Baroque Violinist Augusta McKay Lodge on the Ephemerality of Musical Experiences

By Catherine Yang, Epoch Times
October 15, 2018 Updated: October 27, 2018

NEW YORK—”I don’t think you should make it too grand of a thing,” violinist Augusta McKay Lodge says of music. “It’s too ephemeral, it’s fleeting, you’re in the moment. It’s not something that stays around.”

Just the other week she attended a contemporary concert, far from the sonic world she is usually in.

“But the performance was so good that while I was sitting there, I was relating it to different experiences of mine,” she said. “I think that’s what music is about.”

McKay Lodge performs on both Baroque and moderns violins, with a focus on historical performance, and has been steadily gaining acclaim.

In the past few years, she’s won a slew of awards at top competitions around the world, and has formed the period chamber ensemble Voyage Sonique with colleagues who played together in Juilliard415, the school’s historical performance ensemble. She also released her debut solo album this spring, “Beyond Bach and Vivaldi,” showing a deftness and talent that should prove exciting.

Voyage Sonique performing their 2018 season opening concert at the Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church on Oct. 10, 2018. (Shenghua Sung)

She has a busy schedule in the coming weeks. In late October, Voyage Sonique will reconvene in Switzerland for the Lyceum Club International de Suisse competition, and then she’s touring Russia with a French orchestra. After that, she’s back in New York to perform in an orchestra as concertmaster, and then off to do an opera program in France.

But she thrives on it.

“It’s a lot of fun,” she emphasized.

McKay Lodge is in the process of an unending discovery of music, collaborations, an expanding career, and her own artistry.

Finding Voice in the Violin

It wasn’t love at first sight.

McKay Lodge grew up in Oberlin, Ohio, surrounded by Baroque music from attending concerts and singing in choirs. Though she had been playing the violin since age 3, it wasn’t until she was 17 that a conductor she’d worked with, as a singer, suggested she pick up Baroque violin.

“I actually didn’t like it as much,” she said with a laugh. There are physical differences in the violin, most notably for the player a shorter fingerboard and stouter neck, so that the left-hand technique can feel entirely different from the modern violin. “It’s as if it’s a different instrument completely.”

Her mother suggested she give it a chance before giving up entirely, so she did. Before the year was over, it had come to be a part of her.

“The way you play is actually very different. … The music can speak a little more lively,” she said.

McKay Lodge likens it to a conversational speech pattern, where you can listen for little quirks in pronunciation and various inflections, whereas later styles, following this analogy, might be compared to ceremonial speech.

“It’s a more relaxed, looser way of playing,” she said.

In performance, she seeks to really bring out the character of the music, leaving audiences feeling like they “understood” a piece even with no words spoken between them, and no prior knowledge of the music.

For classical musicians, especially those who specialize in early music, a lot of the process is about finding something new in the old—of which there is aplenty.

“There’s just so much Baroque music out there that we haven’t discovered yet just lying in the stacks,” she said. “A lot of it is unlabeled and could belong to a famous composer. Or a not-so-famous composer!”

Coming Into Her Own

McKay Lodge leads and collaborates as a concertmaster, and she plays for operas from the pit, where she can see something much larger and grander unfold. She’s also coming into her own as an artistic director in learning how to program concerts and lead her ensemble. On top of all that, with the thrill of recording an album (she’s already looking forward to the next three), McKay Lodge is growing in leaps and bounds.

A tremendous amount of training has led up to this point, and she is wide open to her opportunities.

“Now I can have a little bit more fun with things, and experiment more and take risks, and have a concert that might be a complete flop, but that’s OK, because there’s another. And for artistry, I think that really helps a lot; it’s really important,” she said.

“You can put yourself out there in the moment musically. And that’s when really good things can happen—also really terrible things, it just depends.”

Every project comes with its own challenges and opportunities for growth. Though sometimes it turns out that what’s needed is a reprieve and reflective focus.

For instance, McKay Lodge specifically chose some lesser-known pieces in her album of rare, unaccompanied works for Baroque violin, largely to show there is much from that music world besides the well-known Bach sonatas and partitas, and Vivaldi’s works.

Of course she has some favorites, like fantastical and virtuosic 17th-century Italian Baroque pieces, but she finds there are charming qualities to every piece when delving in to discover them. And there’s the adventure and challenge of really understanding how a piece she’s never heard voiced works.

“The last track on my CD, which is the Biber Passacaglia … I never really got it and never really loved it until I made myself do it for that recording and really worked with it,” she explained. “It is this very meditative, quiet kind of repetitive piece.”

But McKay Lodge came to accept the piece for what it is, and though it is not a physically exciting piece the way some others are, the challenge was in rendering the Passacaglia for an audience who is hearing it for the first time.

First and foremost, she wants the audience to be able to feel and experience the character of each piece they hear. “And I want them to be entertained,” she added.

That is the performing artist’s role, to create the experience that can really “[draw] out different emotions, heightening that for you. … If you’re feeling something, anything, or just having an experience, that human reaction to it, I think that’s what music is.”

Undeniably skilled, McKay Lodge and her colleagues in Voyage Sonique are artists fast maturing and definitely ones to watch, as there will undoubtedly be good things to come.

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