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.

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?).