1. How long have you been playing baroque instruments?
I started playing my mom’s soprano recorder when I was about 6. When I was 13, my family went on a cross-country camping trip with another family in our VW camper, and I taught myself to play alto recorder in the back seat, while my friend Alex taught herself to play soprano. Miraculously, they didn’t abandon us by the side of the highway. I had piano and flute lessons throughout my childhood, and I sang in the Bryn Mawr Renaissance Choir starting when I was 12, but I didn’t have my first real recorder lesson until I was a junior in college.
2. Who/what gave you the passion to pursue it as a career? Why? How?
While I was in high school, I saved up my waitressing tips to buy all the recordings being released by the Dutch and English baroque music ensembles, especially those by recorder virtuoso Frans Brüggen, who made that instrument sound like nothing I had ever heard before. Then, as I was heading off to college as a pre-med, I met the glorious soprano Julianne Baird, and was inspired for the first time to consider music as a career. After graduating from Bryn Mawr College with a degree in music (the pre-med idea didn’t last), my recorder teacher Joan Kimball invited me to join the Philadelphia Renaissance Wind Band — the group that would later go on to become Piffaro, the Renaissance Band — playing recorder, renaissance flute, shawm and krummhorn. A few years later, I played Bach in a masterclass for the Dutch recorder star Marion Verbruggen. I studied with her at Stanford for several summers and went on a few years later to join her studio at Utrecht Conservatory in the Netherlands. While I was there, I also studied baroque flute with Marten Root.
I love baroque music because it is so communicative and conversational. It is the first music whose purpose was to please and move the people who heard and played it. And baroque composers expected collaboration from the people who played their music: the notation is intentionally incomplete, with most details of articulation, dynamics, tempo, ornamentation and expression left to the performer. I like that challenge.
3. What do you like most about the repertoire on this upcoming concert?
The flautino concerto RV 443 is a classic example of the music Vivaldi wrote for the girls and young women at the Ospedale della Pietà, the orphanage and music school in Venice where many parents also abandoned their musically talented female children. You can tell from the writing that these were not just ordinary kids. The writing in this concerto is extremely virtuosic, pushing the instrument and the player to the limits of what is possible. It is also joyous and lyrical. I like to imagine Vivaldi giving this to a young recorder player who had already burned through all of the other repertoire, as a challenge to keep her busy. And she determinedly made it work!
Il gardellino is one of Vivaldi’s depictive pieces, along the lines of the Four Seasons. In this case, he’s imitating the songs of the European goldfinch. All of the chirps and riffs he writes into the flute part are inspired by the vocabulary of this particular bird. Since it’s originally for flute, I’ve gone through several sizes of recorders in preparing for this concert, looking for the one that makes the bird songs sound most bird-like.
4. Outside of music, what do you love about Philadelphia?
Philadelphia is a great place to live. I love that I can ride my bike nearly anywhere I need to go, or walk easily to the Italian market or the Asian grocery store or Whole Foods from my house in Bella Vista. And I love living in a real neighborhood, with friendly neighbors, just minutes from center city. Because of the amazing balance of affordability and cultural life here, it’s also one of the only places I know where my lute-playing husband and my recorder-playing self can own a house and direct our own baroque orchestra, Tempesta di Mare. Only in Philadelphia.
5. Do you have a favorite Philadelphia restaurant?
There are so many! We go to Le Viet, the vietnamese place on 11th street, so often that we refer to it as “the annex”. For a special night out, my husband and I go to Bistrot La Minette or Le Cheri. Our favorite takeout comes from Golden Triangle, the Burmese-Malaysian-Thai place on 5th Street. And dimsum in Chinatown is fantastic.
6. Favorite Philadelphia attraction?
The Schuylkill Banks bike trail
7. Favorite Philadelphia food?
Whatever I can cook up from this week’s farm market bounty. Local produce is the best!
8. Describe your perfect day off.
Morning starts with the New York Times crossword puzzle with a cup of coffee, with the “help” of our two siamese cats Dahlia and Wooster. Then, a bike ride to the farm market with my husband to pick up some ingredients. The afternoon off to practice whatever I want. Later, cooking dinner for friends and family, and then hanging around chatting and laughing after everyone is full and happy.
9. What music do you listen to? If something other than classical, what?
I spend most of every day practicing, playing, teaching, rehearsing, coaching, and performing music. So, in my down time, I usually prefer silence or NPR news. But I do enjoy attending concerts of all sorts of non-amplified music — classical and other. And I have the full catalog of The Beatles on my phone, for when I’m stuck in traffic or when I need to clean the house.
10. Do you miss your hometown? Do you still talk with childhood friends?
I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, so my hometown is here. Yes, I have a few friends from childhood, and even more from college and conservatory, with whom I keep up. As maligned as Facebook is, it has made it much easier to find and maintain those connections.
11. If you could have been anything other than a musician, what would that be and why?
I’m fascinated by science and medicine, and I love learning and speaking other languages. But my other real passion is cooking. I’m not sure I would enjoy putting out the same dishes night after night, as you do in a restaurant kitchen, so my other dream job would probably be private chef to a happy and appreciative family that really likes vegetables.
See Gwyn Roberts perform with the Chamber Orchestra for The Italian Baroque concert on March 26 & 27 . Click here for more details.