Edith Hines, violin † John Chappell Stowe, organ and harpsichord


Ensemble SDG, a violin and keyboard duo formed in 2009,

performs music spanning the entire Baroque period, with a

particular focus on the works of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Biber in Milwaukee...and beyond

On Saturday, December 8, we performed H. I. F. Biber’s “Annunciation” partita in the Advent-themed concert Rejoice! by Milwaukee’s Ensemble Musical Offering.  Our friend and colleague Phil Spray joined us on violone, which was a real treat, since there have been few opportunities for the three of us to play together.  However, we hope that will change in the near future.  Looking ahead to the Boston Early Music Festival in June 2013, if the Lord wills that the arrangements work out, we expect to collaborate with Phil once again for a pair of Fringe Concerts with the theme “Biber’s Life of Christ,” in which we will perform thirteen of the fifteen partitas on the Mysteries of the Rosary.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A welcome to the 2012–13 season

At last we are back performing in Madison!  On September 8 and 9 we will jump early into Madison’s concert season with recitals at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community and the Chazen Museum of Art (see “Upcoming Events” at right for details).  Our program is titled “Invitation to the Dance” and features a century’s worth of dance and dance-inspired music from France, Italy, and Germany.

In this post we’d like to present some notes on the program.  As always on WPR’s Sunday Afternoon Live, host Lori Skelton will present an interesting background sketch on each piece, but on a 1.5-hour show that, after all, is primarily dedicated to the music itself, there simply won’t be time to discuss many particulars!  Since we’re hard put to write just a simple, short essay for our program notes, we’ve written a rather extensive essay and uploaded a PDF here.  You can download it to read at your leisure on screen or on paper—and even bring it with you to the performance, which really should help with understanding of the program notes (whether or not the converse holds true!).  In any case, however you choose to read the essay, we hope it will provide some helpful insights into both the music and our preparation process.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A busy summer

Yes, we know it’s been a long time since we posted an update on our activities.  Over Memorial Day weekend we did, at last, finish the actual recording part of our complete Bach project.  We took great pleasure in working with the Noack organ at Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church in Houston and were disappointed only that we didn’t get to use a broader palette of the instrument’s colors.  (The violin can only handle so much sound!)  Since the organ was designed to emulate instruments of Gottfried Silbermann and Zacharias Hildebrandt, organ builders well known to Bach, it features a number of distinctive stops at 8-foot and 4-foot pitch, which served well for this particular recording.  The staff and parishioners of Christ the King Lutheran couldn’t have been more gracious to us.  While in Houston Chappy discovered all kinds of personal connections with Pastors Robert Moore and Karin Liebster! 

We also got to participate in the church’s Pentecost services on May 27, playing while a congregational survey was taking place.  That was a first for both of us!

We have now moved on to the editing phase of the recording project.  It looks like the finished product will occupy three discs, and we have tentatively established an order for the pieces and are in the early stages of writing liner notes.  For the sake of full disclosure, we’ll admit that although this project is designed to be comprehensive, with all of J. S. Bach’s works for violin and keyboard, we have decided against including the third extant version of the Sonata in G, BWV 1019—for reasons to be explained in the liner notes.  We are still looking for a company to take on the project and market the finished recording.  Any suggestions out there?

Our most recent efforts have been in preparation for a recital on July 17, 2012, at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Edith’s undergraduate alma mater.  For the last four Tuesdays in July, the CIM Alumni Association presents a “Lunch & Listen” recital series featuring alumni of the school.  Edith is excited not only to perform at CIM for the first time in ten years (she was class of ’02), but also to perform for the first time in the school’s critically acclaimed Mixon Hall.  Our program will include a suite of dances from Giovanni Bonaventura Viviani’s Capricci Armonici of 1678, the fourth Concert Royal by François Couperin, the Sonata in D for violin and continuo by Johann Georg Pisendel, and the Sonata in E for violin and obbligato harpsichord by J. S. Bach.  We’ll be using the school’s 1974 William Dowd French double harpsichord.  Find more information about the recital here.

But before we head to Cleveland, Chappy spends a week on the faculty of the Madison Early Music Festival, whose theme this year is music of the North American colonies and the early United States.  It’s a busy summer!

After Cleveland, we’ll post on our early fall projects.  Madison friends, take heart: we will finally be performing in town again come September!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Recording venue announcement

We are thrilled to announce that we have a venue and dates for completing our Bach recording project!  Our project has been on hold for a year and a half while we sought the right instrument with which to record the early versions of the sonatas in F minor and G major for violin and obbligato keyboard, BWV 1018 and 1019—which we believe, for a variety of reasons, were originally intended for performance with organ.  At last we can say that during May 26–28, God willing, we will record these sonatas, as well as possibly the Fugue in G minor, BWV 1026, with the organ at Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church in Houston.

Fritz Noack’s Opus 128 is designed and built in the style of Zacharias Hildebrandt (1688–1757), an organ builder with whose work Bach himself was familiar.  Hildebrandt was also a student of Gottfried Silbermann, the builder of an organ in Dresden that Bach inaugurated with a famous recital in 1725.  When Chappy traveled to Houston in early March to “audition” this instrument, he found that the organ was rich in tonal possibilities that would suit the music.    

We thank (in advance!) organist Mark Mummert and the Rev. Robert Moore at Christ the King Lutheran Church for being most helpful in and supportive of our efforts, and we look forward to further collaborations with them.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Bach around the Clock

Our next performance will be as part of the third annual “Bach around the Clock,” held on Saturday, March 17, from noon to midnight at the Pres House, 731 State Street, Madison (on Library Mall, near the Chazen Museum of Art).  The event, sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio and the Pres House and hosted by WPR Music Director Cheryl Dring, is styled “a community-wide celebration of Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday” and truly lives up to that description.  Performances in 2010 and 2011 included everything from young piano students playing two-part inventions to the Wisconsin Chamber Choir singing chorales from the St. John Passion, from a saxophonist playing transcriptions of string music to solo and ensemble performances by UW School of Music students and local early music professionals.

Ensemble SDG participated in the first two Bach around the Clock fests, and this year will be no exception.  Edith will kick off the celebration at noon with the Ciaccona from the Partita in D minor.  Then between 9:30 and 10:20 p.m., we will play the Sonata in G major (BWV 1019) and the Fugue in G minor (BWV 1026) and Chappy will play the English Suite in F major.

And lest you tire of hearing Bach, here’s an incentive: if you stick around until midnight, there is birthday cake!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

An update on our recording project

Ensemble SDG is now in possession of more tracks for our forthcoming CD of the complete works of J. S. Bach for violin and keyboard!  A few days ago we received the Sonata in E minor, BWV 1023, and the Fugue in G minor, BWV 1026, from Paul Eachus, Director of Conservatory Audio Services at Oberlin College, Oberlin OH.  We recorded the two pieces in March 2010 with the John Brombaugh organ in Fairchild Chapel.  We are very pleased with the result and are grateful to Paul for his help during the recording session as well as his excellent editing.

We also owe our thanks to Buzz Kemper of Madison’s Audio for the Arts for his ongoing work on our in-town portion of the project (the works with harpsichord and Lautenwerk).  In addition to patiently recording our sessions, he has already edited and mastered the Sonata in C minor, BWV 1017, of which two movements are available on this blog for your ears.

We are currently investigating an appropriate instrument for the rest of our project: early versions of the Sonatas in F minor and G major, BWV 1018 and 1019, which we believe may have been written for performance with organ.

We have also put up two recordings for you of two of Heinrich Biber’s Mystery Partitas which we performed at Western Michigan University last November as part of our residency there.  The recordings are live, so please excuse the audience noise!  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Introducing Ensemble SDG; or, what we've been up to this year

Our creative energies in the fall of 2011 were focused on preparation for our residency November 15–17 at Western Michigan University, sponsored by the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music.  You can find our repertoire for the week here.

The focus of our programs was a subset of Heinrich Biber’s partitas on the Mysteries of the Rosary (better known as the “Mystery Sonatas”).  These works are best known for their use of scordatura, or alternative tuning of the violin’s strings.  Composers like Marco Uccellini, Giovanni Bononcini, and Giovanni Battista Vitali had all used this technique earlier, but in these partitas Biber fully exploited its capacity to enhance the resonance of the violin and make possible many fingerings that would be prohibitively difficult or impossible on a normally tuned violin.  This fascinating aspect, however, was only one step in the process of learning the pieces.  Composers in the seventeenth century were interested in moving the emotions of the listeners, so we were constantly working to convey the appropriate character of a given passage.  But we realized that the partitas do not necessarily depict the events of Christ’s life in their historical context; sometimes they seem instead to be stylized meditations that reflect Biber’s cultural milieu.  We often discussed how each partita reflected Biber’s own view of the events of Christ’s life.

One of our performances during the residency included J. S. Bach’s fifth Brandenburg Concerto with the WMU Collegium Musicum under the direction of Professor Matthew Steel.  The third soloist for the concerto—Christopher Kantner, principal flute of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra, but here playing flauto traverso—was a delightful partner with his natural phrasing and creative ornamentation. 

This spring we are making plans for the 2012–13 season.  Since we have been curious for a while about the violinist Johann Georg Pisendel (1687–1755), whose playing was renowned across Europe and who was a friend and musical colleague of Bach’s, we have begun to explore the music of his home institution, the Dresden Hofkapelle of the early eighteenth century.  We are also acquainting ourselves with sacred music of seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century France.  More to come on next year soon!