Musicians Of Ma’alwyck Unites Historic Sites With Music Of Their Era | WAMC

Musicians Of Ma’alwyck Unites Historic Sites With Music Of Their Era

Feb 28, 2021

Today there is a trend towards immersive and interactive experiences in all forms of entertainment.

Actually, the ensemble chamber group Musicians of Ma’alwyck has been ahead of the curve.  For over twenty years, they've been performing music in historical buildings that were inhabited in the same era the music was created. 

They just released a new cd, “Hyde Hall and the Silver Goddess:  Operatic Brilliance of Auber, Bellini, Meyerbeer and Rossini.”  The cd was recorded at Hyde Hall in Cooperstown.  It is a space where the same music was performed when the house was inhabited by the Clarke Family in the 1830s and 40s.

Combining history and music is what drives Ma'alwyck's founder Ann-Marie Schwartz.  After graduating college as a music major, the Schenectady native joined the Albany Symphony as a violinist.  At the same time, she took a job as an overnight host on local classical musical station.   The radio station permitted her total access to their extensive musical library where she discovered a treasure trove of over 20,000 albums, many of which had been forgotten.  Inspired by her discoveries, she enrolled in SUNY-Albany and earned a Masters in the self-created field of Early-American Music.

In 1999 she formed Musicians of Ma’alwyk, which devotes itself to performing historical music at area venues, but especially historical sites.  For 21 years, they’ve been the resident company at Schuyler Mansion and play regularly at Ten Broeck Mansion in Albany, Crailo in Rensselaer, Hyde Hall and other historic sites.

The idea for the cd came about when last year, the pandemic forced a Mother’s Day concert at Hyde Hall to be cancelled.  Doing research for the performance she was granted access to the historic buildings vast collection of transcripts of 19th century operas.  She found another treasure trove of neglected music.  At the suggestion and with the support of Hyde Hall they produced this cd.   “It was a gift and a windfall for which I am eternally grateful,” she says, as she praises the Hall’s executive director Jonathan Maney and the entire staff.

It might seem an odd association – opera and early-18th century American music, especially in rural upstate N.Y.   Schwartz explains that in the early to mid-1800s, the nation was devoted to opera.   “They couldn’t get enough of it,” she says.  Since the Clarke family was extremely wealthy, they, like other prominent families, frequently had social gatherings centered on chamber opera presentations.    She says to play those same concerts where they were performed almost two-hundred years ago is a rare and unique event for both performer and audience.  “The sense of place adds warmth and beauty to the experience,” she says. 

Just as important, she believes these feelings transmit to the cd.  “There is something about the authenticity of the music and site of the performance that reaches out on the cd,” she says. 

At the request of Hyde Hall, a locally created piece is included on the cd.  “The Otsego Polka,” is a piece written in 1847.  Its inscription describes the work as “a tribute to the young ladies of Mrs. Cotes Seminary in Springfield, N.Y.,” which is near Hyde Hall.  Schwartz says it captures the flavor and the lighthearted mood of the era. 

A few days ago, Musicians of Ma’alwyck held a cd release party at Caffe Lena in Saratoga.  It was another historic combination.  Caffe Lena was established in 1960, is the oldest continuously run coffee house in the United States.  It's the Mecca for lovers of folk music.

Schwartz says than when during rehearsals as they heard the fiddle sounds in “Otsego Polka,” it was as if the piece might have been created with Caffe Lena in mind.   It’s a lovely thought that a plunk of a string can connect hundreds of years of music.

The cd is available at musiciansofmaalwyk.org

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

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