We had a wonderful opportunity to talk to Byron Schenkman and learn a little bit more about the piece he has chosen to perform with NOCCO this weekend (12/15 & 12/16)
How did you come to know the work of Wilhelmine von Bayreuth? It’s somewhat rare to hear works by women from the baroque era!
The first time I ever played any piece of music by a woman was in grad school when I was asked to play in a cantata by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, one of the great composers of the French Baroque. Up until then I had no idea there was any worthwhile music by women. One thing that really surprised me was to learn that there were composers such as Jacquet de la Guerre who were quite successful in their own times but then left out of music history books, anthologies, recordings, and concert programs. Ever since I have sought out interesting music by women composers from whatever period I am exploring. There's a lot of great material, including this concerto by Wilhelmina of Bayreuth, sister of Frederic the Great (who was also an accomplished composer).
Why did you select this piece, rather than something written by a more well-known male composer?
Well of course I like the piece a lot! The first movement is reminiscent of Bach's harpsichord concertos, with influence from Vivaldi as well. The second movement is like an expressive aria, very vocal. And then the last movement is a pair of stylish gavottes, light and charming. As for choosing this over a piece by a more well-known male composer, I think women's voices need to be heard much more in all areas of our society. And while I don't get to pick who sits on the supreme court, for example, I often do get to pick whose music I present to the public.
Did you start on the piano, and when did you come to harpsichord? What do you love about the instrument, and the music it leads you to?
I started on piano and was drawn to early instruments from an early age. I think I liked the idea of escaping into some distant world from long ago -- and I always liked 18th-century music best of all. It's still the music in which I feel most comfortable (although I certainly enjoy playing a lot of 17th- and 19th-century music as well).