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Nora Fischer
Nora Fischer

Concert Review: Nora Fischer and Marnix Dorrestein Update 17th-Century Song at Mostly Mozart Festival (NYC, 26 July 2019)

Surprises may be in store when a classically trained singer and a pop-rock electric guitarist join forces. Maybe even revelations. Vocalist Nora Fischer and guitarist Marnix Dorrestein, both Amsterdam-based, made their New Amsterdam debut the other night at a one of the Mostly Mozart Festival‘s “A Little Night Music” after-hours concerts. The cabaret setting in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse high above Lincoln Center was just right for the duo’s reduction and rebuilding of 17th-century songs by Monteverdi, Purcell, Dowland, Alessandro Scarlatti, and others. The duo gave these secular songs a modern-day singer-songwriter vibe that nonetheless felt timeless, electronic guitar effects and all.

Fischer shifted effortlessly from classical-style singing to pop and rock modes. One never got the sense that she was self-conscious or straining for effect. Early-music vocal artists often strive for an ethereal or angelic sound in songs of love and sadness, forced bluster to depict bawdiness or bibulousness. By contrast, Fischer’s voice paired with Dorrestein’s carefully constructed guitar parts and smooth electronic effects sounded sometimes surprising but always natural. These re-imaginings showed how little the Western song as a focus of human expression has changed over the centuries.

Marnix Dorrestein

In realizing the duo’s original arrangements (which they’ve recorded for Deutsche Grammophon), Dorrestein utilized a variety of techniques: folk-style finger-picking, sometimes reminiscent of the lute; rock-and-roll distortion; classical-guitar counterpoint; and a touch of psychedelia. Together with the evocative lyrics, the results were by turns exciting and hypnotic, at once exotic and familiar, emotionally elevated and vocally down-to-earth. Fischer was fully comfortable in several languages, especially perky English and luscious Italian. Dorrestein added fine vocal harmonies in warm tenor and shining falsetto ranges.

I listen to a lot of early and Baroque music. I also play rock, folk, and blues. I’ve often imagined ancient songs transformed for modern ears. Occasionally I’ve heard it done, but typically with unnecessarily radical changes. Fischer and Dorrestein, by contrast, make their new versions sound as natural as if they’d been written this way. I hope this accomplished and original pair returns to New York City again and again.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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