiful sounds, restored by the excellent organ builder Andrea Pinchi some years ago. Only problem: the action was HEAVY. I mean, Mack truck-finger workout heavy. Oh boy! I only had the afternoon to practice, which was maybe just as well, since if I’d spent two or three days playing that keyboard, my fingers might be in permanent spasm. (I think I noticed it more because of the fabulously light actions in both Zeerijp and Sion). A short rest mid-afternoon, and I was ready for the concert at 6 pm. Dongsok, too, had his work cut out for him. The stop pulls were equally heavy. In fact, there was some foot-bracing against the wall of the organ in order for him to get enough leverage to PULL the darn things out when needed! The concert nevertheless went well, although at the end of the second to last piece – all fast notes – I had a moment of “I think my fingers just died”. But the last piece has about 6 minutes of slow playing before things heat up, so I made it through! After the concert, Andrea treated all of us and two of his friends to a wonderful dinner in a local restaurant featuring wild boar and other game meats; the antipasto platter was amazing, then somehow I made it through two more huge courses. Am I crazy or have portions in Italy gotten American-sized in the past couple years? I remember very reasonable pasta servings, but have to admit that every time this trip I ordered a pasta dish, it was plenty for both Dongsok and myself. I asked some friends how the Italian women stay so petite (more on this later!) and their answer was -–"they don’t eat”. Well, I guess that works, sort of...

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