ARTEK Gwendolyn Toth

ARTEK Gwendolyn Toth

I came to New York City in the early 1980s after studying harpsichord and organ with Ton Koopman in Amsterdam, fresh from the vibrant European early music scene. After some time, I planned a series of concerts in spring 1986 at a new and interesting mechanical action organ by Hellmuth Wolff of Canada where the late Donald Joyce had performed a series of the complete organ works of Bach. I felt that a mixed concert would draw more audience than an organ-alone concert; and my friend Alex Blachly suggested the name “The Art of the Early Keyboard” for the series.

After this first successful series, praised even by the New York Times, one of the fans said, “Of course you are going to do it again next year, aren’t you?” Until that minute, I had not thought beyond the final concert. The idea was a bit of a light bulb for me; I realized I had all sorts of program ideas. Thus, The Art of the Early Keyboard – now generally known by its abbreviation, ARTEK – was born.

It’s difficult to imagine that 2014-2015 is now ARTEK’s 30th season. Where have the years gone? ARTEK achieved quite a few milestones during that time. We were the first New York City ensemble to employ a theorbist regularly, the same as in Europe; up until then, the outdated idea that a continuo team consisted merely of a harpsichordist and a cellist. We also became known for using the appropriate harpsichord for each repertoire. In fact I’ve never owned a French baroque harpsichord, which was the only standard when I arrived in New York City (of course, I did borrow one when needed). In addition to the harpsichord and fortepiano, I’ve performed on lautenwerk and clavichord (C. P. E. Bach’s Fantasy with violin), and both large church organs and my own continuo organ.

ARTEK had the distinction of producing the first North American recording of Monteverdi’s masterpiece, the opera Orfeo, which was no small undertaking in 1993 when we performed and recorded it. There were few cornetto players in North America; our baroque harpist came from Germany, and Fred Renz was exceedingly kind to me and rented his beautiful regal (and joined us in the performances too). By that time I had realized that Monteverdi was under-represented in American concert life, and ARTEK embraced a goal to perform Monteverdi’s entire opus. Today, we have performed nearly everything; some early madrigals remain unperformed, a few sacred pieces, and the opera Ulysses.

For five years we traveled the world with the Mark Morris Dance Group, as musicians for a dance called “I Don’t Want to Love” set to Monteverdi madrigals from books 7 & 8. I particularly remember five weeks with the company touring the UK in fall 2001, answering people’s questions about New Yorkers and 9/11. In 2005 we mounted our biggest project so far: two weeks with a fully theatrical show of staged Monteverdi madrigals called “I’ll Never See the Stars Again” (yes, before the Brits took the same idea and made “The Full Monteverdi”) as well as a late-night show called Graveyard Music.

We finally played at Lincoln Center in 2010 and along the way visited most of the major early music festivals: Regensburg (Germany), Utrecht Fringe (Netherlands), Boston, Berkeley, and others. Since very early on, ARTEK has always been a stable group of performers, relying on some amazing chamber musicians – both singers and instrumentalists. We still work with one performer from our very first season – countertenor Drew Minter, who is currently collaborating on a project about Matilda of Tuscany that includes Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento as the centerpiece.

Along the way, while all this music-making was going on, I married my wonderful husband and musical partner, Dongsok Shin (I am actually quite sure that without his help moving, tuning, and recording concerts, ARTEK would have been much more limited). And, we raised three children. I also maintained a full-time church position and some forays into academia. My kids grew up around the concerts. There was some truly memorable times involving breast-feeding my son on tour with Mark Morris; I remember my middle daughter directing some other children on clearing programs from the seats after a concert when she was about 10. My oldest daughter created artwork for some of our flyers and postcards. When we were at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, she was the house manager, and her sister did all the concessions. They posed for pictures advertising our Graveyard Music show, and were sent out to the Royal Mile in graveyard costume (ghostly white dresses) to drum up audience for that evening’s show! Truly, ARTEK has been quite a family affair.

Besides a wonderful season coming up in 2014-2015, ARTEK will produce a grand anniversary show in January 2016 celebrating the 30th birthday of ARTEK’s very beginnings: a performance of the monumental Intermedii of 1589, inviting all of our past performers to rejoin us. ARTEK continues to study early music and performance practice and apply the latest findings – Venetian Latin for Monteverdi’s Vespers, period orchestra seating, refinements in tuning and temperament, and the discovery of rarely heard masterpieces such as the music of Johann Rosenmueller. We have five CDs currently (available at and now we are putting many video clips and recordings on Youtube (Artekearlymusic channel). Gone also are the days of laboriously cutting and pasting parts from xeroxes; we have many of our own editions from original facsimiles in Finale and Sibelius. Modern-day technology has spread our reach but ARTEK’s heart remains the music of centuries ago.

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