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.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

If it’s Tuesday it must be Slovenia.

August 3-5, 2010

Augusta was in charge of driving, thankfully, for our scheduled trip to Slovenia. We left after lunch for the three hour trip, pausing to eat strudel 2/3rds of the way there. (Very important). We arrived at our guesthouse in Ptuj (that’s unfortunately pronounced like something my 12 year old son might say, puh-too-ee) and proceeded to eat, where our Slovenian friend Darja Koter and her husband Andre joined us. Darja is a fascinating woman. She started as a music teacher, but then trained herself to became the curator of the musical instrument museum in Ptuj, and published an important guide to all the instruments. Now she’s writing a study of Slovenian music iconography. With her husband, who works in shipping, she has traveled all over the world. A truly cosmopolitan woman! We met her in June in New York City. Now, in Slovenia she gave us a world class experience – beginning with educating us about Slovenian wines at dinner that night. Good thing we could walk back to our rooms!

On Wednesday, she had made the appointment at the Ptuj Castle, where the instrument collection is located. We were treated like visiting royalty: the alarms were turned off for the instruments, we were allowed to play and touch anything we liked. Dongsok was on a particular mission. He had ordered Darja’s guidebook to the collection way back last fall when he thought our newly-purchased antique piano was possibly by Ferdinand Hofmann. When he received the book, he turned the page and saw another piano that resembled ours even more closely, a Karl Benedict piano. Since that moment, he has been trying to see all the Karl Benedict pianos existing in the world. There is one at the Frederick Collection in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, which he has visited twice, and now this one in Slovenia. There is another one formerly located in Austria somewhere; Darja knew the name of the person who had it ten years ago, but when he contacted the person, the owner of a piano restoration company in Austria, he had passed away and his son has so far been unable to find out to whom the piano was sold. There is a rumor of another in Austria, but Dongsok has no leads on that one yet.

Dongsok spent three hours photographing and measuring the instrument. The cabinetry restorer from the museum assisted him and kept him company; he had worked on the case of the Benedict. Augusta and I spent two hours touring the castle and the other collections there of art, furniture, tapestries, armaments, and local history. (Did you know that in the 17th century you could BUY a castle and an earldom? Just win a few battles for the emperor! Even if you’re just the second son of the third wife of a minor Scottish noble.) We also played the small 16th century processional organ in the collection, after figuring out how to plug in the modernized wind system. The museum people had thought it was “too loud”, but after demonstrating the 4’ flute alone, then adding the three upper stops one by one, they realized that it indeed sounded beautiful, though a larger room would be better for hearing it. We also tried the Hoffman piano, which needs some restoration work, and several early 19th century pianos, all interesting.

Following our museum visit, we were invited to dinner at Darja’s home, with her husband, mother-in-law, and nephew. We had a lively conversation, reverting to Italian or German with Darja’s mother-in-law. Darja introduced us to some fabulous Slovenian dishes: one, a special cured ham; another was the dessert of vanilla ice cream and pumpkin seed oil. Oh my! Totally delicious, even though it sounds a bit strange. And lots (and lots) of Slovenian wine. We did manage to walk back to the hotel, with some difficulty.

Thursday, we visited the Ptuj Domincan Monastery museum with its collection of Roman statuary, then traveled back to Vienna. Augusta’s daughter was leaving for University in Amsterdam on Saturday, and there was much for Augusta to do.

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