The N.C. HIP Music Festival revives some very old instruments | Music Feature | Indy Week
Pin It

The N.C. HIP Music Festival revives some very old instruments 

Dusting off: Mallarmé Chamber Players perform with instruments that predate current orchestral standards.

Photo by Marc Banka

Dusting off: Mallarmé Chamber Players perform with instruments that predate current orchestral standards.

When concertgoers think about "hip" music festivals, violas and harpsichords likely aren't the first instruments that spring to mind. But for a passionate subculture of classical musicians, "HIP" actually means "historically informed performance"—that is, using period instruments to perform works written anytime from the Renaissance through the 19th century.

The Triangle is home to a critical mass of performers dedicated to the HIP approach. One such group is Mallarmé Chamber Players, a Durham ensemble nearing its 30th anniversary. Artistic Director Suzanne Rousso spearheaded the inaugural weeklong N.C. HIP Music Festival, supported by a $10,000 National Endowment for the Arts Fast-Track Grant. The performances pool the resources of five arts organizations specializing in Early Music—Aliénor (Durham), Baroque and Beyond (Chapel Hill), Ensemble Vermillian (Davidson, N.C., and Berkeley, Calif.), The Vivaldi Project (Washington, D.C.) and Mallarmé.

So just how different is HIP from more modern performances of classical music? Quite a bit, says Rousso, a violist who took up the Baroque viola four years ago. Instead of bright, high-tension steel strings, she uses more delicate gut strings to tune her A-string to a frequency of 415 Hz, or cycles per second. That's almost a half-step lower than the modern orchestral standard, where A is tuned to a frequency of 440 or higher. The result is more subdued, but also, Rousso says, "more sublime."

"At first I thought, 'This sounds very strange,'" she says. "But your ears get accustomed to it in a few minutes, and it's very pleasing."

To Rousso, the music is simpatico with the area's seemingly insatiable appetite for acoustic string and Americana music. Both forms take the emphasis off of vibrato, meaning that the articulation of notes and pitches is paramount. Rousso hopes some of the Triangle's indie music goers—those who might balk at the use of the word "hip"—will take a chance with these sounds.

"Vibrato is really good at disguising intonation issues," Rousso says. "You need to really know how to play in tune. When things are really in tune, you get this really pure sound."

It's a sound that's made for small venues.

"In the Baroque era, you didn't play for a concert hall of 500 people," she says. "You'd play in a room, or maybe a large gathering, but it would be much more intimate than a concert hall of today."

To that end, all festival events are booked into cozy, reverberating spaces—Nelson Music Room at Duke, UNC's Person Hall and various area churches. These halls bring listeners into close proximity with the musicians.

Indeed, a goal not only of the concerts but the festival at large is to help familiarize people who've never seen or heard these aged instruments with their peculiarities. Beyond differences in the instruments themselves—the viola's bow, chin rest and tailpiece have all been reshaped in modern times—Rousso says the techniques for producing sound are what make HIP so different, be it the way she articulates with the bow, ornaments notes via trills and turns, or emphasizes phrasing and improvisation. Local musicians—classical or non-classical, amateur or pro—will have a chance to learn about these instruments and techniques through a series of HIP workshops and master classes. So even if you don't know your viola d'amore from your viola da gamba, Rousso says that the festival should inspire new audiences to discover the pleasures of historical performances.

"I want to attract 20- and 30-somethings," she summarizes. "The hope is that we bring in some younger folks who might be intrigued by the concept."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Nostalgic hipsters."

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Music Feature



Twitter Activity

Comments

If the noise level by the apartment complex is under 60 decibels, what is the problem? Also if police do …

by Nork on Batalá Durham's Central Park Standoff with Liberty Warehouse Residents Is Gentrification in Motion (Music Feature)

Can't help but marvel how Indy can take an article about a big box store moving 15 miles and turn …

by Tom Eisenmenger on Guitar Center Is Leaving Durham. Here’s What That Means for Indie Music Stores (Music Feature)

Most Read

  1. Fall into Music (Music Feature)

Most Recent Comments

If the noise level by the apartment complex is under 60 decibels, what is the problem? Also if police do …

by Nork on Batalá Durham's Central Park Standoff with Liberty Warehouse Residents Is Gentrification in Motion (Music Feature)

Can't help but marvel how Indy can take an article about a big box store moving 15 miles and turn …

by Tom Eisenmenger on Guitar Center Is Leaving Durham. Here’s What That Means for Indie Music Stores (Music Feature)

Having emotional or substance abuse issues is never an excuse to treat other people poorly due to their gender, sexual …

by ammi on Following Accusations of Rampant Misogyny and More, a Raleigh Promoter's Career Is Effectively Over. What Comes Next? (Music Feature)

I don't think that was the main point of the article. It seems the main point was that Craig's treatment …

by ToniTwoTimes on Following Accusations of Rampant Misogyny and More, a Raleigh Promoter's Career Is Effectively Over. What Comes Next? (Music Feature)

I first heard "Peace Pipe" as a new release while in Utah. I was intrigued at how good the music …

by -Howler- on Cry of Love vocalist Kelly Holland died depressed, but not alone (Music Feature)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation