Musicians Tune Into Hidden Women of Baroque Music

Keeping Older Music Relevant and New

September 10 at 2 pm
Palladium Theater, St Pete
Details here

If you slipped into a time machine and went back three or four centuries, the world around you wouldn’t just look different, it would sound different.

Music from those days was raw and simple, with strange instruments tuned to exotic keys. But oh, what a wondrous resonance they made – and still do.

You don’t need a time machine to hear this moment in music history because a number of gutsy souls specialize in period-performance style – playing instruments and notes in a manner from long ago. For listeners, it demands a pair of attentive ears, and on Sunday at the Palladium Theater members of St. Pete Baroque will make the old sound, well, new.

Dan Urbanowicz, violist and artistic director of St Pete Baroque – photo by Kaitlyn Resler

“These are different instruments and sounds that you won’t hear in a normal concert hall,’’ says Dan Urbanowicz, artistic director of the group he founded three years ago. “These instruments are outside anything most people know and most are very rare.’’

You’ve heard a violin and harpsichord. But what about the 14-string viola d’amore, or the theorbo, which looks like a lute with a giraffe’s neck?

“I’ve only seen a theorbo maybe five times in my life,’’ says Urbanowicz, a violist with the Sarasota Orchestra. “You just don’t run across one very often.’’

David Dolata playing theorbo

The program, Lifting Unheard Baroque Voices, is about more than just unusual, oddly tuned instruments. The band will perform music by forgotten composers − not men, but women.

“I like to include women on our programs because there’s such an uneven picture of Western music with all the Bach and Handel and Vivaldi,’’ Urbanowicz adds. “But there were women composers and much of their music is amazing. So, it’s important to showcase them.’’

The bill features Elisabeth-Jacquet de la Guerre, a court musician under King Louis XIV; Barbara Strozzi, a singer and composer who published eight volumes of her own music; Isabella Leonarda, an Italian nun with a portfolio of more than 200 works; and Lucretia Vizzana, a Bolognese nun influenced by Claudio Monteverdi, who also appears on the program.

Soprano Hein Jung

Performers include Urbanowicz on viola d’amore, soprano Hein Jung and violinist Sarah Shellman – along with guest artists Sarah Biber of Colorado, on viola da gamba, David Dolata of Miami on theorbo, and Webb Wiggins of Fort Lauderdale on harpsichord.

Violinist Sarah Shellman

Shellman plays a modern violin as a member of The Florida Orchestra, but takes a different approach to her instrument for this concert – a Baroque fiddle with a short, flat fingerboard and sheep-gut strings. Her instrument is tuned to A flat instead of the traditional A, at a pitch of 415 vibrations per second instead of the standard 440. This gives it a slightly off-kilter sound.

“Adjusting to the different pitch center can be a challenge,’’ she says. “It’s about a half step lower than what we’re used to on our regular instruments. To top it off, in the Baroque ensemble we’re also playing one-to-a-part, so there’s no hiding mistakes and miscalculations.’’

Sarah Biber plays viola da gamba

St. Pete Baroque is a Palladium Theater Creative Fellowship recipient. They formed in 2021 with the idea of playing music not heard anywhere else, material that resides far outside the repertoire of orchestras and most modern chamber groups.

The Baroque era spanned 1600 to 1750 and includes thousands of manuscripts to discover and rediscover. This makes the group a sort of “alternative band’’ for neglected music.

Webb Wiggins performs on harpsichord

“The music is relevant because in a way it’s new, with people hearing it for the first time,’’ Urbanowicz says.

“And because so much of this music is rarely played, it’s a chance to bring to light a part of history many people didn’t know was there.’’


St. Pete Baroque
Sunday, September 10 at 2 pm
Palladium Theater
253 5th Ave. N., St. Petersburg

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