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The Old and the Very New

The York Consort and their violas da gamba.

Sunday offers a consort of viols and a pair of premieres

Buffalo classical music lovers will experience the all too rare opportunity to enjoy a performance of early music this Sunday afternoon at 3:30pm at the Unity Church (1243 Delaware Avenue), when an internationally based viola da gamba group, the York Consort, makes its debut in the Friends of Vienna concert series. Later that same evening at 7pm, the season opening concert of the Camerata di Sant’Antonio at St. Anthony of Padua’s R.C. Church, behind Buffalo City Hall, will offer the area premiere of works by Tanya Anisimova and Clarice Assad.

A bowed string instrument with frets like a guitar, the viola da gamba was made in several different sizes, usually with six or sometimes seven strings and it was the most popular string instrument of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. The term “da gamba” refers to the fact that the instrument is played while being held upright, between the legs. Unlike the modern string instrument bow, which is concave and held overhand, the viol bow, sometimes also referred to as the Baroque bow, is convex and held underhand. Viols are more lightly constructed than modern string instruments and the lower tension of the instrument’s strings makes the instrument very responsive to the use of light bowing, resulting in a quiet yet resonant tone, which has sometimes been described as having a “reedy” sound quality.

The instrument was highly popular with both amateurs, who would often have a chest of different size viols at home, and professionals. But with the rise of public performances in large spaces during the course of the 18th century, the relatively quiet viola da gamba faded from the musical scene, replaced by the more brilliant-sounding modern string instruments, until its post World War II revival.

The American members of the York Consort, treble David Abbott and bass Nancy Nuzzo, met the Canadian members, tenor Linda Deshman and bass Sara Blake, at the annual Chautauqua viola da gamba play-in. Each of them came to the instrument in their own way, explains Nuzzo, who studied the cello in college but started playing the viol when she came to Buffalo.

“At the time, UB had a collegium musicum ensemble and they had an instrument but no player,” says Nuzzo, “so I studied the viol tutors and treatises found in the UB Music Library and learned how to play. I had especially enjoyed continuo work on cello, and was delighted with the opportunities to play continuo on viol.”

Abbott also studied cello, but in graduate school at the University of Virginia, looking for something different to play, he contacted the collegium musicum and was given a viol. Blake played recorder from an early age, but she was became hooked only years later when the recorder ensemble she was in asked her to play the bass line on a viol in Pachelbel’s Canon. Deshman fell in love with sound of the viol when a colleague of her’s in an early music choir loaned her a viol and encouraged her to try it.

“The common thread is the generosity of the viol playing community,” says Nuzzo. “All of us got involved with the viol because of people who were encouraging and shared their knowledge and instruments. We enjoy the sound, which is sweet but expressive, and also that it is not necessary to study for years at a conservatory to be able to play the repertoire of consort music well and musically. As players, we enjoy the communication in a group that is egalitarian, democratic and cooperative. Those characteristics of the viol culture make it possible for us to make beautiful music and explore the intricacies of the repertoire, and we enjoy sharing it with an audience.”

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Camerata di Sant’Antonio

Music director Christopher Weber will begin the 10th anniversary season of Camerata di Sant’Antonio with a performance of Shostakovich’s brief Elegy, written circa 1930, but only rediscovered in the 1980s. Predating his first published quartet, it uses a melody that is identical to an aria from his controversial 1934 opera of Lady Macbeth.

Cellist Eva Herer will be the soloist in Russian composer Tanya Anisimova’s Adonai for Cello and String Orchestra, a work described as “a passionate expression of the Divine within us.” Born in Chechnya, Anisimova graduated from the Moscow Conservatory as a cellist before moving to America and earning a doctorate at Yale with a thesis based on the interconnections between Bach’s solo cello and violin works.

The evening will conclude with the East Coast premiere of Impressions for Chamber Orchestra by the young Brazilian composer Clarice Assad, daughter of noted guitarist Sergio Assad, who has garnered praise as a pianist, arranger, and vocalist.

For more information, call 854-2563 or visit

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