Sonnambula performs rare old music written for the viola da gamba (viol) and similar instruments.
Those of us who grew up playing music are likely more familiar with what music historians call "violin family" instruments—violins, violas, and cellos—in a modern setup, with innovations that have evolved over the last two hundred years to fill modern concert halls with sound: steel strings, end pins, chin rests, and modern bows.
Viols possess none of these artifacts of industrialization. Their delicate bodies are made with thin slabs of wood, strung with gut strings and frets, and are played da gamba, or 'on the leg'. In short, these instruments are meant for the court, for the domestic interior, and for the cultivation of a quiet beauty, the sort of which is difficult to come by in today's loud and fast-paced world.
Praised as “superb” by The New Yorker, Sonnambula is a Renaissance ensemble that brings to light unknown music for various combinations of early instruments with the lush sound of the viol at the core. Sonnambula had its début at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s MetLiveArts series last season with a landmark performance of the complete works of Leonora Duarte (1610–1678), also the subject of the ensemble’s first CD, due to come out in November 2017 with Centaur Records, Inc. The undertaking, a collaboration with The New York Times Magazine photography critic, Teju Cole, will be the first complete recording of Duarte’s work. Sonnambula has a strong commitment to education, and has presented interactive masterclasses, lecture/demonstrations, museum programs, and composer workshops at The Frick Collection, The Hispanic Society of America, and Princeton University, where they are working at the Princeton Sound Kitchen lab to commission new work for old instruments, an effort that culminated in a concert of new music at Princeton in April 2017. The ensemble will continue its residency at The Hispanic Society of America this season with two concerts of work by unknown female composers with ties to the Spanish diaspora; previous concerts at the HSA have included premieres of 18th-century Cuban sacred works presented by the Cuban Cultural Center of New York; ¡Zarzuela!, a program of Spanish theatrical music of the high Baroque; and a sold-out program of Spanish Golden Age works drawn from the over 450 pieces in the Cancionero Musical de Palacio, a manuscript at the Royal Palace of Madrid. Sonnambula has performed on historic instruments at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, has been a featured ensemble at the Amherst Early Music Festivals, and was this summer's artist in residence at the Madison Early Music Festival in Madison, Wisconsin. Other engagements include concerts at Alice Tully Hall, Columbia University, Spectrum, and The Museum of Biblical Art in New York, as well as in numerous other venues throughout the Northeast.