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.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

In honor of Liddy

ARTEK's founding board director, Elizabeth "Liddy" Guiher, passed away on August 17.

A memorial service for Liddy was held on October 1, 2011 at Immanuel Lutheran Church, where she attended church most Sundays - making the trip up to the organ loft without fail every time, in order to say hello and talk to me about the music we played during the service.

Below is the text of my comments about Liddy at the service, and here also is a a live recording of the piece ARTEK sang at this event, Monteverdi's beautiful Litany for the Blessed Virgin Mary, from a performance several years ago.

Last August, I had just returned from my summer travels when I received the call that Liddy Guiher had passed away in Maryland.

Everyone in the New York early music community knew Liddy. She was one of ARTEK's founding board members, and she had volunteered, attended performances and otherwise supported many other cultural organizations throughout her life.

I got to know Liddy when I was a newly-arrived musician in New York City. She wanted someone to play harpsichord and coach music with her and her recorder player friends. In those early days, I was so poor that a few dollars from each recorder player was a huge help to buy some groceries, so I came regularly, once a week. That was the beginning of a friendship and collaboration that lasted 30 years.

The first year I gave some concerts as a young performer, in 1986, she helped me organize the concerts in every sort of way. At the end, when i thought "Phew! it's over!" she said to me, "But you have to do it again, next year!" And that was how ARTEK began - had it not been for her, I truly don't think I would have ever gone on. But we did go on, and Liddy was at my side helping. Until she became ill with Wegener's disease, she was my practically full-time administrative assistant. When we did the Handelmania workshop in 1995, with 5 days of teaching and rehearsing, out of town fellows, faculty needing help with accommodations, and a four hours of final concert the last day for First Night, she did the lion's share of the work, xeroxing and mailing parts and rehearsal schedules, organizing places to stay, and countless other details. That was just one example. And when ARTEK came up short some years because of a worthy but expensive project, like our Orfeo opera performances and recording, she was there helping us financially too.

Her generosity knew no bounds, whether it was her financial support, her time and energy, or just her enthusiasm for all things early music. Our entire early music community owes her a great debt. ARTEK was just one of the many organizations she helped. Others included Pomerium, Music Before 1800, Parthenia; non-early-music organizations such as the Volunteer Referral Center and the Visiting Nurse service; and others I probably don't even know. But she was always on the go - volunteering somewhere every day, playing her recorder and singing regularly, attending concerts in the evening.

Then, in about 1997, she told me she was just too tired to come to a concert that evening. Liddy? Tired? Not the woman we knew. Her symptoms increased and before long she knew she had a terrible disease called Wegener's granulomatosis. This is an autoimmune diease that causes inflammation of the blood vessels, and affects the lungs, kidneys, and other organs. It is treated with harsh chemotherapy and steroid therapy. Only a few years ago, typical survival was measured in months. Liddy received the newest treatments, and she survived for 15 years with the disease.

Nobody who knows her is surprised that she lived that extraordinary length of time. Liddy was a fighter. She never gave up on anything. And she was stubborn. No disease was going curtail to her life - her recorder music, her volunteer work, her concerts.

Some of my fondest memories of Liddy are the week I spent with her and members of her family at the villa in Umbria she rented each summer for several weeks. Until then, I did not realize certain things about Liddy. That, she didn't eat much. I knew her typical lunch was a half a sandwich eaten on the run, but there I realized that went for every meal. That, she had a peculiar and unique sense of smell. Many ordinary foods smelled "bad" to her, especially cheese. She was constantly going in the refrigerator and saying "I'm throwing this out, it smells bad!" There was a small conspiracy to get up and eat the delightful fresh mozzarella we had bought the previous day for breakfast before Liddy would have a chance to find it and throw it out!

She traveled around Italy with Jim, always letting him do the driving, but with little patience for his style of “taking the back roads to see more". Liddy was energetic and a go-getter, and she wanted to get there, as soon as possible, thank you very much! But she loved Italy, the historic places, her favorite local cafes and restaurants, the town square and church in Lugnano, where she told me "oh they have a little nothing organ, it's nothing much at all" - this about a restored small, very beautiful 17th-century Italian organ. (I wasn't able to change her opinion on that, though I tried!)

No, no one ever changed Liddy's mind on anything. She knew what she liked, and she knew she liked music and early music, and she put her whole self into supporting that. "Anything you need, Gwen" she would say to me. She had some sort of game with her accountant where she would tell me "He says I'm not allowed to give you any more, but I'm giving you this anyways!" I think she truly enjoyed as much the idea that he couldn't tell her what to do, not really.

After her illness, Liddy was never as strong, but she kept up with her activities and concerts, gradually declining over the years. Still, for the past year before she died, she visited here at Immanuel Lutheran Church every Sunday, walking all the way up to the choir loft to say applaud us and say hello at the end of each service, and attending Midtown Concerts here every Wednesday afternoon. I'm so grateful that I had the good fortune to find a position at this church, right down the block from her apartment, and to be able to move Midtown Concerts here, so that she had this pleasure right up until nearly the very end.

The concerts will continue, thanks in large part to the memorial fund the family has created for ARTEK, and I'm sure Liddy’s spirit will be with us, listening as she always did, applauding and saying, "play more!" and smiling at us with her sunny, lovely smile.

Friday, September 30, 2011

ARTEK: Madrigals at Drew University

In September, 2011, ARTEK performed madrigals from book 4 and 5 at Drew University. Here is a video of a set using Guarini's Il Pastor Fido texts, Book 5: Ch'io t'ami; Deh, bella e cara; and Ma tu piu che mai dura. Laura Heimes, soprano; Barbara Hollinshead, mezzo-soprano; Ryland Angel, countertenor; Philip Anderson, tenor; Peter Becker, bass-baritone.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The cembalo brisee arrives at JFK, just ahead of Hurricane Irene

On Thursday August 25, Dongsok and I got the exciting call that Lufthansa had received the shipped folding harpsichord, and would we please come take care of the paperwork? We checked (this took some time to find out the hidden customs phone numbers on the internet, they wouldn't want to make it easy?!) and determined that in fact Customs was open in the evening as was Lufthansa, and set off.

We found the Lufthansa building without too much trouble (once we figured out that Building 23 comes AFTER Building 22, 24 and 25...). There, we were given our paperwork and an extremely confusing set of directions to the Customs building. I think one could drive around all the many air cargp buildings at JFK - it's literally like a small city - and never come out - it's sort of like an alternate universe. Finally arriving at the customs building a half hour later (yes, it took that long), we couldn't get in the front door. Dongsok had cleverly retained the internet numbers for the Customs people, so he called them up and (miracle!) they actually answered. What did they say? "Hi, we saw you walking up to the building so we locked the doors!" (I am NOT kidding.)

After his laugh at our expense, he directed us to the side door, mercifully unlocked, where we entered, went upstairs and the same jolly fellow approved our paperwork without the slightest trouble (well, I guess he was in a good mood after goofing with us!). Made our way back to Lufthansa, not getting lost, amen, where we submitted the papers & proceeded to the loading dock to get the instrument. So - Dongsok and the very nice Lufthansa man are loading it into the back of the van when another Lufthansa employee says solicitously to me, "How old is he?" I looked at her in some confusion. "He' husband..." (pointing at Dongsok). She said, "No, I meant in the box." Staring at her, I realized she thought it was a child's coffin. Ok, it's possible, I guess! At the moment, it was all I could do not to burst out roaring hysterically. I assured her that in fact it was a harpsichord, no body inside, she was totally embarrassed and apologetic and kept saying "I hope I haven't upset you!" No, but sure gave me a laugh!

Back at home, my daughter Linnea demonstrates that in fact the case is a perfect fit. Is this funny, or creepy? I'm not sure!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sad news

Today I received the call that Liddy (Elizabeth) Guiher had passed away in Maryland.

Everyone in the New York early music community knew Liddy. She was one of ARTEK's founding board members, and she had volunteered, attended performances and otherwise supported many other cultural organizations throughout her life.

For the past year, before she died, she visited Immanuel Lutheran Church every Sunday, walking up to the choir loft to say hello, and attending Midtown Concerts at Immanuel every Wednesday afternoon. I'm grateful that I ended up playing at a church right down the block from her apartment, and moving the concerts there, so that she had this pleasure right up until nearly the very end.

The concerts will continue, and I'm sure she's watching over us from somewhere, listening as she always did, applauding and saying, "play more!" and smiling down at us with her sunny, lovely smile.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

An entire summer can't be all about organs and harpsichords

Yes, I admit, I had yet another little getaway a week after arriving home from Europe: I flew out to Sun Valley, Idaho, to visit my friend Nancy Quaife in order to ice skate for a week and GET BACK INTO SHAPE (hah! we're talking w-a-a-a-y too much Italian pasta and Dutch cheese) for the coming skating season. Sun Valley is pretty special - perfect weather: 75 degrees in the day, cool at night, every day beautiful and sunny). The outdoor ice at Sun Valley is amazing - it feels so free to whirl around under the sun yet be on ICE. I was working on ice dancing - a form of ballroom dancing on ice. I've learned, but definitely not mastered, the first 5 dances. Nancy and I made a trip up the ski lift to the top of the mountain, where there were great views. Wonderful and relaxing. (OK, I left out the part about arriving in Boise at midnight (Mountain time) Sunday, then driving 3-1/2 hours to Sun Valley...let's see, did I just stay up a whole night Eastern time?...but hey, my body still didn't have a clue what time is was anyways, after Europe!)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Paris...truly wonderful...

On August 9th we arrived in Paris where we stayed two nights with my friend Anssi Karttunen, a brilliant modern and baroque cellist who will play a concert with ARTEK next January. Paris! I hadn't been to Paris (passing through on the train does NOT count) since I was...23? Long time. I had forgotten what a beautiful city it is. There was a fun "beach festival" along the banks of the Seine; Samantha was tempted to stay there and lounge in the beach chairs all afternoon. However, we went on, and visited Notre Dame, then walked all around the Left Bank, and had a lovely French meal. The next day - note, this is a keyboard-free day! - we went to the Louvre, following Anssi's direction to enter through the "back" door, and bypass most of the long lines at the pyramid. So much art (and SO MANY tourists, far too many with cameras. Almost got pushed down the steps at the Winged Victory).

We only did Flemish and Italian art - that alone was almost too much for one day, and we treated ourselves to a fabulous French gourmet meal in the upscale cafe in the lower level. After the Louvre, we visited Sainte Chapelle (here, we had to stand in line about 60 minutes, including 15 irritating minutes at the actual ticket desk where clueless American tourists couldn't seem to figure out purchasing admission...) and saw the amazing stained glass windows, worth the wait. A great end to a great trip with my wonderful daughter, whose knowledge of art history amazes me, and who made beautiful watercolors and drawings for each host that we stayed with. Here's her watercolor of statuary at Notre Dame.

The next day we took the Eurostar again to London, made our way to Heathrow, and - after a 5 hour delay for our plane - discovered that so many passengers had managed to transfer to another flight that we each had an entire row to sleep in - oh joy! - made it home to JFK and our apartment, where husband, sister, boyfriends, and friends awaited us.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Yes I really DO need yet another harpsichord

On Monday, Samantha and I traveled very early in the morning on the Eurostar to Genoa, arriving about noon, and wewere picked up by our friend Enrico Gatti. Enrico had owned a cembalo brisee - a "folding harpsichord" and I had agreed to purchase it from him. He was moving to a larger home and had plans to buy a full-size harpsichord. Even though my husband Dongsok and I own - I think I lost count a while ago - at least 6? harpsichords, I felt that this one, which is incredibly easy to transport (would be easily moved via minicab taxi, or subway, or regular train) would give me even more flexibilty for my jobs, and in addition, was a true Italian-sounding harpsichord, necessary for so much of our ARTEK repertoire. What is a folding harpsichord you ask? Well, it is in three pieces, though the keyboard connects seamlessly. The smallest piece detaches and, turned around, fits into the middle piece. Then the whole thing folds in half and has a padded carrying case. In fact, it's a 17th-century idea - Below is a picture of an original folding harpsichord from the Brussels museum we visited earlier in the summer.

When I agreed to buy the cembalo, I had visions of taking it with me back to the plane, or - better yet! taking a boat home with it...Alas, no boats sailing from italy to NYC in August. And considering the plane, I'd have to have a fiberglass travel case made for it - something that will be much easier and cheaper to do in the US. So I decided to ship it air cargo through my harpsichord builder friend Mario del Grosso, whose home and workshop are located in Genoa.

Enrico brought the instrument from Piacenza to Genoa, then picked us up at the train. At Mario's house, his wife made a delicious Ligurian-style lunch of gnocchi with pesto and fish. Yum! I also took a look at Mario's current project, a large instrument that might be an original French harpsichord, with beautiful chinoiserie decoration. Interesting...

Back at the train station, we caught a local train to Torino, where we spent the night. I had booked an inexpensive hotel room advertised as "50 meters from the train station". Now - we were traveling with 2 large rolling suitcases, 1 small rolling suitcase that attaches to a larger one (but very heavy despite small), two backpacks, and shoulder bags. Oy! Stuff for 6 weeks! Lots of sheet music, CDs, electronic gizmos (so we can make those videos & pictures), and of course a different charger and wires for each. (How do those add up to SO MUCH weight?) So we set off, asking directions from a stranger how to get to this particular hotel. He said "Driving or walking?" (which should have been a clue, geez, so dumb!) Got the directions, starting walking....and walking...and walking...asked directions 4 times as we went & each time was reassured that we were going the correct way, just a little further...

Finally, we arrived at our hotel. At least one and a half miles walk, I'd say; it took nearly an hour. With all those bags, oh yes. And guess what? It WAS 50 meters fromt he train station. The OTHER one in Torino. In fact, the one we needed in the morning for our Eurostar to Paris. HA! Here is an example of a greater power looking out for us: I did NOT realize that there couldd be two train stations in Torino (the abbreviations on the tickets being quite cryptic). Had we booked close to the main station - where one would assume the Eurostar leaves from - we would have gotten up the next morning, gone to that station and realized - wrong one! and probably too late to get to the right station to catch the Eurostar. Besides all that exercise walking to the hotel is awfully good for walking off gnocchi pounds...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

There is No Rain in Rome

After four weeks of cold/cool weather and nearly unremitting rain (we did have one nice day, the day of our Hungarian concert in Kapolcs) we finally have arrived in Rome on August 1, where it is a) hot and b) definitely not rainy. We have lots of clean clothes in our suitcases for 85 degree weather! Now we finally can wear them.
Rome is like New York: summer is a time when they work on the metro system, so a good deal of the metro system is not working. Buses are the only answer. We stayed in a hotel northwest of the city, the Grand Hotel Fleming (we thought, quite nice until they extorted a 3 euro per person per day fee in cash only at departure - grrrr...). There is a bus from there direct to the Vatican. From there, more buses to other locales. And a lot of walking.
My concert is Sunday, August 7, so we had some time for R & R, sightseeing, whatever. Places we visited: Sistine Chapel (is it heretic to say I liked the Botticelli best?); catacombs (3 hour bus ride each way...a bit excessive, but the catacombs themselves were totally worth the trip); Villa Borghese (why didn't anyone ever explain to me that Bernini statues in person are magnificent?), Museum of Musical instruments (some great instruments in what has to be the worst musical instrument museum I've ever visited - almost complete lack of information on the instruments displayed; haphazard locations; museum docents - two little old ladies - who couldn't tell me anything about the unmarked instruments or in fact anything about any instrument in the museum; they referred me to a catalog which doesn't seem to actually exist other than a small brochure. Nevertheless, with the aid of my daughter who would deliberately distract them, I managed to snap a few surreptitious pictures of some interesting keyboards - below.

On Saturday, I rehearsed for my concert at the church. Typical Italian clergy situation: "You can rehearse any time after 2 pm." Arrive at 4 pm. No! Not possible! Confessions!!! Go away! O-K. Well, I had the keys, so I went away & returned after the church closed, and spent 2 hours on a lovely small instrument in a tiny charming church - Santa Barbara dei Librari - tucked away in a corner not far from the Largo di Torre Argentina piazza (site of four Roman temple ruins and home to at least 30 cats). I had a wonderful tenor, Vincenzo di Betta, to sing the chant for the Merulo mass, who sang several early Italian motets as well. Vincenzo was fitting in rehearsals and the concert with me in between his regular commitments as cantor of another church and singing Verdi at the open-air opera at the Baths of Caraculla. (Having seen Aida at this location in my first trip to Rome in 1972, I felt no need for a reprise!) Now, here in America try to imagine a tenor who sings Verdi opera with the Metropolitan opera, say, also singing motets of Monteverdi! No! Not possible!!!
The concert went very well, and below is a short video of one piece. We had fun afterwards with my friend Giuseppe Schinaia, who made all the excellent concert arrangements (eating, of course, at his favortie restaurant - "I cannot trust that any others are good!" - where have we heard that before?).

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Concert in Serra San Quirico

Italy, after all the other countries, felt like another world. Pasta! and more pasta! And...a fabulous 1676 organ beautifully restored by Andrea Pinchi.

We are staying at a church house (spartan, but clean and comfortable) and eating at the one Serra San Quirico restaurant (this is a SMALL town) compliments of Don Michele, the local pastor. We arrive late on Saturday, and my concert was Sunday at 6 pm, so we spent some time on Sunday taking a stroll to the top of the hill - this is a typical Italian medieval hilltop village - and the rest of the time I prepared for my concert. Attendance was not high, and my daughter Samantha sat in the back thinking she might sell some CDs...but instead she fielded questions about what was going on (it's a concert, "e un concerto di organo") to the many people who wandered in, walked around, then sat for a bit...then left...maybe coming back again a while later...I don't think an organ concert is a frequent happening in this village! (Pity.) Andrea Pinchi and his daughter joined us for the concert. He got to pull on the Voce humana stop for me, which required super-human two-hands strength. No singer, so I adapted the program to just include two small bits of the Merula mass, and instead played some more soloistic pieces by Gabrieli, Cavazzoni, and Luzzaschi.

After the concert, we drove with Andrea and his daughter about 2 hours back to his home near Foligno, where we spent the night. Dinner: OK, the best wine is in Montefalco, so we MUST go there.

Hm, Andrea's favorite Montefalco restaurant is too busy that night, so (after a brief and surprising pause to view scantily-clad Brazilian dancers on the Montefalco town Square!) we head back to the car (passing a half dozen perfectly adequate looking restaurants) to proceed to another favorite restaurant in yet another town. Too bad! Just closing (it's 10:30 pm at this point)...There are 4 other restaurants right nearby, many with people whom Andrea greeted a friends, but we could not eat there. "I cannot be sure that they are good!" Andrea explained. Okay.

Here in Europe people take eating MUCH more seriously than home, where we'd head to the nearest Chipotle at any sign of incipient hunger. So, next we went to yet another town where Andrea's favorite pizzeria was located (now 11 pm). Success! After more or less begging the owner, since she was about to close down, she agreed to serve us. ("Only pizzas!" she said severely.) NO PROBLEM! We had a great meal and returned to Andrea's home, where he showed us pictures of his art (exhibited at Venice Biennale) made from recycled bits of organs left over from restorations.

Here, a short clip from the concert.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hungary - drinking, food, more drinking, and a little music!

On Monday, July 25 Samantha and I set off for Budapest where we were picked up at the train station by the inimitable Gabor Kallay. Like a giant friendly bear, he greeted us effusively and immediately made us feel at home. First stop: Lunch! (That is, mid-day dinner...) First we had to try Palinka. Oh my! This is a SERIOUS fruit liquor, a lot like slivovitz. VERY strong. Then wine! Then...a huge chicken lunch, simply delicious. Then, a 3 hour drive to Kapolcs, somewhat near Lake Balaton, where the festival in whcih I would play with Gabor's early music group would take place.

On the way I found out that Gabor was not only a recorder player, which was the only information I had known about him, but that in fact he was Hungary's leading early music tenor from about 1980 onwards, and gave the first significant performances as Orfeo in Monteverdi's opera of the same name in the early 1990s. Common ground! Likewise he had not known that my ensemble specializes in Monteverdi.

We spent that night in a small B & B about 3 km from Kapolcs, in another small town. Braving the rain, Samantha and I went out into the festival (which was a giant 3-village celebration of art, pottery, music, crafts, folk music, rock music, pop music, theater, dance...something a bit of a cross between a really good street fair and Edinburgh Fringe Festival...) where we sampled more Hungarian food (always lots of meat!) and listened a great Hungarian folk music ensemble play.

The next morning, still drizzling, Samantha visited the horses & dogs at the B & B, I studied music. Around lunch, we went to the town of Kapolcs proper, visiting more of the street fair (I'm still wishing I had bought a set of the ethnic Hungarian 18th-century style long dresses & matching male jackets!), art galleries, lots of fair food (and wine of course), and finally a concert by Capella Savaria. After that, we went to Lake Balaton, where we stayed with Gabor and members of his family at their summer house - with a fantastic view over the Lake. Dinner - shall I just say, it started with vodka, moved on to Tokay, wine, more wine, champagne, LOTS of food, dessert...then we made a night visit to the abbey of Tihany (beautiful) and tested the famous Tihany echo tradition that a shout from a hill about a km away from the abbey bounces right off the building & comes back to you quite audibly. Fun! A little inebriated! (understatement of all time!)

The next morning we visited the Abbey again; unfortunately, I could only see, not play, the 18th century organ, but hope that in a future visit I might be able to arrange a concert. The afternoon was our 5 pm concert, preceded by a rehearsal from approximately 3 to 4:30 with Gabor, his daughter and my friend Agnes Kallay, her sister, and five other players. Hungarians do not over-rehearse! What fun would that be?! Fortunately I knew most of the pieces already. I am sorry to say though that there is no video. No time to set it up, between tuning, changing clothes, finding a working WC in the half hour before the it's just my word that it was a great, fun concert, remarkably well-played. After the concert: back to Budapest and...another giant meal! (I am definitely NOT on a diet during these days).

The following day Samantha and I visited museums (art, history, musical instruments) in the old part of Budapest, finally walking across the bridge over the Danube about 5 pm, where 2 other college-age girls accosted us on the street, squealing: "Don't you go to Vassar!" Put that into the small world category.

I can't say enough how generous, friendly, and warm the Kallay family was to us. It was a very special visit.

Finally, off by train the next day back to Vienna.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Vienna in the rain

On the 21st we had the first of several all-day train trips, traveling from Holland through Germany to Vienna - starting at 7:30 am and arriving about 9:30 pm. A long day. Samantha shows her genetic kinship with her dad: she slept nearly the entire journey, just as he does. Fortunately, I had multiple books on my eReader.

We stayed with my friend Augusta Campagne, a member of the harpsichord faculty at the University of Vienna, who was hard at work on her soon-to-be-finished doctoral dissertation on early music printing. We've visited Augusta so many times now that her home feels like our "home-away-from-home". (She'll be visiting me in NYC next spring.) In Vienna, we visited briefly the instrument collection in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, where I was able to take pictures of several pianos with inlaid stringing decoration somewhat like our own Benedict piano for Dongsok. Plus trips to three art museums: the Belvedere with Klimt, the Kunsthistoriches Museum, and the Leopold Museum. (I am getting a bit museumed-out at this point.)

More rain and cool weather, of course...though not as persistent as in Holland! Poor Dongsok is still sweltering in New York.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Holland in the rain

On July 13th we set off by train (a relatively short 5 hours) to Zeerijp, where once again we would be privileged to stay in a small apartment owned by the Wierenga family through July 21. Weather: COLD, and RAINY. We were able to cook in the apartment, but it meant taking the bikes to Loppersum (3 km away) to buy supplies. Unfortunately, the damp meant that anything that got wet int he rain...never seemed to dry for days...Purchases: thick woolly tights; several pairs of warm knee-socks; a plastic raincoat (yes, now I had bought two!) for on the bicycle. Temperatures: 40 degrees at night; 60 in the daytime. I wore all of my clothes all of the time. Really. In fact I longed for my fingerless gloves for playing the organ!

On July 17, I played a concert in the Jacobikerk. Henk de Vries, a wonderful Dutch organist and choir director, joined me and together we performed Merulo's Organ Missa Domencia with alternatim Gregorian chant sung by Henk. He stood at the front of the church, I played from the loft. It was fantastic! The church has one of the best acoustics I've ever heard for voice and organ. The audience was very appreciative, and told me how nice it was to hear Italian music, which is not so often played in Europe. (However, I think Henk is going to be playing some concerts of this music now, too!) Below is a Youtube link for a clip of the Gabrieli I played as a prelude to the mass.

Mostly, I was happy in Zeerijp to just play the organ there every single day (heaven!) but we also made some organ visits. My friends Willem and Leny accompanied Samantha and me to Noordbroek, to show Samantha the beautiful Arp Schnitger organ where I had spent a week in June making a recording.

Then we traveled on the Germany and visited the organ in Rysum. This organ is one of the oldest in Europe: built in 1457, and last restored in 1960 by Ahrend. A simple one-manual, the organ was wonderful to play. You can hear me playing it on Youtube: an anonymous Lux Beata Trinitas verse.

The church was small, without the generous acoustic of Zeerijp, but still the ancient sounds of the organ swirl around the building in a perfect blend. I'd like to also mention that Leny succesfully conquered her fear of boats to allow us to take the small ferry across the river while in Germany!

We also had a lovely visit with Tineke Zijlstra to the museum/studio/home of Dutch painter Henk Helmantel - the Museum "de Weem". He paints marvelous pictures of Dutch interiors, still lives, and overyday objects (often antiques). The gallery and studio are a building that began is on the site of the original pastor's house/farm dating back as far as 1259. In the early 20th century, this building was torn down. Helmantel, clearly a lover of all things historical, completely rebuilt the medieval buildings in an exact reconstruction of its 16th century form from 1974 to 2004. Beautiful art, a great story - and Henk Helmantel came to my concert on Sunday, what a pleasure to meet him in person too. Here's one of his pictures:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Off to Europe again!...UK & Belgium

Like last summer, I've planned a long trip to various countries in Europe to play concerts, look at instruments, and visit friends. This year, however, instead of being accompanied by my husband, I am traveling with my 21-year-old daughter Samantha. Because Samantha is a visual artist on summer break before her final year at Vassar, a large part of our plans include visiting art museums. (Check out her art blog - the link is on the right side of this blog page.)

We left New York City on July 2, arriving at Heathrow July 3. We spent a day in London, visiting the British Museum (picture above) and having high tea right next to St. Paul's Cathedral. The next day, we boarded the Eurostar and arrived in Antwerp, where we stayed at the home of our friends Ellen Delahanty and Geert van Gele. Ellen is a singer and Geert, both a recorder and harpsichord player. (Geert's sheet music collection included the out-of-print editions of Gabrieli! A trip to an Antwerp xerox store was definitely in order...) We stayed in Antwerp through July 13th. We alternated visitng museums in Antwerp with traveling to other Belgian cities (Bruges, Ghent, Brussels). A wonderful plan. The weather was cool and rainy, so I bought a better rain coat & a sweater for Sam who had anticipated only hot New York weather. In Ghent, I had an appointment to play the organ of St. Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent. Built in 1653, it was renovated in 1935 by Klais, but still retains much of its magnificent sound. Cathedral organist Edward de Geest very kindly spent an hour showing me the organ and the smaller organ in the crypt. I hope very much to return for a concert in Summer 2013.

We saw many wonderful organs throughout Belgium (above is a picture of Notre Dame du Sablon, in Bruseels) as well as simply incredible art. Samantha and I both love early Flemish painters: Van Eyck, Van Weyden, Memling, Bosch,and all the anonymous painters ("Master of the Embroidered Foliage"!) Samantha was like a walking art history book: she always knew who the figures were in each painting, what the symbolism was, all the tiny fascinating details that my eyes would tend to miss otherwise. I have offered her a commission to paint a harpsichord lid in this style after she graduates from Vassar - even though the style will be a bit early for the harpsichord, it will be magnificent, and I'm hoping she uses memebers of our family to model the faces.

Here's our favorite painting from the whole trip:

Samantha made a beautiful watercolor painting of Ellen & Geert's son as a thank you for our extended stay in their home, as well as a fun picture of their cat - check out her art blog at top right to see these.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The beautiful Noordbroek organ

On our day of recording in Noordbroek, we finished up the last 3 small pieces in short order, then spent an hour recording the Youtube video linked here. Dongsok amused himself with 3 different camera angles. I just kept playing! The piece is Bach's beautiful chorale prelude on Herzlich thut mich verlangen. What a wonderful way to end my time with this amazing instrument. In the week I was here, I grew to love the organ tremendously. The Bach piece sums up my feelings perfectly.

Later, a fun dinner with our Noordbroek hosts, Peter Westerbrink and Lenore Lub, who have both been so kind and helpful to us at a fish restaurant in Groningen. The next morning, we were up & in the car early, back to Schiphol where I went home, and Dongsok went to Germany (to see more organs, for a few days, before playing with REBEL.)

Here's the link on Youtube to the Noordbroek video Dongsok made:
Gwendolyn Toth plays Bach on the Schnitger organ in Noordbroek

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Visit to Norden, Germany

Today Dongsok and I, together with our friend Willem van Neck, visited the magnificent and unusual Arp Schnitger organ in the Ludgerikirche of Norden in Germany. The organ is unusual because of its placement - it wraps around the corner of two arms of the crossing. There are five divisions: Werk, Ruck Positif, Brust Positif, Pedal, and Ober Positif. The first four speak in one direction (towards the congregation), but the Ober Positif speaks to a different side (towards the main altar). The tuning is a 1/5 comma meantone, which means in theory G# and Ab can be played from the same keys, but nevertheless they do tend to favor one (G#) over the other. The keyboards are short octave (lacking C#, Eb, F# and G# in the lowest octave), although the Ruck Positif and Pedal do have extra keys in the bass for some off those missing notes.

I tried a variety of pieces. Some Bach pieces were fine: in keys like A major, F major, etc. Not ones with high D (organ only goes to high C). Not anything in far keys - no B minor definitely for sure! Bruhns Praeludium in E, surprisingly, was so frighteningly badly in tune that it was unplayable. Buxtehude E minor Ciaccona, however, was fine. Scheidemann, of course, was all fine. Boehm fine too. Very interesting. I expected Bruhns to be perfect. I did not expect the tuning to be so "mean" for this organ.

Some pictures: Willem and I outside the church, me at the keyboards playing, and a short video of a few Pachelbel variations (but, recorded up in the organ loft - so no real idea possible from this of the beautiful sound of the organ in the actual space.)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In Noordbroek

I am in Noordbroek, Holland where the weather is rainy and cold. I have been here practicing since last Friday. Dongsok joined me yesterday, and today we had our first full day of recording. Bach: Prelude & Fugue in B minor; Bruhns: E minor Praeludium; and several smaller pieces by Boehm and Scheidemann have all been recorded. The organ sounds fantastic, and Dongsok has a great mike setup that really makes the recorded organ sound exactly as it sounds to us in the live church.
Pictures attached (outside of church, the organ, and graveyard just outside the entrance). More pictures soon!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Update on our fortepiano

Dongsok and I own an antique fortepiano, which on our summer travels in 2010 we determined was 99% likely to be a Karl Benedict piano made in Graz, Austria, sometime in the last decades of the 18th century.
The piano had a soundboard from a 1940s restoration, and we made the choice to remove it and replace it with a new soundboard made to match the specifications of 18th century fortepianos. Marco de Lellis of Queens is doing the work.

I am posting pictures of our piano once the bad soundboard was removed and during the installation of the new soundboard.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Highlights from January 2011

It's now May, 2011, and for the first time in many months, I have a moment or two free to add to my blog. Many things to mention! First, a few memories from January. Our Vespers concert was a big success. (I admit, until the first notes were sung, I was nervous if indeed an audience COULD sing along with the Monteverdi Vespers.) But after the concert, about 20 people insisted that we present a Monteverdi Vespers sing-along EVERY YEAR! So it does seem to have been an audience favorite. Next, a little over a week later ARTEK performed on a presenter's showcase at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church (in the chapel). Below is a short video of the first piece. (What you didn't know if you were there: I just come back at 7:30 pm from a skating competition that took place earlier the same day in Massachusetts, and there was great merriment when I showed up in complete skating mufti with hairpiece, major stage makeup, etc. Most of my prep time was spent in the ladies' room, re-doing the look!)

Want to see that skating competition? Here's a link to Youtube: