Out of the Box: Lixsania Fernández

Mar 6, 2020

The Cuban-born viola da gamba player's stunning music-making rekindles a faith in genuine and fullfilling concert performance experiences. 

WHAT: Lixsania Fernández, viola da gamba, & Recondita Armonia – Schenk: Tyd en Konst-Oeffeningen, Op. 2 (Sonatas for Viola da Gamba)

WHY THIS MUSIC: I didn't know of Lixsania Fernández before she came to perform with Jordi Savall at a recent concert in Cambridge. But she was so dynamic and engaging on stage, I simply had to feature her playing on Out of the Box.

I have a confession. I often find myself turned off by classical concerts.

There, I said it.

Not that I don’t love going. I do! After all, this music - this living, breathing, dynamic art form - was intended to be heard live, not recorded and played just one way, again and again. It certainly wasn’t conceived with radio in mind. But the concert experience can also be so off-putting.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have gone to a performance with high hopes for a lovely evening, only to have those hopes dashed by a chill in the room. "Tread carefully," the chill seems to say. "Follow the rules, or else."

Perhaps you’ve felt it too.

Lixsania Fernández is a formidable and fearless artist - and an inspiration to all women who play the viol. What she's creating so generously is a future for music that we simply cannot afford to miss. - Shirley Hunt, Principle viola da gamba, Handel and Haydn Society

All this to say, it was a refreshing delight to experience Lixsania Fernández perform during all-Iberian concert with Jordi Savall as part of the Boston Early Music Festival.

Fernández is a Cuban-born viola da gamba soloist, who is based in Spain. And in addition to performing with many of the top early music ensembles in the world - including Jordi Savall's Hespérion XXI - she has her own group, Recondita Armonia. Together they recorded a lovely 2014 album of viola da gamba sonatas by Dutch composer Johannes Schenk. Her playing is marked by a vitality that I deeply cherish in soloists, as though, in playing something written hundreds of years ago, she is actually, organically willing the music to form out of thin air. 

And that quality was on full display at that BEMF concert.

I should note that Fernández was not the headliner that evening at Sanders Theatre. Jordi Savall was. However when she flowed on stage, beaming, by all appearances genuinely excited to perform for us, the evening quickly became about her. You could hear the programs rustle open as everyone tried to figure out who she was, mine included.

And then she began to play.

As Zoë Madonna at the Boston Globe wrote in her review, “Lixsania Fernández’s teal coif caught the eye, and she had even more to offer the ears — simultaneously playing the tenor viol, singing mezzo-soprano, and grooving in her seat.”

The grooving was particularly special because it meant she allowed us, the audience, to participate in the music making and, more generously, to set aside classical music propriety and etiquette worries and just enjoy a great evening of music. 

She made it okay for us to be ourselves.

As if to punctuate this, looking to my right during the concert, I saw a young man, perhaps 15 years old, actively drumming along to the music on his thighs. Did his action draw looks from his neighbors? Absolutely. But it also drew smiles at how fully engrossed he was in the performance onstage. 

His capitvation was shared by all of us.