“Without music life would be a mistake.”

~Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche





Modern Instruments and HIPP

October 3, 2013 – This month I have the honor of performing a Mozart concerto with the Astoria Symphony, an orchestra in which I have played for a long time as principal second violin.  The Astoria Symphony is a modern orchestra filled with talented musicians and a repertoire of music ranging from Bach to Britten and beyond.  The orchestra performs symphonic music, holiday concerts, outdoor festivals, opera and choral works, pops, and has even honored the Greek community in Astoria with performances of works by Greek composers. 

When I met with the Astoria Symphony’s conductor, Silas Huff, we discussed the challenges and opportunities associated with performing Mozart.  I am a violinist deeply persuaded by historically informed performance practice (HIPP) – a practice that modern orchestras are aware of but not necessarily familiar with.  Music of the baroque period is quite accessible to modern players, who attack its rich polyphony with the romantic flare that it embodies.  But when it comes to Mozart and the classical period of music (generally considered to be between 1730-1820) modern players often stumble over themselves to achieve the lightness and transparency of these works.  Classical music is marked by its structure, symmetry and simplicity.   Words such as “light,” “airy,” “graceful,” “elegant” and “poised” get thrown around in rehearsals – and while they all apply to Mozart’s music they also can make playing the notes feel like a minefield.  A series of repeated eighth notes makes one sit upright and assume an “elegant” pose in hopes of achieving said elegance. 

Adapting a period style with a modern orchestra can be as simple or as involved as the orchestra will allow you to.  In this case I have gone through the orchestral parts and removed edits to reflect only the markings that Mozart put in himself.  I have bowed the string parts myself to reflect HIPP bowings that a period orchestra might use.  I will be holding my bow in a choked hold the way I would hold a period bow.  I have written my own cadenzas, just as a performer in Mozart’s time would have. 

Performing a Mozart violin concerto on my modern violin is really fun.  Synthetic strings are bright and loud and responsive.  My modern bow is not too different from a classical bow and there is no instrument that can’t or shouldn’t play Mozart – I may be a period instrument aficionado but I am not a period instrument snob.  There are some challenges when performing in a period style with a non-period orchestra and the Astoria Symphony is meeting those challenges beautifully – introducing HIPP to other musicians and new audiences is rewarding, not to mention my favorite kind of fun.

Find out more about the Astoria Symphony and the October 6th concert which also includes the world premier of Allen Schulz’s Walamboltz and Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony http://www.astoriamusic.org/#!walamboltz-oct-6/c1kt9  Marina Fragoulis


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