HIP Music Festival begins today

Jan. 27, 2013 @ 12:04 AM

The first HIP Music Festival invites listeners to step back in time, to hear the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and other Baroque era composers the way it sounded when it was first written and performed.
HIP is an acronym for “historically informed performance,” and the weeklong series of concerts, master classes, listening sessions and other events begins today with a performance by Chapel Hill-based Baroque & Beyond at Chapel of the Cross. Stephanie Vial, who will play baroque cello at today’s concert, demonstrated some of what historically informed performance means during a rehearsal earlier this week. The cello she plays was made in 1770 and is different from the more modern cello symphony players use. The baroque instrument has no end pin touching the floor, and a shorter fingerboard. Because the instrument is more anchored to the body, it gives the cellist more immediate information about the sound, Vial said.
“What we’re after with these instruments is resonance,” Vial said.
“It’s a different aesthetic,” Vial said of the experience of playing music on historic instruments. “I don’t like to think of it as better or worse,” she said, but when you play the music that was written for historic instruments on those same instruments, “it really is better.”
The bow also is shaped differently (and held differently) and “has a natural release to it,” Vial said. “It contributes to the idea of the note having a true beginning and an end to it,” and reinforcing the resonance of each sound. 
Violinist Peter Lekx points to the gut strings on his baroque violin (the bottom strings are gut wound in silver). The baroque violin has no chin rest or shoulder rest, making the contact with the sound more immediate. “It’s a very organic experience,” Lekx said.
The bow also is shorter, and shaped differently from the modern bow. A lot of the expression in the music comes from the bow, he said. Because gut strings have more overtones than metal wound strings, vibrato is used sparingly, as “an ornament,” because it tends to cut off the resonance of the sound, Lekx said.
Beverly Biggs, artistic director of Baroque & Beyond, plays a harpsichord that is a copy of a late French instrument owned by Yale University, she said. Blueprints were made from the Yale instrument, and from those patterns modern instrument makers can make good copies of early instruments.
William Simms also plays a modern copy of the theorbo, a member of the lute family. It has a long neck, a sound box, and two peg boxes, one for the long bass strings, and one for the shorter upper register strings. During a rehearsal of a cello sonata by Andrea Caporale, Biggs and Simms played the figured bass part, which Biggs explained allows them to improvise notes in a chord, based on what the solo cellist wants.
Countertenor Michael Maniaci is the featured guest artist with the ensemble, and will perform arias by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and other composers.
Mallarmé Chamber Players and the music departments of UNC and Duke have partnered to put on the festival. Other groups performing and giving workshops will be Durham-based Aliénor, California-based Ensemble Vermillian, and the Washington, D.C.-based Vivaldi Project. Mallarmé will conclude the festival with a concert titled “Bach is Back,” Feb. 3 at First Presbyterian Church in Durham.

Go and Do
WHAT: Baroque & Beyond, with Michael Maniaci, countertenor
WHEN: Today, 3 p.m.
WHERE: Chapel of the Cross, 304 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
ADMISSION: $20 at the door or from the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill at 919-942-7818.
ALSO: For a complete schedule of the HIP Music Festival, visit www.mallarmemusic.org