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A Glimpse Inside the Process – A Lesson with Shunske Sato

Georgina McKay Lodge

The sixth in our series of guest articles for Early Music Month.

by Georgina McKay Lodge

It is a Saturday morning in The Hague when Shunske Sato, looking relieved to be home from traveling, answers the door with his young daughter in his arms. As concertmaster of Concerto Köln, artistic director of Netherlands Bach Society, and the first violinist to make a period instrument recording of the complete Paganini Caprices, Shunske is a star in the early music world. I have spent the past few months traveling Europe while based out of Amsterdam and studying with top musicians in the field. I am grateful he has taken time out of his busy schedule to teach me and then to sit down and have a conversation about what it is like to live and perform in Europe.

My lesson has the feel of a musical investigation. I play a Castello sonata, with Shunske reading the bass line, as we try on different affects for each phrase. For inspiration, we look up recordings of Italian singers like Emanuela Galli on YouTube. It is this curiosity which Shunske credits for leading him to a historically informed perspective. “I was on my own for the first time,” he says about moving to Paris, after completing his pre-college studies at Juilliard. “I began to listen to composers and works that I hadn’t heard before. I intentionally did this. A lot of these were baroque. I could also go to concerts played by ensembles from all around. First-hand exposure was at my doorstep, and that was Paris. I did a lot of reading. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with all this information on a practical level, I was just gathering it and listening and searching.” Shunske then studied in Munich and “very luckily, things just fell into place from there.”

Shunske Sato, Photo by Yat Ho Song

About living in the Netherlands, Shunske marvels on how well organized the society is, particularly while raising a family, and notes that “the country is a very open place where people are willing to give you a chance as an outsider.” And he greatly appreciates its proximity to other countries for travel. “Within Europe, there is so much to do and see with its variety of cultures and food and people. There are two things that I always do when I arrive in a place – eat local food and examine the architecture. On some level, the music fits its place of origin, though I wouldn’t be able to tell you why without sounding stupid. It just feels right to play Italian music under blue skies with pastel yellow houses, having had a great plate of pasta for lunch. When you go to France it’s a completely different pool of musicians, and different repertoire, a very different style that seems foreign and interesting and strange at times if you’re used to the playing in Holland. That I find fascinating. I go across the border to Germany quite often and I appreciate those differences and like them in different ways. There’s this diversity of approaches.”

He continues, “This repertoire does require you to have a knowledge of language. French speakers are going to be inclined toward Rameau and German speakers toward Schütz. The linguistic aspect might actually play quite a large role. There is a decidedly muted sound to French that lends itself well when you play Couperin. You immediately recognize the linguistic inflections [in music]. I’m sure somebody has spilled a lot of ink about this already. At the same time, you have someone like me with an absolute mess of a background, being Japanese-born, raised in America, and spending substantial amounts of time in different countries in Europe. Everyone will have their individual path. The reason why we’re still busy with music and pouring time and money into it is that you can do it in so many different ways. If you’ve found the one way to do it, then that’s not interesting anymore.”

On whether he has any words of advice for young players, Shunske says simply, “Doubt, and stay curious.” I joke, “Doubt your teacher?” He replies emphatically, “Absolutely! You simply cannot be a copy of your teacher or anybody else.” And question yourself, thinking, I played it this way last time, but is that really right? Am I still convinced? He says, “Sometimes you feel like you need to hang onto stuff and not let go because things are changing and it’s scary. But I’ve given my best performances when I’ve let down my barriers and opened myself to being vulnerable or making a mistake because that also opens you up to the positive and to moving people.”

Shunske needs to get back to bowing parts for an upcoming all Telemann concert in Magdeburg (Telemann’s hometown). Before we say goodbye I ask him one just for fun question. Where in the world would he go for a good coffee? “If it were the last day of my life,” he muses, “I think I would just have a coffee in the comfort of my own home with my better half. Something syrupy like that. But in terms of an actual café, literally anywhere in Australia. I simply have not had a bad cup of coffee in that country.” Great, I will book my flight!

Read about Georgina’s sister, Augusta McKay Lodge, and her experience performing with Les Arts Florissant.

Violist Georgina McKay Lodge performs on both modern and baroque instruments. She has played with period orchestra Grand Harmonie, The Berry Collective, watermark: a period ensemble, Helios Early Opera, Eastman Collegium, Eastman Viol Consort, and alongside musicians of Tafelmusik, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Juilliard School historical performance program, and Harvard University Choir. She won the Best Bach award two years in a row at the Ohio Viola Society Competition.

Ms. McKay Lodge studied modern viola performance with Michelle LaCourse, Carol Rodland, and Peter Slowik, and received baroque viola instruction from Jane Starkman, Cynthia Roberts, and Walter Reiter. She has played under conductors Kurt Masur, Michael Tilson Thomas, James Gaffigan, James Feddeck, Jayce Ogren, Neil Varon, David Hoose, and Scott Allen Jarrett. She has been a part of summer festivals including Bowdoin International Music Festival, Heifetz International Music Institute, California Summer Music, Credo Chamber Music, Milan Vitek’s International Masterclass in the Czech Republic, Elizabeth Wallfisch’s Masterclass in Italy, Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute, and Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute and Winter Institute.

A native of Oberlin, Ohio, she studied at the Oberlin Conservatory pre-college program before receiving her Bachelors of Music from the Eastman School of Music and her Masters of Music from Boston University.

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Working With a Legend: The Path from Juilliard to Les Arts Florissants

Photo courtesy of Les Arts Florissants, view of the pit at Wiener Staatsoper  (violinists shown: Hiro Kurosaki, Edson Scheid, Augusta McKay Lodge and Karen Dekker)

Fifth in our series of guest articles for Early Music Month
by Augusta McKay Lodge

It’s not every day a recent music graduate is invited to be a part of a European tour with one of the world’s top baroque orchestras, Les Arts Florissants. Yet this was exactly the situation in which I found myself upon completion of my studies at Juilliard where I first met Maestro William Christie, orchestra founder and director. Had I imagined such a thing happening, I would’ve cracked the books on my French sooner!

While students, we had thrived off of Mr. Christie’s indefatigable energy, his intense and vivid musicality, and his tough but benevolent expectations. The inspiration and joy of performing with such a renowned musician while sitting as concertmistress and soloist in his Juilliard415 concert will always stand out in my memory. 

photo of Opéra national de Paris / Palais Garnier interior

So I was a bit nervous and unsure what to expect as fellow classmate, Jeffrey Girton, and I headed to Paris this past Christmas to enjoy three months in Europe playing alongside these great musicians. Our first project was Handel’s Jephtha in eight performances at the Opéra national de Paris / Palais Garnier. 

But the moment we played the downbeat of Jephtha’s Overture in our first orchestra rehearsal, the immersion into the work proved completely liberating, digging into the luscious full sound that embodies Les Arts Florissants and being able to fit right into a group that played so unanimously with such a warm, enveloping sound. And the musicians were friendly and warm, further putting me at ease. We were led by concertmaster Hiro Kurosaki, whom I admire greatly for his clear and decisive leadership, outward musicality, and kind spirit. The cast for Jephtha was marvelous, including stellar artists Ian Bostridge and Katherine Watson. Between the gripping dynamics of the singers and Mr. Christie, I could look out into the front row of the audience and see them in tears night after night. 

Next up – tour to Vienna, Barcelona, Madrid, and Pamplona for performances of Handel’s Ariodante. As I write this, we are still on tour and today will be our fourth performance of Ariodante at the Wiener Staatsoper. 

All in all, the music is incredible, playing under Mr. Christie most inspiring and not least, having made so many wonderful new friends in the orchestra – it has been one of the best experiences of my life!

Be sure to check back at tomorrow (March 23, 2018) for part II of our McKay Lodge sisters series. We’ll hear from Georgina McKay Lodge, who is concurrently traveling in Europe during March 2018, taking baroque viola lessons from renowned teachers like Shunske Sato, the 33-year-old Japanese concertmaster of the Netherlands Bach Society.

Augusta McKay Lodge, photo credit: Natasha Komoda Photography

Augusta McKay Lodge is a native of Oberlin, Ohio. At the age of 25, she has earned a Bachelor of Music from Oberlin Conservatory of Music, a Masters of Music from Indiana University Jacobs School, and a Masters from The Juilliard School in historical performance where she was a proud recipient of a Kovner Fellowship. While at Juilliard she studied with Cynthia Roberts, Monica Huggett, Elizabeth Blumenstock, and Robert Mealy.

Augusta began her studies early on and continued at the Moscow Central Special Music School. She received honors (Pi Kappa Lambda) from Oberlin Conservatory upon graduation at the age of 19 and spent an exchange semester at Conservatorium van Amsterdam in 2011. Previous teachers include Alexander Kerr, Stanley Ritchie, Marilyn McDonald, Milan Vitek, Johannes Leertouwer, Sophie Gent, and Almita Vamos.

Augusta plays on a Jason Viseltear baroque violin from 2014. Further information to be found at:

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K’antu at the Commandery

For European Early Music Day K’antu will play for visitors to the Commandery Museum. Founded in 2012 by Ruth Hopkins, K’antu Ensemble explores the less-trodden territories of early music, combining elements of folk and world music with historically-informed techniques. The music of Spain and South America seemed like the obvious starting place – hence the name K’antu, referring to an ancient style of Peruvian and Bolivian music and dance.

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European Day of Early Music 2018

Today, March 21, 2018, marks the 6th edition of the European Day of Early Music, and EMA is happy to join with our friends in Europe for this celebration. 

The European Day of Early Music is held every year on 21st March, a day celebrating the beginning of spring, and the birthday of Early Music’s period probably most relevant and known composers: Johann Sebastian Bach (born on 21st March 1685, according to the Julian Calendar).

Early music is a central part of the cultural heritage shared by Europeans, closely connected with other artistic expressions such as dance, theatre, and architecture. It spans more than 1000 years of music, written down or transmitted by oral tradition, from the Middle Ages to the end of the 18th century. While some of the composers of these eras are widely known, there is a large repertoire still to be re-discovered by today’s audiences. The European Day of Early Music aims to increase awareness of the music from the medieval, renaissance and baroque periods and bring it to the attention of a wider audience.

Through concerts, events, and happenings taking place simultaneously across Europe and broadcast online, the March 21st is an important celebration and a focal point for the promotion of this historical musical heritage. 

This celebration was launched by the European Network for Early Music (REMA) and is promoted by France Musique, Total Baroque and EBU (European Broadcasting Union).

How to Participate

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