Victoria Baroque string ensemble keeps centuries old music alive

Some musicians using 300-year-old instruments to achieve authentic sound

When Soile Stratkauskas plays baroque music, she wants it to sound as authentic as possible. And that means using instruments that date back to the 18th century.

That was the mission when she founded the Victoria Baroque ensemble in the provincial capital in 2011. Back then the flautist shared the stage with only seven other musicians. When the group comes to Nanaimo’s St Andrew’s United Church on Saturday, Jan. 13, there will be 15 performers playing together.

“There are more and more players around that play these instruments,” Stratkauskas said.

“I think because people are becoming more aware and when they learn about it they get inspired by the possibilities, because you can do different things on the instruments than you can do with modern instruments.”

She said some of the instruments used in Victoria Baroque are originals from the early 18th century, while others are modern copies. Stratkauskas said that string instruments can last over the years, adding that there are also violin makers that have studied old instruments and can reproduce the “old set-up” sought by a contemporary baroque musician. Baroque-style woodwinds, however, are often made new because “they didn’t survive over the centuries as well as the string instruments did.”

“These are the instruments that the composers were composing for so they have a different timbre to modern instruments, it’s a mellower timbre,” Stratkauskas said, referring to the sound quality.

“The strings use gut strings [produced using the fibres found in animal intestines] instead of steel strings, so the sound is rounder and smoother. And woodwind instruments – in this concert we have flutes and we have a bassoon – the flutes are completely wooden. I find it’s much more conversational, the kind of playing you have with these instruments.”

The concert will also feature a harpsichord and a lute. Stratkauskas said when she founded her group she didn’t expect it would last for seven years. She said baroque music continues to draw audiences.

“I think part of it is the rhythm. There’s a good pulse and rhythm about it. It’s closely based on dance and it’s also very melodic, so I find it very approachable for a lot of people,” she said.

The Nanaimo show will feature guest violinist Kati Debretzeni, who performs baroque music widely in Europe and teaches classical violin at the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague, Netherlands. Stratkauskas said she met Debretzeni when they were both living in England. At the time, Victoria Baroque bassoonist Katrina Russell was a next-door neighbour.

“We’ve had her here already three times before and she’s just a very fantastic, dynamic musician and leader. So when she comes, she’s great to work with, gets the whole ensemble really excited and it’s so much energy on stage playing with her,” Stratkauskas said of her visiting violinist.

“So it’s very good for us musicians as well as the audiences to have someone like her to come and inspire us. She leads many groups in England and has recently actually recorded Vivaldi’s Four Seasons so she’s in high demand so we are extremely lucky she wants to come here to play with us as well.”

WHAT’S ON … Victoria Baroque performs at St Andrew’s United Church on Saturday, Jan. 13 at 7:30 p.m. Regular admission is $28, $25 for seniors and $5 for students and children.

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