Tallis Chamber Orchestra presents a concert Saturday, April 7 at 7:30 pm at St. Paul's Episcopal Church featuring two special guests: Cellist Stephanie Vial and Violinist Elizabeth Fields. Vial and Fields are founders of The Vivaldi Project.
The Landfall Foundation made this free concert and visiting artists possible.
Eighteen members of Tallis are working with Vial and Fields to learn performance techniques to present Baroque music authentically on modern instruments. Vial and Fields are also presenting Masterclasses to area students.
Listen to Violinist Phil Singleton and Violist Dan Sanchez from Tallis Chamber Orchestra talk about the concert above and see our extended conversation below.
Phil: I call myself the coordinator for the Tallis Chamber Orchestra and I'm a violinist in the group and I’m a music instructor at Cape Fear Community College.
Gina: And Dan?
Dan: I'm a violist. I play with the Tallis Chamber Orchestra and dabble in violin as well with Dockside Strings, my business for weddings and private events in town.
Gina: You're also a composer.
Dan: That too, I guess. I feel like it comes with the territory of performing. You spend so much time playing other people's music and after a while I kinda got bored and I had these melodies running around in my head for years and years, so I figured I might as well write them down and see how they sound having other people play them.
Gina: And how did it sound?
Dan: Good. With, Tallis it was really nice. They've performed a few of my works already, transcriptions and arrangements of pop songs and things. Most recently we had pastoral for string orchestra that was featured at a concert that was, that was really great. I liked to hear what the group did with that. We had a solo viola performer, Carrie Jackson, play the solo part on it. She did an amazing job.
Gina: What is Tallis Chamber Orchestra?
Phil: The Tallis Chamber Orchestra started in 2006. My friend Roy Roebuck and I were both teaching in the public schools at that time and we would always talk about how much we wanted to play the string orchestra repertoire. We played in symphonies and lots of chamber music. You just don't get to play that music very often. So my wife actually said, "Well, why don't you just start a group?" So we did. We played a concert. We thought maybe that would be the only one, but that was 12 years ago and we play five or six concerts a year. We've played well over 300 different pieces of music from the string orchestra literature and a couple other things that have kind of been added in.
We've ended up having sort of a non-profit avenue to our group and many of our concerts are fundraisers for Good Shepherd Center and Nourish NC and quite a few other things. We've been able to raise thousands of dollars for other groups and I think some of the main things that I am proud of our group for; it's 100 percent volunteer. Everyone volunteers their time and talent to the group. We don't use a conductor very often to give us a feel of chamber music and not having one person in charge. So we're kind of all doing it together, which makes it very fun.
We've had seven different Wilmington composers compose pieces for us. It's one of our other things that I'm proud of, including Dan Sanchez here. We've had multiple works written for us, which is one of the things I think is interesting- the pieces wouldn't have existed if we didn't exist.
Gina: Dan, how long have you been with the group?
Dan: I've been playing with Tallis since about 2011. I started with the Baroque Christmas concert that we had that year. It's one of the most popular concerts in the year. That was a great introduction to the group because the Baroque Christmas concert is probably the most well attended Tallis show in the year. Almost a packed house at St Paul's Church. It gave me a good experience. Good enough to come back for the next one.
Gina: So you play new music a lot?
Phil: Right. We play everything. The name of our group, Tallis, we took that from a renaissance composer Thomas Tallis. So we start quite a few concerts with music from the renaissance, but we've worked our way up to playing contemporary music. That's the thing about a string orchestra. There's really good repertoire from the Baroque period all the way up through modern music. Lots of music that we can play. We really just scratch the surface with 300 pieces, I think.
Gina: So let's talk about this concert that's happening this weekend, which is the Vivaldi Project. What is the Vivaldi Project?
Phil: The Vivaldi Project is a group of string players who started an organization to keep the Baroque string practices alive. They play quite a few concerts on original Baroque instruments, but they have this other avenue which is they teach people to play Baroque music on modern instruments, but trying to keep the style of the time period. I had heard of them before when they performed in Wilmington. This concert is sponsored partially by the Landfall Foundation. It's the second year that we've had a Landfall Foundation concert with guests coming in and they're going to go to high school and do the an informational demonstration and perform with them, teach them how to play Baroque music on modern instruments and we're going to have another orchestra put together of young students with the same thing along with the master class. The neat thing about this is they are going to perform two Vivaldi concertos with us, a violin and a cello concerto, and they're going to be teaching us how to do this same thing too. So we can all work together to play in a Baroque style string. There's just tons of music written for string orchestras in the Baroque period and they're going to work with us on certain Baroque practices to do it on our modern instruments.
Gina: Where are they from?
Phil: Their headquarters I guess would be Falls Church, Virginia. The cellist, Stephanie Vial, lives in Durham. She teaches at Chapel Hill. The violinist is coming from Virginia and there's other people who are involved in the group, but the two people we have coming, Stephanie and Elizabeth, are the founders of the group.
Gina: They're actually going to be working with you about how to do their technique?
Phil: Right. We're going to have two rehearsals with them with the Tallis Chamber Orchestra, and they'll be playing individual concertos on two pieces with us and they will be playing with us on the other pieces. Some Bach compositions. They'll be leading us in the orchestra and the rehearsals. They’ll talking to us about different techniques we can all use to play in the same style and to make the concert very Baroque sounding.
Dan: They're going for authenticity, I think, in a Baroque performance. It's weird because as a classical musician, I guess classically trained folks know the difference between Baroque and Classical and Romantics style of performance. But there are varying degrees of different articulations particularly that I think they might cover because the actual instruments back then were different from how they are now. Even today you're seeing carbon fiber instruments being made that still look like violins, but they're made of completely different material in a completely different way. Some of the glues that are used to hold the violin parts together have just changed over the years. Some people might say they've gotten better, but it's not necessarily the case, it's just different. So I think that that's what I'm looking forward to learning is how to make these sounds on the instruments we have like the songs were originally performed in the Baroque period.
Phil: Our instruments are similar in a way, but the strings and the bows are particularly different than they would've used during Vivaldi's time.
Gina: So how many performers from the Tallis Chamber Orchestra will be performing?
Phil: I think we have 18 people playing this concert and it varies on our different concerts, but I think about 18 for this concert.
Gina: It's just so amazing. All strings.
Phil: That's right. We've played 60, 70 concerts now. There are so many good string players in the area. We have never played a concert with the exact same group of people, which I think is an interesting fact about our group. We fluctuate a little bit like that.
Gina: Dan, what is the piece that you're most excited about performing for this concert?
Dan: A lot of the Baroque music to me sounds very similar, so it's not one piece in particular, but I think just the fact that we'll be performing it in a different way with two professionals who really know how that music should be performed. I think it all will really sound good and it might even inspire us to play future pieces a little differently from how we've performed in the past because these aren't the first Baroque pieces we've performed by far. I'm really looking forward mostly to learning from these two professionals who are trained specifically to this genre, with how to manipulate the bow and violin and viola in the right way that the composer intended.
Gina: Phil, are you looking forward to any specific piece?
Phil: Well, I think string players, almost all of them love to play Vivaldi. He wrote over 500 of these concertos and they're fun and fast to play on the stringed instrument, especially the violins. You get to play a lot of fast notes. There's just something about his music that is just fun to play and to listen to too. So I would say definitely the two Vivaldi concertos. One of the Vivaldi concertos we're doing is the Violin Concerto in A Minor. It’s a piece that we've all played for a long time. Growing up we've all played this piece and the violinist promised us that we're going to play it in a different way, different than we've ever played the piece before. I'm looking forward to that.
Transcription Assistance by Production Assistant, Lindsay Wright