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.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Trebantiqua festival in Trevi nel Lazio, Italy

On Tuesday, August, 13, Dongsok and I traveled by air to Rome, Italy from Krakow, Poland. I would be playing a concert with ARTEK violinist Cynthia Freivogel at the Trebantiqua Festival in Trevi nel Lazio, Italy. We had to change planes in Frankfurt, so our trip took most of the entire day, including the 2 hour drive to Trevi nel Lzaio from Rome. Our good friends Marco and Giuseppe met us, and after settling into the hotel we made a quick trip uphill to the town proper to show Dongsok the town since he had never been there before, then we all ate dinner and caught up on news with each other. Cynthia arrived the following day, and we rehearsed in the church with the magnificent 17th-century organ. We also attended the concert by Dan Laurin and his wife Anna Paradiso - Dongsok becoming man of the hour as he stepped up and tuned the harpsichord for them before the concert. Perfectly, of course.

We played an interesting program for a 17th century organ in meantone with short octave:
Lucchesi (Mozart-era Italian classical keyboard concerto arranged for one violin and organ by yours truly); a solo violin piece by Vilsmayr, Austrian baroque composer; Reincken's Fugue in G minor for solo organ; Sonata for violin and continuo by Muffat, La Folia for solo organ by Storace (of course this was perfect for the organ) and Corelli's La Folia. The Muffat is a very strange piece! Extremely chromatic with many accidentals, so some judicious "leaving out" of notes was, many notes needing to be taken an octave higher because of the short octave keyboard. Yikes! The Mozart era piece, in contrast, was perfectly easy to perform on this organ.

In the concert, the highlight was definitely Cynthia's performance of the Vilsmayr. She played with musical intensity, perfect intonation, and a beautiful sweet tone. The audience was rapt. Everything else went well too, but that piece was very special. All in all, the concert was a lovely end to our 2013 summer travels abroad.

Trevi nel Lazio:

The Bonifaci organ in Trevi nel Lazio

Our friend Giuseppe Schinaia:

Photos from the performance:

Monday, August 12, 2013

Zamosc and back to Krakow

On Monday, August 12 we traveled from Krasnobrod to Zamosc, where we would pick up a van that would take us back to Krakow - we were assured that the van would be the best and likely only way back - "the trains, you might never get there because you'd need 3 connections". Father Maciej drove us the hour to Zamosc. Although his English was limited, he was eager to converse with us and we shared many interesting facts about our respective countries. Overall in Poland, we were impressed by many clergy in their sincere devotion to their calling as priests. It was one of the things that struck us most during our visit - the near total sway of the Roman Catholic Church, and the strong priesthood. So many dedicated younger priests, something one does not see in the US so often, where priests' funerals far outnumber the ordinations of new priests. On the other hand, the second most memorable thing about Poland was learning that, before the second World War, the local population in the Lubaczow & Krasnobrod areas was less than 50%. Now, 98%. (Russian orthodox churches seem to have been closed since the breakdown of the USSR). The destructive elements of the 20th century, from the emigration and/or extermination of a significant Jewish population (over 40%), to the loss of buildings and dislocation of people, is everywhere still evident. We were reminded of our friend Bill Zukof passing a sign for the town of Zukow - pronounced, Zukof. Surely his people were from the area (I checked, and he confirmed that).

In Zamosc, we were treated to the surprise of a beautiful restored Renaissance town. Zamosc is now a World Heritage site, and much recent renovation has taken place in the historic churches, synagogue (though there are apparently now no Jews), town square, and many other monuments. The color and festive spirit of the town was a distinct contrast to the bleak looking towns full of undistinguished postwar buildings; we had seen previously; in Krasnobrod, after the baroque church and monastery, the only other old building was a house from the 1880s. Zamosc was "designed" in the late 16th century by the Italian architect Bernardo Morando - an early example of a planned city. Father Maciej took us on a walking tour of the Old Town and a visit to the cathedral. Afterwards, we visited the church gift shop to obtain our very own mini Virgin Mary car protection statue, which the shop insisted on giving to us gratis, as a gift to my daughter who is fascinated by religious iconography and symbolism (she loved it).

Our van was a small bus, seating at least 20 people in very tight quarters. The best guess for the length of the journey was something between 4 and 6 hours; in fact it was very close to 6 hours (including a 20 minute rest stop). On the map, it looks like a 3 hour drive; but, there are no highways between Krakow and the eastern part of the country, and the bus made its winding way through every major town. Many many towns. It wasn't too terribly hot, but it was far from comfortable (small, crowded seats) and it seemed INTERMINABLE. We realized how lucky indeed we had been to have the brand new train with AC on the way to Lubaczow! Evening, we checked back into our familiar Krakow hotel, went out for one more great meal, and fell into bed.

Some pictures from Zamosc - the Great Market Square.

Another view of the square, and the colorful buildings.

Gwen and Father Maciej in the square

Detail from one of the buildings

The interior of the Cathedral

The organ in the Cathedral (not the original organ within the case, unfortunately)

Exterior of the Cathedral

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Concert in Krasnobrod, Poland

On Saturday, August 10, we were driven about one and a half hours north to Krasnobrod, where I was to play on the organ in the 17th century church, the Shrine of Our Lady of Krasnobrod. The church and the attached monastery complex (which includes a small zoo, mostly exotic birds, tended by one of the priests) are the only ancient monuments in the area, everything else having been flattened  numerous times by battles between Russians and Germans in both World Wars.

Here, we stayed in a room in the monastery, but discovered that down the road a kilometer in the town proper of Krasnobrod, there was a thriving lake resort and actual restaurants and bars! Having tried Polish beers and finding them not my cup of tea, I realized that in Poland I should be ordering vodka drinks. In Krasnobrod I could order a White Russian drink for the equivalent of about $2.50. Not bad.

The priests in Krasnobrod were equally kind to us (we also ate meals with them, with the exact same basic menu as in Lubaczow). A notable moment was when Dongsok mistook a bottle of unmarked clear liquid for a water bottle. Whoops! That was the vodka. Fortunately he realized, from the surprised looks on the faces of the priests, before he slugged down a water glass of the stuff. We asked about wifi, but made the mistake of asking "is there wifi here" while we were in the dining room. No, they said. We resigned ourselves to being untethered from the devices, and using our Euro cell phone to call our son as needed. Ha! On our second day, a Polish priest Father Jerry, returned for a visit who now works in a parish in Chicago. Eureka! Someone to speak English with! At some point he mentioned that we could look up something on the internet for our return bus travel. To our surprise, there was super fast internet - in our rooms; just not in the dining room!

Like Lubaczow, I again played on a modern organ (again with the peculiar little tabs for stop combos), but the church's excellent acoustics were a great benefit.

The exterior of the church:
The beautiful interior:
The organ:

A few pictures taken during the concert:

Speeches after the concert:

The famous picture of Our Lady of Krasnobrod, which is attributed with a miraculous ability to survive potential destruction by weather, war, etc:

Here I am in a poster, right next to the poster of the Pope!
A teeny video taken when I was practicing & registering the stops (I had very little time to practice because of the mass schedule).

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Concert in Lubaczow, Poland

Stepping off the train, we knew we were far from western Europe. We were 30 km from the border with Ukraine. Our first destination was the town of Lubaczow, where I played in the local cathedral, and we stayed in the parish guest house, taking all our meals with the priests in their dining room. It was a real taste of food Polish style - meat (ham, sausage) at every meal; rye bread and butter; pickles & radishes. Other items that varied, but those were always present. The pastor, Father Andrzej, was a great guy who was determined to converse with us despite our complete lack of Polish and his complete lack of English. At first, he invited other guests to meals who could speak English and be the translator; but then we discovered, thanks to wireless in the dining room, that we could carry on perfectly fine conversations between my nook and his Samsung tablets: we each had our translation program opened, and would type our reply and show the other person our answer on the tablet! Miracles of modern technology.

On Thursday, after practicing for the concert in the morning, Fr. Andrzej was determined that we would have some sort of local tourist experience. Now, we had just spent the past 2 days sightseeing in Krakow, and our feet were tired; plus, it was 95 degrees out (by some miracle, our train to Jaroslaw had AC, which was noted with amazement by every Polish person we mentioned this to. Guess we got really lucky that day and got a new train!). So, since we were out in the country, in a very rural area, I asked if there was perhaps a lake or swimming pool where we could have a bit of cooling-off and relaxation. Much discussion ensued amongst the priests. Then, the tablet was passed to me: "Do you like kayaking?" Yes! So we spent the entire afternoon with a Polish university student who spoke English, and a young priest newly ordained. They took us first to a lovely lake and recreation area for about an hour; then we piled back in the car and went a bit further where we ended up on a kayak river trip - on a very small and quite shallow river - that lasted about 4 hours! We had great fun. What a special day that Father Andrzej had arranged for us.

In the evening we visited the old church to see the clearly old small 8th-century organ in the loft.  Alas, though the baroque case was beautiful, it looked like it had been reworked in the 19th century. But, no one, including the priest, could figure out how to turn the organ on! I have searched and found strangely hidden startup mechanisms for organs in countless churches over the years. This was the first organ that I just could NOT find any switch, electrical outlet, anything. We had to give up!

Friday was my concert. The pictures show that the organ is from the 1960s (?) and also you can see the typically Polish 20th century organ console. There are little colored tabs that get clicked on for combinations (only a few combinations were possible; good thing I wasn't playing Reger!!!) I had never seen anything like it before but I figured it out. During the concert, program notes were read from the lectern in between each piece. Afterwards, many speeches and flowers and food and drink. Wonderful people.

Here is the gate leading to the church, from yet another era, with a large banner for the organ concerts:

The church was a strange architectural amalgam: a baroque church was enlarged in the 1960s to accommodate the growing Catholic population (these parts of Poland are now 98% Roman Catholic) by grafting a thoroughly modern building onto the apse of the old building, but facing sideways. The two interiors were linked but separate. The old church functioned as a chapel, being long and narrow; the newer church was now the main worship space.
Here you see the old church and new church where they connect:

Here, the interior of the new church

And the interior of the old church, now a chapel.

Here is the baroque organ case in the chapel.

Here is the organ I played my concert on.

Playing during the concert. You can see the little tabs for combos.

Father Andrzej making speeches

 And, my kayaking friends!

A baroque organ in Krakow, before traveling east

On Wednesday, August 7, we made a date with our Polish friend Arkadiusz Bialic to see and play the organ in the Church of the Holy Ghost in Krakow. The organ was built in 1704 and has been recently restored, beautifully. A marvelous organ, on which I hope I can play a full concert someday.

Here is a picture of the organ:

 up a little closer, here is Arek and I in the balcony

a wonderful little decoration -

Here you can see me playing the organ

 and here is a short video of how the organ sounds

Another tiny video, where Dongsok filmed some of the easily visible tracker connections (these are of the pedal).

After the lovely visit to the organ, we said goodbye to Arek, who had been so kind in arranging the concert in Olkusz and showing us many things in Krakow. We hope to see him again soon!

At 1 pm we boarded a train to the east, in the direction of the unpronounceable town of Przsmysl (what happened to vowels in Polish?), where we would be collected at the train station in Jaroslaw by our hosts from Lubaczow, where my next concert was.

Here's a picture of me on the train:
and outside the train!

A view while traveling

This is a building we saw near the train station in Jaroslaw. The entire end wall of the building was covered with decorative images - how old, hard to know.

Monday, August 5, 2013

In Krakow

Monday August 5 and Tuesday August 6 were our two "vacation" days in Krakow where we would just be tourists - not something that happens often for Dongsok and me! Krakow has many beautiful monuments, including numerous baroque churches, the castle, and the central square, but soon we realized that in most cases these were reconstructions based on the originals. Wawel Castle for example, and the stunning ancient-looking marketplace building on the main square: a tiny bit Disney.

Krakow University was particularly interesting; we waited for the mechanical clock to perform at 3 pm and were enchanted. Here's a video:

Two pictures of the University: a hallway with Italianate painted decoration, and a wall gargoyle

We did see many beautiful organs in Krakow, but most (sadly, from my point of view) have been updated and modernized in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Here, some of these interesting organ cases:

Church of Saints Peter and Paul

St. Anne's Church

St. Mary's Church

Another view of St. Mary's interior

. We spent an entire day at Wawel Castle, a huge complex, with many buildings and separate museum exhibitions. In one day, we could not see it all. The chapel there had a beautiful baroque organ.Here's a picture:

A fanciful downspout at Wawel Castle

We also ate wonderful food at very reasonable prices, in comparison to Germany.  Here's Dongsok and his iphone in an outdoor cafe.

One of the most arresting aspects of Krakow was the playing of a trumpet fanfare from the steeple of St. Mary's church, which is right in the main square. Apparently, this is done live, once every hour around the clock, by three shifts of trumpeters. Our hotel was located just off the main square in the heart of the tourist district, and at night it was incredibly noisy (and, I say this as someone who lives on the third floor above Amsterdam Avenue: not a quiet location). The sound of early-am partying on the nearby streets kept us awake, and was punctuated regularly by the fanfare. However it was a charming hotel - here's a picture of the old-fashioned elevator: