This past Saturday, September 21, the audience members of Rosse Hall were transported back to the 18th century as the Philadelphia-based ensemble Night Music performed a series of pieces from the revolutionary era (1760-1825). The ensemble consisted of six professional musicians: a string quintet (two violins, a cello, a viola and a double bass) plus a solo flute. Players in the ensemble were Rebecca Harris and Evan Few on violin, Daniel Elyar on viola, Rebecca Humphrey on cello, Steven Zohn on flute and Heather Miller Lardin on double bass. They played three pieces, starting with a quintet by Kraus arranged for six players, continuing with a viola and double bass duet by Dittersdorf as an interlude and finishing the night with an arrangement of the famous “Surprise” Symphony by Haydn.
Between the pieces, certain members discussed the specific period instrument that they played since they had not been widely used since the 18th century. Zohn explained how his flute was specific to that time period because it was wooden and had less keys than modern flutes. With the wooden flute, one is able to create a lighter sound which is more akin to the music of the revolutionary period. Additionally, Lardin explained how her Viennese violone was a predecessor to the bass. It has five strings and frets like a guitar, and is tuned differently so that certain chords are easier to produce. The use of these early instruments helps immerse the listener in these pieces as the ensemble accurately recreated the sound that was present during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
According to Reginald Sanders, professor of music, “The instruments were the same ones we had in the late Baroque … so there is a bit of delicacy one might associate with this … there was a bit more finesse, because it’s not about power.” This delicacy was present throughout the concert as all the performers tried to replicate the specific sound that was so popular during the period. Lardin described how their ensemble maintained 18th-century music techniques, saying that “the most important element of this is a rhetorical approach to interpreting scores: all music conveys some kind of emotion, and it’s our job to make that apparent.”
Night Music focuses on this specific musical era because, according to Lardin, “most of us play a great deal of Baroque music on historical instruments, or copies of them. We wanted to explore later repertories … We especially like the Revolutionary Era given the history of Philadelphia, our hometown.”
The concert featured impressive performances from all the players and as the last note rang out over the audience, the applause was deafening in response.