Featuring Levittown Violist
On Sunday, Oct. 8, The Long Island Baroque Ensemble played in a concert called “Viva Italia” at Christ Church in Oyster Bay.
The term Baroque, according to Baroque.org, is defined as the period of Western European art music from 1600 to 1750.
The Long Island Baroque Ensemble, according to its website, was founded in 1969 by harpsichordist and professor, the late Sonia Gezairlian Grib, originally of East Rockaway, who held the position of artistic director. Her daughter, Margo Andrea Grib, has served as director and mezzo soprano after she retired.
“Christ Church is an incredible place,” Grib said. “It has incredible acoustic, so it’s perfect for music that has no amplification, which we do not have and it’s also a historic church. It’s the church of the Roosevelt family. We’re very happy to be part of the church that was built at a time (1705) where the music we’re performing was composed.”
The ensemble’s concerts often feature rarely heard and unpublished works along with period favorites. The website states that the pioneering of the Long Island Baroque Ensemble led to an increasing popularity of the early music scene, and many of the ensemble’s members are teachers and perform in institutions worldwide.
“This concert is early music of Italy and the composers of Italy and the instruments that would’ve been played mostly during the 16th and 17th century,” Grib said. “Audiences will hear music sung in Italian, and we will provide translations in English of all the pieces that will be sung. Instrumental music will include original instruments, which is unique to Baroque music, for example, we have a gamba player. The gamba in Italian means ‘leg,’ and it looks kind of like a cello, although more strings, and you hold it near your leg.”
Musicians Theresa Salomon and Jude Ziliak played Baroque violins, which is different from the modern violin. The strings are made out of sheep gut, and the shape is different from modern violins. The violins that will be played were constructed in the 17th century.
There was also a harpsichordist, Hsuan Wen Chen. A harpsichord, Grib described, is a very early keyboard that is the predecessor to the piano. The strings are plucked, not hammered,
And the violist, Louise Schulman, played a real Baroque viola; an instrument called a viola d’amore, which Grib described as a “very unusual instrument.” According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the viola d’amore is a bowed string instrument from the 18th century that has “sympathetic strings” that are not played, but are located behind the bowed strings and vibrate “in sympathy.”
Schulman, who serves as an artist representative of the ensemble, joined the group in the 1970s. She is also the principal violist for the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, which plays at venues like Carnegie Hall.
“Margo was a little girl,” Shulman recalled as she put down her violin while practicing on a Tuesday afternoon. “We went through a transition when Sonia retired, may she rest in peace… But Margo finally took over after that transition period and she’s done a great job ever since.”
Schulman says she enjoys helping the director make musical decisions. “I’ve been doing it all these years.”
Schulman’s story of musicianship is a fascinating tale. Growing up in Levittown, Schulman said her mother often played classical music on records she checked out of the library and on the radio.
“Baroque and classical music was part of our diet,” Schulman said, adding that she was enrolled in ballet class, which added to her musicianship. “I do imagine that movement when I’m playing.”
Schulman said her music teacher, Frank Scalzetti, was fantastic and devoted to the students. She said he would take instruments from dealers in New York City and he’d bring them to the school for students to play on. In college, Schulman went to the Hartt School, the performing arts conservatory of the University of Hartford, and played principal viola of the orchestra.
“They had wonderful conductors and wonderful operas,” Schulman said. “They had a fantastic early music department, both the music history teacher and the music history practice with a great lutenist and I was the favorite student!”
When Schulman came back to New York, she went to Juilliard for her Master’s degree during “the first year of Lincoln Center.”
When Schulman began being asked to join early musical groups, she needed instruments, so she started borrowing them.
“But I didn’t like the ones that I borrowed,” Schulman said. “So I bought my own gradually through the years, and now I have a huge amount of instruments and I play them all.”
When asked what’s kept Schulman in music all these years, she said she loves it.
“We love baseball, but the baseball player loves it even more than the fans,” Schulman said. “As musicians, we love it more than the audience.”
The Long Island Baroque Ensemble is funded in part by donors, the New York State Council on the Arts and, this year, by Suffolk County. In the past, the ensemble was supported by Nassau County.
“We are dedicated to keeping these concerts going for another 50 years on Long Island,” Grib said, adding that the ensemble plays concerts all year, including in an annual holiday concert.
For more information about the Long Island Baroque Ensemble, and to get tickets for the upcoming concerts, visit libaroque.org.