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February 7-14, 2007

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Treadwell with lute

Treadwell with lute: The fading tone of the plucked string became a metaphor for the fate of the instrument itself.

Plucked Company

Lutes take their revenge on violins as the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival kicks off its new season

By Scott MacClelland

The 18th century's sins against the lute, the Baroque guitar and other plucked instruments will finally be avenged this Sunday as Linda Burman-Hall's Santa Cruz Baroque Festival gets under way with "World of Guitar: 500 Years of the Plucked Strings" on Feb. 10. In a showcase for her plucked string colleagues of the UC-Santa Cruz faculty, Burman-Hall will be joined on the UCSC Music Hall stage by lute and guitar specialists William Coulter, Mesut Özgen, Robert Strizich and Nina Treadwell.

In an interview, Treadwell, a native Australian, explained that the guitar gained popularity after 1600 as a strumming instrument that could easily play the chords that gained prominence with the rise of figure bass (basso continuo). The prior century had marked the rise of the lute, which was known for playing single melodies "finger style," and the advent of music printing in time for a corpus of published works by, among others, the pioneering Francesco Da Milano, whom Treadwell calls "a shining star in the history of solo playing."

But at the turn of the 18th century--the Golden Age of the violin in Europe--plucked string instruments were increasingly subordinated, as whole orchestras of violins and their kin became a principal attraction at court and in opera houses. Basso continuo found its days numbered as the classical style began to emerge and eventually supplant the Baroque. Notably louder than lutes and guitars, violins were exploited for their ability to sustain a tone for as long as the player kept bowing. In the hands of Corelli, the violin hijacked the lute's prior claim to instrumental sensuality, and Vivaldi raised the ante further with virtuosity and theatricality. The very characteristic of the plucked string, the fading tone after the note is struck, became a metaphor for the instrument's fate itself.

A specialist in her field, Treadwell plays theorbo and archlute--six-foot lutes that include unstopped strings that vibrate sympathetically--and early Baroque guitars. Strizich focuses on Baroque lutes. Özgen plays Renaissance lutes and modern guitars, and Coulter concentrates on Celtic guitars. Harpsichordist Burman-Hall is no misfit; her instrument shares many of the same responsibilities, and some of the same music, in 18th-century repertoire.

For the occasion, Robert Strizich has composed a piece designed, in his words, to "bring the five of us together." He expressed personal frustration that many artists--poets and playwrights, for example--have engaged current world events, but that composers and musicians have lagged behind. He explains that in the 17th century, baroque guitarists developed a shorthand system of notation in place of tablature. Alfabeto, as it is called, used the letters of the alphabet to denote particular keys and chords. In those days, musicians would honor their aristocratic patrons by spelling out their names in the music. "Instead of using the technique to honor our rulers," he says with an ironic inflection, "my idea was to use that alphabet to spell the word 'peace.'" The point is underscored by some theatrical elements, he says, but "I'll leave that as a surprise."

This unique program is only the first of five formal concerts of the 2007 SCBF season. On March 18, "Kingdoms of Castile" will explore the Spanish Baroque. "Northern Worlds" visits Swedish Baroque on April 13. An organ tour de force at Holy Cross Church on April 28 features the acclaimed Anthony Newman at the console of the splendid tracker instrument that was imported during the repair and restoration of Holy Cross following the Loma Prieta earthquake. Baroque wind instruments will blow you away on May 13. (All programs begin at 7:30pm, and except for the Newman recital, will he performed at UCSC's Music Hall.) The SCBF season has also scheduled a musical garden tour in late May and a visit to the legendary crawl-through organ at the Boomeria Chapel Royal on the top of Empire Grade.

For more information visit or call 831.457.9693.

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