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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the May 8, 2002

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Rebel: Music That Can Heal

Violinists Karen Marmer and Jorg-Michael Schwarz are

co-founders of the baroque chamber group Rebel, it’s true. However,

the staid "co-founders" fails to convey the bold playfulness

of their inventing the ensemble.

In 1991 Marmer and Schwarz, husband and wife, were living in


She was studying at the Royal conservatory in the Hague; he was


in various orchestras. In whatever time they could spare, they got

together with a harpsichordist and a gambist to explore the baroque


At the conservatory, Marmer heard of a competition for early music

ensembles. The prize was 10,000 guilders, more than $1,000. "We

needed the money," Marmer says in a telephone interview from her

home in Westchester. "We figured we had nothing to lose. We


playing together, in any case. Much to our surprise, we won. Nobody

knew that we were not a group." Required to list the name of their

ensemble in order to enter the competition, the four plucky


decided to call themselves "Ensemble Rebel," after the French

baroque composer Jean-Fery Rebel (1666-1747), whose musical homage

to Jean-Baptiste Lully, in particular, drew them to his work.

The name is pronounced "re-BEL." The group has now dropped

the word "Ensemble" from its title, and consists of five core

members. It’s base is New York.

The ensemble performs in the Raritan River Music Festival on Saturday,

May 11, at 7:30 p.m., with a program of Italian and German music from

the 17th and 18th centuries called "Vivaldi, Venice and


The performance takes place in scenic western New Jersey at the Old

Greenwich Presbyterian Church, Bloomsbury. Playing in the Bloomsbury

concert are four of the five permanent members of Rebel: Schwarz and

Marmer, violins and co-directors of the ensemble; John Moran, cello;

and Dongsok Shin, harpsichord. Joining them are Peter Bucknell, viola;

Anne Trout, double bass; and Daniel Swenberg, who plays lute, theorbo

(an oversized baroque lute), and baroque guitar.

The concert is the second of a series that runs until May 25. The

organizers of the Saturday-night festival, now in its 13th year, are

duo-guitarists Michael Newman and Laura Oltman. On May 18 Newman gives

a solo performance celebrating the 30th anniversary of his first


performance. On May 25 Newman and Oltman appear with the Meridian

String Quartet in a program of American music, including Dvorak.

Marmer and Schwarz, co-founders, and co-directors of Rebel, returned

to New York in 1992 when Marmer’s parents became ill. Their musical

and personal lives are inseparable. As Marmer talks on the telephone,

she turns often to Schwarz for information she does not have at hand.

Marmer was born in Queens more than 30 years ago, to natives of the

borough, and grew up there. Her father, a dentist, played piano. Her

mother, a school teacher sang. She studied at Queens College, Yale

School of Music, and the Baroque Performance Institute at Oberlin,

in addition to the Conservatory in the Hague. Her husband was born

in Weinsberg, Germany, not far from Stuttgart.

When they returned to the United States in 1992, Marmer and Schwarz

continued in their positions at the Stuttgart Baroque Orchestra.


was concertmaster; Marmer, assistant concertmaster. "They paid

our plane fare to Europe four times a year," Marmer says. The

Stuttgart subsidy helped keep their sideline Ensemble Rebel fiscally


In 1996 Marmer and Schwarz separated amicably from the Stuttgart


The conductor of the orchestra agreed with Marmer and Schwarz that

it was time for them to move on.

However, the future of their baroque ensemble was not

at all clear in 1996. "We realized that Ensemble Rebel wouldn’t

work out financially," Marmer says. "We [she means Schwarz

and herself] decided to add a cellist. The lack of a cello prevented

us from playing about 60 percent of the baroque repertoire. But the


and the harpsichordist didn’t want to change the continuo structure

of the ensemble." Perhaps they did not wish to attenuate their

control of bass-line management in the group. "We formed a new

ensemble with a new continuo group from the northeast corridor,"

Marmer says. Cello and harpsichord replaced gamba and harpsichord.

Along with the instrumental makeover, the performers simplified their

name, reducing it to the single word "Rebel."

Marmer relishes the name "Rebel, with its unexpected pronunciation

and misleading connotation. "When we played at the University

of Chicago," she says, "students phoned the box office to find

out what kind of a rock group we were." She unfurls three pluses

for calling the ensemble Rebel (re-Bel). "It’s an unlikely name

for a baroque ensemble, people remember it, and we don’t mind its

maverick connotation."

Marmer and Schwarz are truly co-directors of the group. "We take

equal responsibility in managing all aspects of the ensemble from

programming to booking concerts, Marmer says. There is no outside


Musically, Marmer and Schwarz have settled into non-conflicting roles.

"Jorg is the first violin, but I put in more than my share when

it comes to interpretation," Marmer says. Rarely, they switch

first and second violin parts. "I like playing second violin.

A group is only as good as its second violin," says Marmer, who

also plays viola when needed. "The inner parts account for a lot

of the musical direction and force of a musical interpretation. I

feel very empowered playing second violin. Jorg is very comfortable

playing first violin. He’s a brilliant soloist. We’ve both found our


Marmer and Schwarz do not necessarily agree on musical interpretation.

How do they handle disagreements? "I just say I won’t cook dinner

for him if he doesn’t come round," Marmer jokingly replies.


take our disagreements to the dinner table. That’s the downside of

being married to your co-director. We also have a lot of musical


at rehearsals before the other members of the ensemble. That way


who have no position about an interpretation can listen, and tell

how the music sounds. We all engage in spirited discussions about

interpretation. Every one feels they have a lot to say and are


for their opinions. It’s very stimulating."

Yet Marmer stops short of advocating equality within the ensemble.

"Even though democracy is an idealistic way for an ensemble to

be run," she says, "it doesn’t work that way in reality. When

people are at a loss about interpretation, we defer to Jorg for final


Rebel uses period instruments. The violins and cello were built


before and shortly after 1700. The harpsichord is a reproduction.

"Jorg and I play on old instruments," Marmer says. Jorg’s

is a Jacobus Stainer from 1668, a German instrument. I play an Antonio

Maria Lavazza built in Milan in 1720. The cello is a Barak-Norman

instrument made in England about 1700. There are very few old


Dongsok built his himself. It’s a copy of an Italian instrument by

an unknown late 17th-century harpsichord maker.

Marmer’s and Schwarz’s instruments have been modified and then brought

back to their original state, Marmer says. She explains. "In the

early 1800s, string instruments were being modernized. They were given

new necks at a steeper angle in order to increase the tension on the

instrument, and their pitch went up. Our instruments were modernized.

We `re-baroqued’ them. They’ve had their necks chopped off twice.

My Lavazza was originally Jorg’s modern instrument. At first we


sure how it would work out to re-baroque it, but the violin has never

sounded better. It was not difficult to find a restorer." The

work was done by William Monical of Staten Island.

Except for the lowest string, the ensemble uses gut strings, which

are generally believed to produce a more mellow sound than metal


The lowest string is wound with aluminum "In baroque times,"

says Marmer "they used any metal they could get their hands on,

for the lowest string, mostly copper. Aluminum is soft, lasts long,

like copper, and feels good to the touch. Copper oxidizes. It gives

you green fingers."

Rebel is in residence at New York’s Trinity Church, where it performs

several times year "at Christmas, Easter and in between,"

Marmer says. For the Trinity Church concerts Rebel finds enough


instrumentalist to expand into a small orchestra. At Trinity it has

played the Bach B-minor mass, the Mozart Requiem, and performed for

church services. The Handel "Messiah," in which it appeared

in December, was of international interest.

Trinity Church, located a short distance from the World

Trade Center, originally decided that because of the terrorist attack,

it would cancel its annual presentation of "Messiah." Because

of smoke damage, its organ was unplayable and its choir vestments

were unusable. The New York Times and its radio station WQXR offered

financial support and persuaded Trinity to carry on with the concert.

Radio stations in the United States and abroad carried the compelling

performance of a lean and intense "Messiah."

Pleased with the reception of the "Messiah" broadcast, WQXR

aired Rebel’s Lenten performance of music by Henry Purcell and Thomas

Morley. National Public Radio’s "Performance Today" has played

music by the group at least 25 times, in addition to presenting it

live. St. Paul Sunday has featured Rebel twice.

Rebel leaves a permanent record, also, through its CDs. In a recording

project expected to last until 2009, the ensemble records all of


sacred works for Haenssler Verlag of Stuttgart. Recordings are being

made in chronological order with the Trinity Church choir.

Music by Giovanni Battista Sammartini appears on the ensemble’s newest

CD, released on the ATMA label last month. A CD "Telemann alla

Polacca" is due from Dorian momentarily. An all Vivaldi recording

is planned for release in early 2003. Rebel’s website,,

offers a discography and an opportunity to buy recordings.

Marmer’s reach extends, not only to music itself, but also to healing.

As a 2001 graduate of "A Society of Souls," in Princeton,

she is a practitioner of Integrated Kabbalistic healing. She describes

the work as "a system of hands on and hands off healing based

on ancient wisdom of healing." Marmer concludes that her training

as a healer is closely related to her musical activities. "After

having gone through this program," she says, "I realize more

than before that all musicians are healers. What we offer society

has a healing effect. It’s not to be taken lightly. It’s something

to be cherished."

— Elaine Strauss

Rebel, Raritan River Music Festival, Old Greenwich

Presbyterian Church, Bloomsbury, 908-213-1100. "Vivaldi, Venice,

and Vienna." $17; $10 students & seniors. Saturday, May 11,

7:30 p.m.

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