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 18, 2010

Happiness is a wonderful meantone organ...

July 16-18

The next morning, we obtained the keys to the organ in Zeerijp and I began practicing for my recital. Although I’d tuned my virginal in short octave tuning to practice in New York City, the octave width was still quite different (a bit wider) on that instrument, so some serious practice was in order. However, the Zeerijp organ is so easy to play, the action so light and responsive, and the organ not so huge that one cannot hear what one is doing, that all went very well. I can only wish that I could play this organ every day of my life, not just on these trips. Dongsok made another few clips for YouTube, and tested all his camera and recording setups (that’s his version of really fun things to do).

The church in Zeerijp has an amazing acoustical liveliness, some noticeable reverb yet with extreme clarity that Willem-Jan tells me is a hallmark of the Benedictine churches built some 800 years ago. They knew what they were doing, for sure. The church feels alive, with golden sun streaming through the windows, and the organ is like the jewel that glitters in its light. I am blessed to be here, happy, and certain that playing this organ is exactly what I am meant to do by whoever is up there in the heavens looking down at me.

On Sunday, I met Dennis Wub, who comes to tune the reeds and check over the organ before my 4 pm recital. I point out the flute low A which is not in tune & not speaking clearly. He tells me that the problem is corrosion in the pipe foot, a problem of acids in the air that attack the metal, and that the organ will need some major repairs within the next few years. Sad news, indeed: money is as tight in Holland as in the US, with the recession equally apparent there. It will be hard to find the funds to help with these repairs.

My concert went well. Playing the organ in Zeerijp is like a conversation with an old friend who I know very well, after 2 CDs and many previous concerts. Dongsok made a video as well as turning pages and pulling stops in the final piece, Sweelinck’s Ricercare, which requires at least 5 stops changes every time I play it. (In Europe, one always has a registrant, or stop-puller/page turner; none of this American silliness about "console technique" to heroically push buttons while you are playing! As a performer, I can concentrate 100% on the music...not on the mechanics of changing the sounds.)

After the concert, we went to the nearest small city, Appingedam, a charming place known for the way the kitchens of houses hang out over the canals, and enjoyed a dinner of Dutch-Indonesian-Chinese food with Willem-Jan and Leny.

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