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 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.