Yes, chamber music in the Catacombs is a thing, and a very cool thing at that. (Music promoter Andrew Ousley, who created the series, explains in a companion interview to this one how the concerts came about, and tells us about the logistics of bringing musicians and audiences into the Catacombs of Brooklyn’s famous rural cemetery.)
Augusta McKay Lodge won the Outstanding Performance Prize from Concert Artists International in 2017. She has been described by Seen & Heard International as “the real thing, a true virtuoso.” Voyage Sonique, for its part, took second prize in international competition at the Lyceum Club International de Suisse 40th Concours de Musique.
Here we present our exclusive interview with Lodge in advance of Voyage Sonique’s “Epilogues and Epitaphs” concerts June 24, 25, and 26.
You and the other founding members of Voyage Sonique met while studying at Juilliard, and clearly you share an affinity for early/baroque music. What drew/draws you to that repertoire?
Yes, we met during our studies at The Juilliard School Historical Performance Program and instantly became close friends. Although we didn’t form Voyage Sonique until after graduation, we performed together in this format often throughout our Juilliard days – it was a natural click for us. We barely even had to rehearse – we knew exactly how to blend and shape together and were comfortable to improvise on the spot in daring ways. It’s unusual to find that freedom and ease with such a large ensemble.
I can’t speak for the others, but I’ve always grown up with historical performance, even if I didn’t initially realize it. My first albums were from Elizabeth Wallfisch and Rachel Podger, great Baroque virtuosos. I performed as a vocal soloist from an early age with Apollo’s Fire and the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra. And I started Baroque violin (with Marilyn McDonald, Oberlin Conservatory) at age 17. I’ve been playing Baroque for a decade!
Your debut solo violin album, Beyond Bach and Vivaldi, consists of seldom-performed Baroque-era works, including some by composers with relatively unfamiliar names, such as Thomas Baltzar and Antonio Maria Bononcini. How did you locate and choose this material?
This was a project I had had in mind for years before I recorded, and I carefully collected the repertoire over time.
The Pisendel Violin Sonata and Biber Passacaglia – two of the more well known pieces – were standards I had studied carefully with Stanley Ritchie during my time at Indiana University and they remained staples of my practice regime. I found the Baltzar while I was at Juilliard, also where my teachers Cynthia Roberts and Robert Mealy introduced me to sources for the Bononcini, Nogueira, and others.
It really took years of research and a lot of help along the way, for which I’m very grateful. But it was always something I wanted to do – to highlight the unaccompanied violin music that existed prior and simultaneously to the famous Bach Sonatas and Partitas.
It certainly distinguishes you from the many up-and-coming musicians who debut with J.S. Bach. Why did you decide to make these choices your first release?
I would be so scared to record Bach, especially for a debut album! But I felt I knew and understood this repertoire and it was important to me to show the research side – to illuminate that Bach wasn’t writing in a vacuum. There was such a tradition of unaccompanied violin writing happening around him, and it seemed to me nobody was showing that off! So I jumped on it.
I have two more albums coming out in the coming year. One is Italian violin sonatas of Corelli’s pupils, and the other is music of 18th century Berlin, with my sister Georgina McKay Lodge. Stay tuned.
Tell us about your violin. How is a baroque violin different from a modern one?
My baroque violin is a copy, so it’s actually newer than my modern fiddle! It was made by Jason Viseltear (New York) in 2014 as a copy of Guarneri del Gesu. But what makes it baroque is the design. We try to replicate as exactly as we can what “they” would’ve had for equipment. For bows, this could mean owning five different bows depending on country and date of composition. The range of differences is huge!
Is there a Voyage Sonique album in the planning stages?
It’s definitely on our minds and we’ve been approached by labels. Hopefully in the near future! We are organizing our repertoire – it’s always about finding something special that you are really moved to record.
Ever played in a catacomb before? Or anywhere in a cemetery? What’s the most unusual venue you’ve ever performed in?
I’ve played in some unusual settings but this will definitely be a first! We are so excited! This will go at the top of my unusual venues list, that’s certain. Prior to this my performances have been fairly traditional, but notable has been a podium suspended in the middle of a lake, various bars and barns, and a forest.
What’s coming up for you, and for Voyage Sonique?
Voyage Sonique balances a New York concert season while its members live in different countries. Keiran Campbell just won principal cello position of the renowned Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, so he’s moving to Canada; Jeff Girton and I live in Paris; Robert Warner and Adam Cockerham live in NYC but are constantly on the move for performance schedules.
We have some great concerts lined up for the next season – stay tuned! We haven’t released our schedule yet, but we are playing a Gotham Early Music Scene Midtown Concert June 27, check it out!
See also our companion interview with Andrew Ousley, creator of The Angel’s Share concert series in the Green-Wood Cemetery Catacombs.