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"Queen Christina's Playlist," from ACRONYM and the Boston Early Music Festival

Eleven members of ACRONYM stand outside in a field on an early fall day. They're dressed casually and they all hold their instrument over their right shoulder -- even the cellists and viola de gamba players.
Jeff Weeks
Courtesy of the Artists
The members of ACRONYM.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

On WCRB In Concert with the Boston Early Music Festival, the baroque band ACRONYM performs a collection of pieces associated with the patronage and travels of Queen Christina of Sweden (1626–1689). Featuring some of the most vibrant and fascinating music of 17th-century Europe, this program, part of BEMF's 2023 Celebration of Women, reveals the vastness of Queen Christina’s cultural influence as well as her indelible mark on the sound of European Baroque music.

Adriane Post, violin
Johanna Novom, violin
Edwin Huizinga, violin
Beth Wenstrom, violin
Manami Mizumoto, violin
Kyle Miller, viola
Loren Ludwig, viola da gamba
Kivie Cahn-Lipman, viola da gamba
Paul Dwyer, violoncello
Doug Balliett, violone
Elliot Figg, harpsichord & organ
Daniel Swenberg, theorbo & Baroque guitar

Samuel Friedrich CAPRICORNUS Sonata a8 in A minor
Francesco CAVALLI Canzona a8 in C major
Andreas KIRCHHOFF Sonata a6 in G minor
Johann Philipp KRIEGER Sonata a4 in F major
Arcangelo CORELLI Trio Sonata in C major, Op. 1, No. 7
Bernardo PASQUINI Partita sopra la Aria della Follia da Spagna
Alessandro STRADELLA Trio Sonata in D minor
ANONYMOUS Suite a4 in G minor from Kassel 61d
Antonio BERTALI Sonata a6 in D minor
Alessandro SCARLATTI Sinfonia from Agar et Ismaele esiliati
Clemens THIEME Sonata a8 in C major

This concert was recorded on June 10, 2023 at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall in Boston, and is no longer available on demand.

Learn more about ACRONYM and see upcoming concerts from the Boston Early Music Festival.

See the program notes for this concert.

Hear Edyn-Mae Stevenson speak with Kivie Cahn-Lipman and Doug Balliett about the improvisation and anarchy behind ACRONYM using the audio player above and the transcript below.


Edyn-Mae Stevenson I'm Edyn-Mae Stevenson from WCRB and I'm here at Boston Early Music Festival with Kivie Cahn-Lipman and Doug Balliett of ACROYNM. Thank you guys so much for being here.

Kivie Cahn-Lipman It's a pleasure. Thanks for having us.

Doug Balliett Yeah, thanks.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson I would love it if you could tell our listeners what both of you guys play in the group.

Kivie Cahn-Lipman So I'm a cellist normally, but with ACRONYM typically I play viola de gamba and lirone, which is another member of the gamba family.

Doug Balliett Kivie isn't telling you how crazy the lirone is. It's a 17-string instrument that sustains these chords. I normally play the double bass and today I'm playing something called a violone in D, which is like a viola de gamba but down in Octave. It's like a bass-sized viola. It's pretty cool.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson It sounds very cool. So this is really old music that you guys are playing, but your group has a way of bringing something very new and refreshing to it, and I was wondering, uh, what's the secret?

Doug Balliett Gosh, this music invites a lot of imagination, wouldn't you say, Kivie? In fact, it demands it. If you play it just reading it down, there's very few dynamics, there's very few phrase markings. So you have to understand the language and sort of find where the sentences and paragraphs are. And then you can let your imagination go wild and you can make a lot of character decisions.

Kivie Cahn-Lipman Improvization is key. We are both members of the bass section of the ensemble and basically the composers give us—it's the figured bass, it's a Baroque chord chart, and we are all, especially the keyboardist and plucker, theorbist or guitarist, improvising on this chord chart, and we tend to do some really exciting stuff.

Doug Balliett Yeah, and on top of that, the treble instruments, the violins are also—they have fairly simple melodies and they're improvising the way a saxophone player would on a tune. You can recognize it, but it's a little bit different every time. And I would add, just on top of that, that ACRONYM is sort of like a group run on anarchy principles. [Kivie chuckles] We don't really have a central music director, and when people come to our rehearsal process, they often say, "Wow, I can't believe it works, what you're doing, everybody having such an equal voice." But we try everything out and we sort of feel in our guts what's working and what's not. And that also allows a lot of freedom.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson So we're getting a one of a kind performance today, is what I'm hearing.

Doug Balliett Oh, definitely. It's going to be different from last time and different from next time.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson And is it true that you guys have been playing together for like almost ten years at this point?

Kivie Cahn-Lipman Yeah. It was summer, 2012. We first got together and had a very hasty rehearsal and recording process for our first big project. So it's been more than ten years now.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson How does that feel?

Kivie Cahn-Lipman It's amazing. It feels really recent that we did that. But it's... we've been doing it now for a while.

Doug Balliett Yeah, it's amazing because it doesn't feel like the magic is gone. I still look forward to ACRONYM weeks. I know they're going to be refreshing in my schedule, a nice chance to make music with friends in a very free and liberated way.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson This program that we're going to hear today is called "Queen Christina's Playlist." Who is Queen Christina?

Kivie Cahn-Lipman So Queen Christina was Queen of Sweden in the 17th century. She wasn't just a monarch. She was a diplomat, she was a scholar. Most important for us, she was a patron of the arts, and she commissioned a large number of operas of oratorios instrumental compositions. So we've assembled a bunch of them that were written for her or collected by her, and that she was instrumental in bringing to life.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson She sounds like a very cool lady. Do you think she would have liked ACRONYM?

Doug Balliett Oh, yeah, for sure. [Kivie laughs] She would have hired us on the spot to be her in-house ensemble [Kivie laughs], and she had a great eye for talent too. Some of the pieces we're playing are by composers who will become almost household names like Corelli and Scarlatti. She spotted [them] as young composers like, "Well, let's support these guys."

Edyn-Mae Stevenson The program notes kind of read like one name drop after the other. [Stevenson laughs]

Kivie Cahn-Lipman Yeah, it was amazing that she was commissioning not just the great composers who were the most famous of her era, but these young hotshots who were going to be the next generation of talent.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson I was wondering if you guys were talking to someone who doesn't necessarily listen to early music at all, what would you want them to know about this concert?

Doug Balliett Just expect to be entertained. Just follow the musical ideas and listen to the musical personalities. There's nothing stuffy about what we're doing. In fact, it's very open to fresh ideas. And yeah, just listen with an open heart.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson Well, thank you guys for being here. Thanks so much for sitting down and talking with me.

Doug Balliett Thank you, yeah.

Kivie Cahn-Lipman Thanks so much.