Hurdy-Gurdy in the 21st Century

I first encountered the Hurdy-Gurdy eons ago at a concert by Gabriel Yacoub at the French Institute here in NYC. He was accompanied by Giles Chabenat on the instrument and I was immediately taken with what Yacoub described as "the medieval synthesizer." It had a sound that was simultaneously ancient and immediate, and I never forgot it.

Fast forward, and another great master of the instrument, Matthias Loibner, was coming to town. I was not that familiar with his work, or his duo with Bosnian singer Natasa Mirkovic-DeRo, but it was intriguing to be told that while they would be presenting a folk repertoire at Joe's Pub, they would be performing a classical program at the Austrian Cultural Forum the next night. (Both were part of the Forum's very varied programming.)

The two nights were completely different, so I have provided two videos to give you an idea of the range. First off here's a simply wonderful performance of "Magla Padnala" a folksong that is attributed to Macedonia -- albeit not without local controversy! Loibner uses loops and computer generated effects to achieve a Fripp-like, stratospheric setting for Ms. Mirkovic-DeRo's formidable vocal chops.

The next night they presented their interpretation of "Winterreise" Schubert's renowned song cycle based on the poems of Wilhelm Müller. Here, as you will see, the classical training and sensibility of both artists comes to the fore: Mirkovic-DeRo, negotiates the subtleties of each song with bel canto ease, while Loibner coaxes Schubert's arrangements for piano out of his very different instrument with wonderful sensitivity.
Here are two songs from the cycle. It should be mentioned that "Der Leiermann," the last song of the cycle, is actually about a hurdy-gurdy player, and was the starting off point for the duo's interest in re-interpeting the entire work.

What is apparent from both of these videos is that in the hands of the right musician, the Hurdy-Gurdy is a fully modern instrument, and not a relic from another time. And if you want to know more about Mr. Loibner and the Hurdy-Gurdy, you can learn more here.

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