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, December 30, 2012

Highlights from ARTEK's holiday concert of Mozart, December 2012

A few videos from a wonderful program, 12/29/2012.
Symphony #40, first movement:

Slow movement, Piano Concerto in C

Sunday, October 21, 2012

ARTEK's theater show in Montclair, NJ (Kasser Theater)

ARTEK presented a newly re-staged version of "I'll Never See the Stars Again", directed by Paul Peers, and the Kasser Theater at Montclair State University on October 20, 2012. This is ARTEK's theater show that was presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2005 - now, with a outstanding singing cast increased to 6, and a stellar instrumental ensemble. Yes, Theseus still walks on chairs...and I am still Ariadne. (Clearly, a non-singing part!) Enjoy these scenes.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

ARTEK at Corpus Christi Church, April 29, 2012

Following our performance at Middlebury College on April 28 (not to mention a lovely reception following the concert), we had a good night's sleep at Middlebury's Swift House Inn (highly recommended). And a fabulous breakfast. Then we piled into the cars and drove back to New York City where we arrived at Corpus Christi Church just in time to set up quickly and prepare for our Madrigals Book 4 concert.

Although a bit road-weary, the magic of Monteverdi lifted our spirits and carried the day, and we had a very well-received performance of the complete book of madrigals. Read the review from Allan Kozinn at the New York Times below. (Click to make the annoying ad - sorry! - go away.)

ARTEK Plays Book 4 of Monteverdi's Madrigals 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

ARTEK visits Middlebury College

ARTEK performed Monteverdi at the Middlebury College Second Annual Bachfest. Yes, that's right - Monteverdi and Bach.

A bit of a strange pairing, you say? Well, not so strange actually. Both composers really had a way with setting texts.

But logistically a challenge. Dan Swenberg brought two instruments; I brought two harpsichords, my lovely new folding harpsichord and the ever-practical small "Mersenne" harpsichord that I own - so we could have the appropriate temperament for each repertoire. The singers, some of them, brought two voices...Sarah Chalfy, a soprano, stepped in for mezzo-soprano Barbara Hollinshead, who was unable to participate because of a serious family illness. New-to-ARTEK tenor Owen McIntosh brought his ever-so-high Bach tenor (at 440 no less!) and his Monteverdi sometimes-quite-low voice. Peter Becker brought his Bach baritone and his Monteverdi bass voice. So goes it...

The first half of the concert was an ARTEK performance of Monteverdi madrigals; the second half, a collaboration with students and local community members in Bach's Easter Oratorio. I had visited Middlebury earlier in the winter to do some pre-coaching of the students, who were remarkably talented and adept at their instruments.

The best part playing side-by-side with my college organ professor (now retired), Emory Fanning, who played chamber organ with us for the Bach. Still a great player!

The Bach Festival in Mead Chapel at Middlebury College.

Emory Fanning, organist par excellence!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A trip to Cincinnati

My husband Dongsok Shin and I attended Antiqua Nova, the 2012 Joint Meeting and Festival of the Midwestern and Southeastern Historical Keyboard Societies, on March 23-25, 2012.

We drove there in our van in order to transport our antique Benedict fortepiano. Travelling with us was my student Christina Kwon, a graduate student at Montclair State University. It's a long way from New York to Cincinnati, and we had fun getting to know Christina better. 

At the conference, I performed a solo organ recital, and together Dongsok and I performed four-hands Mozart on the Benedict piano. Dongsok also gave a wonderful talk, complete with Powerpoint visuals, about his research into the history of the piano, and why he feels the instrument was likely built by Karl Benedict.

We also met old friends, got tips on goose-quilling from Owen Daly, and renewed our acquaintance with Stephen Birkett, who has promised to supply us with sufficient amounts of his historically-produced iron wire to enable us to restring my Flemish harpsichord with his wire (after my daughter paints a beautiful 18th century design on the soundboard, of course!)

Here's a few photos from the event.

First, Owen Daly's Vaudry harpsichord, which we've always loved, and were happy to visit again.

The Juget-Sinclair organ in Roberta Gary's studio at the Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati. This is the organ I performed my recital upon.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Amanda Vail's interview with me on Early Music America

Here's an archived version of the interview with Amanda Vail. The article refers to ARTEK's Januray 1, 2011 performance of the Monteverdi Vespers with audience participation.

Monday, February 20, 2012

More videos from our February 2012 Rosenmuller programs

Ach Herr Strafe of Johann Rosenmuller, 2/10/12, with mezzo-soprano Barbara Hollinshead
In te Domine of Johann Rosenmnuller, 2/11/12 with soprano Laura Heimes
Beatus Vir of Johann Rosenmuller, 2/11/12 with entire ARTEK and Piffaro ensemble.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Rosenmüller - Unknown, yet overwhelmingly wonderful

In February 2012, ARTEK presented a 2-day festival of the music of Johann Rosenmüller.

Here is an excerpt from the performances, and my notes from the program book.
ARTEK - Johann Rosenmüller excerpt

In the spring of 2010, our countertenor Ryland Angel came to me and said, “We need to perform and record these great alto cantatas by Rosenmüller!” Of course, like most baroque musicians, I knew a few of his instrumental pieces for strings, which are played fairly often. And I knew other early German cantatas by contemporaries of Rosenmüller. But ARTEK’s main focus for performing and recording has always been the works of Monteverdi.

After listening to a few recordings of alto cantatas, Rosenmüller’s music had totally fired my interest, and I decided to go forward with the project – enlarging it to include not only alto cantatas but also soprano cantatas for our mezzo-soprano, Barbara Hollinshead. Thanks to Ellis Hilton of Drew University, our next CD of Solo Cantatas by Johann Rosenmüller has been recorded and will probably be released in fall 2012. Hopefully this will be volume 1 of more recordings of this fabulous repertoire!

It was a natural outgrowth of my interest in the solo cantatas to further investigate the music of Rosenmüller, which seemed to speak to me in a personal way much like the music of mid-17th-century organ composer Heinrich Scheidemann also appeals to my heart. That led me to Yale University and Kerala Snyder, who provided me with microfilms of many of the large Vespers settings. The result is the two programs you will hear on this two-day mini-festival.

Johann Rosenmüller, born about 1619, graduated from the University of Leipzig in theology in 1640, and by 1642 was working at St. Thomas Church – the same church where Bach would work from the 1720s on. By 1653 the city council had promised him the position of Kantor when it would become available. By 1654, Rosenmüller had published his collections of small sacred cantatas, Kern-Sprüche and Andere Kern-Sprüche, as well as several instrumental collections. A promising career for a young musician! If his history had gone on in this expected manner, perhaps we would all know TWO celebrated German composers who worked in Leipzig the greater part of their lifetimes.

All was derailed when in 1655 Rosenmüller was accused of homosexual activities, as were several of the schoolboys. He was imprisoned, but managed to escape. Eventually he made his way to Venice. Some authors have speculated that the charges may have been caused by political jealousy – what better way to remove a rival for the position of Kantor? – but others have pointed out that Venice, in the 17th century, was a city where by and large the authorities were very tolerant of many kinds of lifestyles that were anathema to pious Lutheran Germany. The answer will never be known. What is certain, however, is that Rosenmüller had to start all over as a musician, beginning as a trombonist in the employ of St. Mark’s Cathedral, not becoming established as a composer until 1660. Moreover, in modern times, he remains far less known and studied as a composer, likely as a consequence of the stain on his personal reputation.

Rosenmüller stayed in Venice until approximately 1682, when he returned to Wolfenbüttel, Germany for the final two years of his life. Rosenmüller’s large concerted music with winds, strings, and singers date from this period in Venice, as do some of the smaller cantatas not printed in the Kern-Sprüche collections. Most of Rosenmüller’s manuscripts are of German provenance, either from the time when he returned to Germany, or from other musicians who visited or studied with him in Venice and brought back his music. Though his life was greatly affected by the scandal of his young years, Rosenmüller nevertheless does seem to have been greatly admired in Germany by the end of his life.

Friday’s concert of music for smaller forces includes music from the Kern-Sprüche (1648)/Andere Kern-Sprüche (1652-3) collections and Rosenmüller’s published set of instrumental sonatas in 2, 3, 4 and 5 parts (published in Nüremberg in 1682) and cantatas found only in manuscript versions. Rosenmüller’s solo cantatas take the early German solo cantata as developed by Schütz (who was himself greatly influenced by his sojourn in Venice with Gabrieli in the early part of his life) into the mid-17th-century style typical of Italian composers such as Carissimi, with a clearer distinction between recitative and arioso/aria. The program includes cantatas written in both German and Latin; since the Kern-Sprüche collections published before Rosenmüller left for Venice include both German and Latin language cantatas, one cannot conclude, for example, that Latin cantatas are from Venice, and German cantatas from Leipzig or Wolfenbüttel.

Saturday’s concert includes a selection of music that one might conjecture would be heard in festive liturgical services at a large Venetian church – perhaps even St. Mark’s. The large cantatas are incredibly reminiscent of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers and 1640 Selva morale. They also reflect the fl owing triple-time practice of Cavalli, Monteverdi’s direct successor at St. Mark’s. I chose several of the largest cantatas, with 8-part voices and 5-part string and 5-part wind choirs, in the polychoral style first popularized by Gabrieli but also used by Monteverdi with great effect. Then I also chose several 4-voice cantatas for contrast, where the beautiful interplay between strings and voices is entirely engaging. In the place where a Venetian Vespers service would have a small vocal concerto as a substitute for the antiphon, we are performing several of Rosenmüller’s smaller cantatas for one or two voices.

Lastly I chose to include the interesting piece Jube Domne. This is actually an invocation piece for Compline, but not having any Rosenmüller setting of Deus in adjutorium, I felt that something was needed to begin our concert and this piece fit that need admirably. Lastly, of the two large Magnificats we have of Rosenmüller, the one we present in C minor was the most interesting, with its extremely chromatic instrumental ritornello recurring several times.

We had many problems to solve for this performance: first and foremost, obtaining scores (some I transcribed, some were specially transcribed for us by Brian Clark, and some were available in the limited amount of Rosenmüller material in modern editions). Our second problem was pitch. Knowing that German and Venetian pitch was generally very high, about A = 465 Hz, and having our Piffaro friends with their instruments available also only at that pitch, it seemed logical that most pieces would be best at high pitch. However, I have become convinced that the situation in either Germany or Venice or possibly both was much more complex, with performers of the time likely playing in multiple pitches at the same time. Our Friday night soloists and our strings were happiest at A = 415, a whole tone down. Therefore our strings are always playing at A=415, our winds always at A=463. In some cases, however, the singers are singing at A=415, a few at A=390 (which was also known in Venice in certain situations) and also a few at A=463. Our continuo players are likewise sometimes at A=415 and other times at A=463. That is why you will see us switching instruments! All this required a huge amount of part-making and transposition, making adjustments through our week of rehearsals as necessary.

On the instrumentation of the cantatas, there is also some directorial input. Jube Domne uses instruments in a “colla parte” manner, doubling voices as was frequently done. All the other pieces have written out instrumental parts, although we chose to split the parts & voices of Beatus Vir between two choirs to present it as an antiphonal psalm setting in the typical “St. Mark’s” style. Rosenmüller used fagotto or violone interchangeably for his bass line, even as the bass for a 5-part string ensemble, and we likewise do sometimes fagotto (dulcian) and sometimes violone, which means 8’ violone, not 16’. But we do also include 16’ violone and 16’ dulcian doubling the bass for color in the largest pieces (we are fortunate to have the only copy in the world of a 16’ dulcian available to us!) It is also typical in music of this period to use sacbuts and dulcians interchangeably on tenor and bass parts. Therefore, some cantatas have a perfectly plausible wind accompaniment rather than string for the sake of variety.

As appropriate for music being performed to reflect Venetian 17th-century performance, the pronunciation of the Latin is adjusted for Venetian dialect. What we now think of as sung Italianate church Latin is typical of Florentine Italian pronunciation, which gradually became the common Italian language in all of Italy. In the 17th century, however, Venice was its own Republic, with its own language. Venetian is thought to be a Romance language from a branch that is not directly related to Florentine Italian. So the use of Florentine rules in pronouncing church Latin for Venice is quite anachronistic. Although much research needs to be done in this area of performance practice, it is possible to make some conclusions about correct pronunciation, which may sound different to audiences accustomed to solely German, French or (Florentine) Italian.

All of these concerns pale besides the main task of presenting Rosenmüller’s nearly forgotten masterpieces to a North American audience – perhaps, in some cases, the first public hearing since the 17th century. The music astounds us with its graceful melodic flow and exquisite harmonies. Surely we are listening to music by one of the greatest of 17th-century composers.

I would like to especially thank those who have assisted in the preparation of these concerts: Sara Ruhle Kyle and Susan Hellauer, our lecturers; Kerala Snyder and Jeffrey Kurtzman, whose musicological assistance is invaluable; Brian Clark, Kim Patrick Clough, Christine Kwon, and Grant Herreid, who assisted in preparing scores and parts; Francesca Galesi, Nancy Tooney and Erin Hanke, for assistance behind the scenes; Gene Murrow, Paul Ross, and Naomi Morse, who so ably manage our box office stage management; Christine Hoff man, for preparation of the program; Jeffrey Gall, for assistance with Venetian pronunciation; Charles Weaver and Brian Clark, for their program notes; Doug Keilitz and the staff of St. Ignatius of Antioch Church; Christopher Schulze, Pastor Gregory Fryer, and Karen Rombey of Immanuel Lutheran Church; and lastly to my dear husband Dongsok Shin, who labors mightily to provide for every need I might imagine. - Gwendolyn Toth 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Life as a parent

As I write this, I am looking back from a point several months ahead. What, exactly, made fall of 2011 such an incredibly hectic time in my life? Not so many concerts... One glance at my book tells me. My third child, Adrian, is now 14. Time for high school applications.

Finding a high school in New York City: somehow I escaped this with my two daughters, because they attended a K-12 school and simply stayed on from 8th grade into 9th grade. Not so for Adrian. His school, the British International School, ends at 8th grade (Year 9 British style).

Ah...the pleasure of visiting over 40 different schools, public and private. Some public schools were shockingly below the level of my expectations. Some, surprisingly good. However, all seemed quite certain that no excused days of school would be allowed for any reason. My son is a competitive figure skater, and can reasonably expect to miss between 3-6 days in 2012-2013. Unacceptable, I was told.

This news made us look harder at the private school options (all expensive, but some promising financial aid assistance.) Many more tours and applications, later, we finally applied early decision to a brand new school, Avenues - quite near to the skating rink. (That's approximately two more hours available out of each day in subways travel savings, for Adrian.) This all involved any number of fairly traumatic tests, applications, essays, and complete disclosure of every aspect of Adrian's and our life and bank accounts.

We are happy to report that Adrian was accepted and will begin at Avenues in Fall 2012. I'm looking forward to some rest until college applications. Need advice on New York City high schools? Email me!