, Salem, MA


April 11, 2013

A Gut Reaction to early music

Chamber ensemble to perform 'Baroque Treasures' at Salem Athenaeum


But these effects would disappear by the time Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was composing his “Concerto for Strings in E Minor,” which Gut Reaction will also play on Saturday.

“Over the course of the 17th century, new rules emerged and new ways of structuring music, so it became more formal again,” Schenkman said. “By the time you get to Vivaldi, it starts to sound more ‘normal,’ it’s more baroque-sounding.”

If early music like Picchi’s is filled with surprises, playing it on instruments from the periods in which it was written also leads to revelations.

“In the case of stringed instruments there’s a lower bridge, and less of an angle in the neck, which translates into less tension on the string,” Schenkman said.

Their strings were also made of animal gut instead of steel, which gives the group its name and is an important source of their sound.

“With the gut strings and lower tensions, it’s a subtler, more mellow sound — there’s more variety of tone color in the sound,” Schenkman said. “The ideal with modern instruments is to have one consistent sound that’s sustained. The instrument evolved for playing in great big concert halls, to project to the last row of the balcony.”

Such considerations are irrelevant at the Salem Athenaeum, which is the perfect venue for playing early music on period instruments, Schenkman said.

“Salem Athenaeum is an acoustically gorgeous place to play,” he said. “There’s a lot of wood, and enough room for the sound to blossom without getting lost. But it’s a small-enough space, with enough intimacy so you can hear the subtlety of the instruments. The instruments depend on the acoustics of the room.”

Such instruments and acoustics “gives the players a different kind of palette to work with,” Schenkman said. “The aesthetics are different with the earlier period. You don’t want the sound to be the same. Some notes are stronger, some weaker. There’s more inflection.”

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