On Nov. 24, a modern-day violin virtuoso and her gifted keyboard accompanist will pay tribute to a legendary 18th century violinist/composer with a special concert at the Athenaeum.
Victoria Martino and James Lent will mark the 300th anniversary of Arcangelo Corelli’s death with another of their musical marathons, featuring all 12 of Corelli’s sonatas for violin and organ continuo, performed on authentic Baroque violin and pipe organ.
Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) was the most popular Italian composer of the Baroque era, a major influence on Vivaldi, Bach and Handel whose sonatas and concertos were famous throughout Europe. His skill as a composer was matched by his skill as a performer. He toured widely, establishing the violin as a solo instrument, and has been called the “World’s First Great Violinist.” Well-rewarded for his work in his lifetime, he is buried in the Pantheon at Rome.
For the past seven years, Martino and Lent have been performing commemorative anniversary marathons of the complete violin works of some of their favorite composers, starting with Mozart in 2006 (26 sonatas in eight hours on his 250th birthday), and including Bach, Handel and Beethoven.
Their Corelli concert will be only a quarter as long as their Mozart marathon, but it’s even more challenging.
“The music is so demanding,” Martino said. “Corelli wrote these pieces for himself to perform, and included every technical trick in the book, most of which he invented. Preparing for the concert is like going through an anthology of everything anyone could do on the violin in 1700.”
Corelli, like other composers of his time, did not actually provide complete scores for his compositions.
“Performers were expected to co-create the music, embellishing what was written down with their own ornamentation, like jazz musicians,” Martino said. “I have to train hard for the concert, to have the physical, intellectual and creative stamina to do it, first to learn all the pieces, and then to be in top form for over two hours. It’s pretty scary, and it’s a one-time only event.”
Martino, who was raised in La Jolla, has had a long and varied career on three continents. She calls Lent, who has a Ph.D. in music performance from Yale, one of the most sought-after collaborative keyboardists in Southern California, and the two will be performing on authentic Baroque instruments.
“This will be an amazing opportunity for audiences to hear Corelli’s works performed on an 18th century violin that has never been modified and an organ with all wooden pipes,” Martino said. “There’s no way to duplicate that special sound! What these instruments have is an incredible, embracing warmth, and in the Athenaeum’s intimate setting, the music will penetrate into your bones.”
Martino has been “in training” for weeks, running the entire program every evening, in addition to her regular practicing.
“One must be a gymnast, wizard, fire-eater, tightrope walker, poet and priest in order to perform this extraordinary music,” she said. “You’ll understand when you hear it!”